Mental Fitness at OBHS 

By Adrienne Buckingham | Posted: Wednesday September 6, 2017

Training the brain for optimal performance in the classroom, on the field, court, stage or in an exam… and, more importantly, for life. 

Well-Being is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and it’s something I take quite seriously as a teacher and a parent. Even our best and brightest kids (especially our high achieving, good souls) get tripped up by things like social pressure or anxiety. This is an epidemic across New Zealand and the world.

I graduated with an Honours Degree in Psychology in 2003 but the world has learnt more about the human brain since the 1990s than all time combined before!! So I’ve have to update my knowledge. I’ve been doing the research and readings (so you don’t have to) and I’ve just finished the first 6 contact days in a Diploma of Psychology and Well-Being which focuses on the research looking at humans who flourish; the psychology of people who are truly successful and fulfilled in the truest sense of the term.

Bottom line: We are most productive when we are not miserable.

Funny that! Optimal brain function involves a lot of good neurotransmitters and positive emotions (and not I’m talking about positive thinking or the ever elusive “happiness”). So with that in mind, I am going to write a short column for the school newsletter using research and evidence based practices to improve our own and our children’s well-being and brain function.

MenFit Week 1: Three Good Things

Good Things is a relatively simple and short evidence based exercise to rewire the brain. Negative Bias (our and our teenagers’ stunning ability to focus on the worst of a situation) has very useful evolutionary roots. Our brains try to predict the worse possible outcomes in order to avoid them. Very helpful when trying to avoid being eaten by predator; a little bit counter-productive if over used in the comfort of our own homes.

I once read that “Anxiety is the shadow of intelligence” and to that I say- we need to learn where to stand in the sun to reduce the size of the shadow we cast.

Three Good Things is just that. Name 3 good things about the moment or day.

1. Rice ball day at the canteen!!! Teriyaki rice balls are the best.

2. When I didn’t have a pen, Mark gave me one.

3. English wasn’t boring; we played Kahoot.

This is an excellent activity to do with yourself in trying to rewire or create new habits in the brain. Start with the little things (“Jack was hilarious at lunch today” or “Rugby practice”). After a few days, 3 things will easily flow into 6. At the end of each day, this is a nice way to review the earth’s rotation before sleeping. Better than the loop of, “Man, I really should have told that guy where to go...”

Parents, this is an easy way to engage your kids in a conversations about school. Role model this first. Warn your kid! Teenagers can be very suspicious.

With my kids, I generally aim for one social good thing (“Having lunch with people I like at work”), something personal (“I learned a new poem today”) and something a bit more mundane (“I’m wearing my pink flamingo socks that nobody saw but I like”). At first, my daughter and stepson coat-tailed on my ideas but that’s not a problem - it’s a starting point.

Be prepared for “I don’t know” and “Lunch”- but don’t lose your cool. Both are expected. The second one is a very acceptable answer. Cheerlead or ask follow ups (“What was the best part of lunch?”). Many boys (and girls) will struggle with this at first. But like any habit, it will get easier with practice. I liken it to burpees. Burpees might never feel natural but after doing 3 every day for a week, you can suddenly do more.

Three good things: simple, quick and evidence based. So on that note, what are your 3 good things today?