Its a happy, exciting time of life, a rite of passage but when my students get to that stage where they are getting accepted for University, I always feel like wow, they are growing up so quickly! This week more of my students secured places and I am personally so happy for them as they begin this stage of their journey. The challenges will come, the tears will come but so will the fun and the laughter. I wish for them, lots of positive thoughts of success! Have a great day all xx
What came next, that is after reading part 1 yesterday is pretty shocking and was a life changer.
The Push for the Right Mindset
What is the right mindset? This is of course going to be very different from person to person. Everyone has their own unique life with its own challenges. It might be fair to suggest here though, that bearing in mind that life is a precious thing, the common factor in the right mindset is to live a successful, happy life. One which is filled with all of your favourite things and actions. This may be academic success, relationship success, career success or wealth! In throwing the question out there, the list may go on and on.
The challenge to many of us, is getting to a place where we begin to believe that there is more out there for us. Right now, I know the readers of this book are saying either;
- Yes I believe but……
- If it was meant to be it would be…..
But how can this be so? If you truly believe then surely you would do anything in your power to get whatever it is you believe in. Very few people would just accept unfair behaviour if they believed that they could change it. This takes an element of self-belief, this is often quite difficult to acquire. This is where the idea of developing the right mindset becomes important. It is not an overnight development but one which evolves over time.
It is perhaps best to put it into context and for this, we continue with Sandy’s story. The story begins to get quite difficult for her here as she was taken into some very murky waters. She had gone through a life which had become characterized by experiencing some very violent domestic abuse. This was having the effect of making her withdraw from her peers and all of the learning opportunities that childhood could give her. It was a life of fear.
Her father then continued his change by using humiliation and intimidation. In particular, she recalls the time when some ‘posh people’ from the school board came to the house one evening. Her brother had been recognised from his school tests, as having a higher than average IQ in the school tests. It was being recommended that he should sit a scholarship examination to attend one of the best public schools in the United Kingdom. Her father was of course full of the achievements of ‘his son’ and that ‘girls are not capable of these things’. She would think hard about this, when she was younger, her father was so kind and now, he was horrid. What was more for her though, was the fact that the school was a boarding school and meant that her brother would be away for long periods of time. Remembering her pledge to herself to protect her mother, this sounded great but was not something she could consider.
It was because of this that when she was approached to take the same scholarship exam, she absolutely refused to go. To a large extent, her fears for her mother’s safety were holding her back. Let us keep in context here, that Sandy was a child and therefore not developed enough to be able to process the outcomes of not facing that fear. The adults around her were not facing her fears for her either for a variety of reasons. What was apparent was a completely unstable environment in which her mind was unable to settle, unable to develop its full cognitive abilities, unable to perceive that dream existence which she could see at her friend’s homes and on TV. It was made even worse as her father branded her useless as she failed the scholarship (deliberately), in order to stay with her mother.
And no-one would have predicted what came next. It was a vicious action which could have led to a completely ruined existence for Sandy. Note that I say could have, this remarkable young lady went through a period in her life which no one should have to but showed maturity and strength which is rarely seen as she fought back against the system to get to the life she wanted.
The worst moment of Sandy’s life as recalled by her happened one summer’s afternoon when she had to leave school early to go for an interview for Secondary school. By now, school had become something of a haven for her. Not because of the potential learning but because of it not being at home, there was no atmosphere and her friends were there. School had also run a big trip to the Great Children’s Party in Hyde Park. It had been such fun!
She had gone home to meet her father so that he could take her to the interview and he called her into the bedroom as he talked about what she should and shouldn’t do at the interview. She listened carefully but looked at him with suspicion. Over the years, she had built up a resentment towards him and honestly wished that someone else was taking her. Even she did not expect what happened next. She was small for her age (10) and he picked her up and threw her onto the bed and as she wriggled and struggled in fear and shock he brutally raped her.
After what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his heavy, large smelly body off her and straightened his clothes, ordering her into the car to go to the interview. As she walked out of the house, she put something down on top of the piano in the hallway. It was now crumpled, it was her badge from the children’s party which she had crushed in her hands as fear and pain had set in. As the interview proceeded, she said very little, trying to understand what had just happened to her. She decided to wait, when she got home she would see if the badge was indeed on top of the piano, this would say whether it had or had not happened.
As she walked back through the front door, there it was, it was true, it had happened. He warned her about what would happen if she told anyone and handed her £5. She quietly went to her room and sobbed. In her eyes, no one could help her with this as it would put everyone in danger. In hindsight this is not necessarily true but, she was reasoning as a child. Strangely enough though, she recalls that she decided on that day that she was going to work hard to make sure that she could take her mother and siblings away from that danger and never ever have someone controlling her happiness again. It was in effect, the day on which she lost her childhood but gained the start of a lifetime of control, she was beginning to recognise that with thought, there was a whole perfect life out there for her.
She is keen to stress here that this was a long learning journey. The events of that day replayed in her mind often over the years and he attacked her many times over the years. What she had to do was to stay focussed on her dreams of a better life. The first step to this for her was gaining her qualifications in school and University.
This was a situation which could have ruined life as I know it if there was no belief, no strength, no faith. It has been a long road but i’m sure that it makes it clearer to you why this journey is so important.
For the next few days, I want to include a couple of chapters of my latest book. It sets the scene really as to why I have made the decision to begin this journey because in reality, even though the events are now many years ago, some scars never heal. To a certain degree, the story shaped my life and had to be written in a way that protects my children. I learned to forgive but can never forget. Strength, Belief and Faith has driven me through. Here is part 1.
The Importance of Happiness to the Learning Process
If we accept then, that children have a period in time in which they learn difficult skills quite quickly where their worlds are unobstructed and in general happy, then it is pertinent as a starting point in our journey towards passing our exams, qualifications or training (or whatever we are seeking to do) to consider happiness as a function of cognition. In other words, is there a link between our happiness and the degree to which we learn efficiently?
When the Challenges Begin
Like any well-oiled machine, the brain can only really handle a certain level of challenge before it will begin to struggle. The thing to realise is, that the extent of the struggle and the level of damage that it can achieve is directly related to the way in which we handle it. Although it is hard to accept, we actually have to own the challenge and begin to make decisions about where it should be channelled. What it is is, taking responsibility. Looking back at the earlier analogy concerning children and the way that they learn so well, it may be argued that this is so for them because they do not have to take responsibility. Most of us look back romantically at those seasons in the sun, when everything just happened.
Sandy remembers those days with a smile, things just looked so simple. The only thing that spoiled the picture was the changes that she was increasingly becoming aware of within the family home. Maybe they were already there but just not apparent to her whilst she was younger. Now, she was becoming aware of the abuse that her father meted out to her mother on an ongoing basis. Her mother was such a sweet lady to her children and worked hard to give them a life that she had not had prior to coming to England. From the outside, the community thought her father was a great father too, working hard and bringing in money to maintain his family. But they did not see those times when things were not done just how he wanted them done. Even if it was one of the children that had made the mistake, he would hit her mother and this lead to a fierce protective streak that she maintains to this day. Although her mother tried hard to mask it for the children, the atmosphere within the house was changing to one of fear, the happiness appeared to be ebbing away. It was a stream that no-one was able to stop.
Sandy was very quiet in her thoughts concerning this, she explained it in a way which demonstrated the actual lifetime effects of stress and how it could have led to quite disastrous consequences for her life. When thinking about the love that she has for her mother, she resents the fact that her earliest memories are those of her father hitting her mother and, sitting in her mother’s bedroom as she changed and seeing the bruises on her. The rage inside was there for such a long time and she recognises that this led to her withdrawal from her childhood life. She took on a new role which was to stick near to her mother so that she was never alone to take a beating. Sandy doesn’t know what she was going to do but inside her, that was all that she could, to protect her mother. The result was that she was now not so focussed on learning new things but on managing adult responsibility. For a brain which is not developed enough to process responsibility, this set her firmly on a road towards a life which was filled with actions which do not match the intended response. Her education during her primary years suffered although as a highly intelligent child naturally, thankfully the damage was not insurmountable. This is something that she remains thankful for today.
From a physiological viewpoint, happiness has been linked to increased activity in the brains left prefrontal lobe, as well as a decreased amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. The result of this may be smiling and laughing. . Happiness is distinguished from sadness by greater activity in the frontal cortex of the brain (Lane et Al 1997). This has the effect of positive emotional responses. Some of the most well-known are alertness, sociability (arising from levels of Serotonin) and euphoria, (arising from levels of Endorphins)
These are what may be termed physical manifestations but they may fade in time. In general, maintaining happiness may be about understanding the neurochemicals that operate as receptors in the brains cells. This has received much attention in recent years and may lead to the obvious statement that the best times for learning are the childhood years when the levels of cortisol in the bloodstream should be naturally low in any case. I know that this is not always the case and there are some awful cases of children who are unwell or disabled and do have problems which make them unhappy but for our purposes, we are trying to establish a causal link so that the journey towards passing may begin.
In order to start then, we need to get back to that happy place where anything is possible and to do this, in reality, we need to train our brain to only hold onto those issues that are important and to a large extent, let the other matters go. This is not always as easy as it sounds but it is a very very important issue and one which I would ask that you address properly before going onto step two. It is easy to say, ‘I am fine’, without actually meaning it. It is often just a way of not having to think about it at a time when there are so many things to think about. I warn you here though that sometimes, there are not as many things to think about as we are led to believe by our brain. A stressor of any time can lead to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. There are various physical responses which have been identified in studies but the one which we will look at is that of increased mental activity (Guyton 1977).
Some would say, surely that is a good thing. Increased mental activity means that the brain is working harder right? No, not necessarily, it could mean that your well-oiled brain is being told that it needs to take in so many things that it can’t sort out what to do. Learning shuts down right then and there. This would explain why so many examination students stop work quite close to exams and get out the games console. This would explain why, when life takes over, we don’t review our financial decisions to find ways of transforming our lives. When in that happy place, the brain takes over in a more ordered fashion enabling us to learn.
This is great because by talking, some things can finally be let go. Thank you for listening x
Its day 2 so I decided to look at what I have to offer on this journey. Well, I make it a point to try to change someone’s life for the better everyday. As a teacher, this is a natural part of the role, changing the lives of students through their successes is the best part of the job. When they grow up and start fantastic lives it never fails to give me the feeling of a proud ‘parent’. The feeling of making another person smile is fantastic but knowing that one has the ability to help others is priceless. My focus has been on beginning to translate these skills to make them more portable without losing the mission, ‘making learning relevant and enjoyable to bring about sustained change’. I am now convinced as to the way that this can be done, it just needs a little more creativity…… Now for a long walk whilst I work out the next steps……xx
The funny thing is, I have known for a long time that radical change was necessary but have managed to allude to every type of excuse not to do it. Yesterday things finally fell into place, the penny dropped and I knew that today was the day to begin. I have always tried to control the factors that affect my life, control in the hope that they do what I want them to but now I know, if the action is right, the flow is natural and unobstructed, no need for control.
As I look out of my window on a beautiful London Summer’s evening, I am smiling because so many things in my life are beautiful right now and, because of a heightened level of gratitude, I recognise them. My children are healthy and happy, my business is growing, my genuine authentic relationships are blooming and my students are moving up. There are many reasons to smile and many many reasons to know that in 365 days time, I will feel the fear but with faith will make that step with my little family. I hope you enjoy the ride. xx