From the Principal

Rinse and repeat

So, here we are again; for the third time this year we are confined, restricted, frustrated and feeling further ground down by this force that was not our fault to start with, over which we have no control, and consequences once again being forced upon us – it is so unfair! While this may reflect only my feelings about the most recent COVID-19 lockdown, others may possibly feel similarly!

How do we/should we manage these strong, complex, and emotion-charged feelings? How do we reconcile them with also being the ‘adults’, or the ‘leaders’, in our family, in our workplace, or in our classrooms? I have to admit that like no time I can recall, I have felt like stamping my foot, holding my breath until I turn blue, and finding someone to blame for this. I acknowledge this is intemperate and inappropriate (and very ‘unPrincipallike’), but tempting, nonetheless!

Mr Adam Kenny, Head of the Boys’ Junior School, spoke recently of lessons learned from Sport, and as he spoke, I reflected on the truth of his words. In our sporting endeavours and contests we cannot control the weather, the temperature of the pool, the size or skill of our opponents, or the Umpire’s state of mind. These are what we term the ‘uncontrollables’. It does not matter how fit we are, how well we have practised, how hard we try, how focussed we are, how well we execute (or how angry we get), these things will be what they will be, uncontrollable.

What we can control is our own decision-making and the actions that arise from it. We can control what we pay attention to, who we look for, where we direct our concentration and attention and what we think about as we execute our skills or strategy. These are the ‘controllables’.

Young people can find these ideas very frustrating. “They shouldn’t do that…”, or “That’s not fair …or “If they hadn’t done that, we would have …” are phrases I heard many times over my coaching career and are also ones we might hear in our own homes with children and adolescents. And we all know what comes next (in sport at least) from the Coach: “Control the ‘controllables and ignore the rest” has been uttered repeatedly by every good Sports Coach.

So how do we lead our families, our children, our work colleagues, or (in a school) our classrooms, during this lockdown and through this pandemic with no precedent? Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, would advocate for focussing on that which is good, that which we can give gratitude for, or that which we can acknowledge the positive effect of. His psychological research over a 30+ year period proved that focussing on the positives (no matter how apparently small or trivial, particularly in very challenging situations) will have an uplifting effect on everyone present. Note that he does not advocate a Pollyanna approach of ignoring or trivialising the difficulties. He advocates for a “… I can see this is really hard for you now, but do you think you could …?”, or “I’m sure you are finding this tough right now, but perhaps together we could ….”.

This encompasses acknowledging the uncontrollables for what they are (with empathy, care and understanding) and looking both for the roses to smell (a focus on the positive) and attending to what we can do (control the controllables). The former fuels emotional buoyancy and optimism, the latter is an empowering and confidence-enabling active focus.

While there is no doubt that it is a very tough time for us all during this COVID-19 snap lockdown, and far more than tough for some, we all share both the risk of being ground down by it and also the option to raise our eyes and see the small pleasures in things like; drinking coffee, the food we eat together, the walking of our dog or petting of our cat or the discussions with those we love about the music we listen to, or the books we read. The ‘roses’ to smell may not be as obvious or even as substantial at the moment, but they are still there if we can urge ourselves, and those around us, to look up, to look out and to look for them.

Factis non verbis

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