Tips for Staying Positive

From the Headmaster's Desk, October 16, 2018

Last Wednesday was World Mental Health Day.  A good day that reminds us all of the importance of looking after our minds and each other, in order to ensure we all have positive mental health.

I was fortunate last week to meet Dr Brian Marien – a doctor who specialises in mental health.  He works with the latest research in psychology and neuroscience that focuses on how to have a positive mindset.  I listened to a couple of his lectures in London, and I was fascinated by what he had to say.  This morning I will share with you a few highlights of his work.

Dr Marien explained that we can wire our brains with how to think and feel, and therefore how to behave.  He outlined that we have a choice about how we use our brain.  It is possible to develop a positive mindset and avoid a negative mindset.  Much of Dr Marien’s work is about teaching positive psychology life skills.

Our mental health is vitally important because our emotions influence everything in our lives.  Dr Marien explained that our emotions play out in the theatre of our body.  What he means by this is that our emotions affect our physical body, and naturally, our emotions dictate how we act or behave.  And interestingly, he explained that it is during the teenage years that humans feel emotions most powerfully.  Both the highs and lows are more intense for teens, peaking when you are 16.  So what I say this morning is particularly relevant for all of you here!

Now, Dr Marien acknowledged that it is perfectly normal to have bad days or sad emotions at time.  Sometimes circumstances outside of our control might make us sad or disappointed.  The problem is if we get stuck in a depressed state permanently.

There are simple steps to ensure that we have a positive mindset.

Dr Marien’s first major piece of advice is to monitor the internal voice, or put in another way, how do we talk to ourselves?  By this he means that each one of us has an internal voice, or self-talk.  But is that voice in our head a critic?  One that is self-deprecating, negative and discouraging?  If our internal voice constantly presents us with negative thoughts, then this will have a negative influence on our life.

We need to ensure that our internal voice is a compassionate one.  We can develop an inner voice that is a supportive coach, regularly reminding us of our strengths, skills and abilities.  We can foster an inner voice that encourages us to be resilient with self-belief.  Dr Marien encourages us to say positive things to ourselves, and develop a voice that encourages and affirms us.  He even advises that we give the voice a friendly face and tone – imagine a positive coach encouraging you along, and you will find yourself coping positively with life.

We can choose positive and happy thoughts – we can coach ourselves from a bad mood into a good mood.

Dr Marien explains that if you use your mind to think negatively, then you will get better and better at negativity.  You can build an entire negative network in your brain.  You can make your mind a heaven or a hell.

By thinking positively we can actually change our mindset to be positive.  This means that we will then have a positive influence on those people around us.  And this is Dr Marien’s second key point: the quality of relationships is so important in our lives.  We can learn to control our own mindset, but humans are social creatures, and we also need positive relationships.  We care enormously about how we appear or interact with others.  Positive interactions boost us whilst negative interactions deflate us.

Flying solo doesn’t work either: he quoted research that shows that loneliness is as bad for life expectancy as smoking.

Negative emotions can cause us to see the world negatively, and this can be contagious.  A stressed teacher or coach will make the students around them stressed.  Same for a depressed leader – be it the captain or boss in any context.  Our mood predicts how we behave, and those in a foul mood will influence others around them.

And on the positive side, research shows that people in positive and collegiate environments are not only happier every day, but more successful.  Other research shows that the quality of relationships with our peers is the biggest predictor of success – much more so than intelligence.

When we are feeling good, the milk of human kindness flows.  Positive people see the world positively, and if we feel good then we will do good things.  Having good friends and social support is a buffer against stress, and helps us cope with the troubles of life.

Dr Marien ended his presentation last week with a quotation, that I think sums up the key messages of this morning well:

‘I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanised or de-humanised. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.’ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s not what happens to you, it is how we respond.  And let’s all think positively, and be positive with each other.

 

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