We often think of positivity as being an innate emotion; “She’s such a positive person” or “he is negative about everything”. Whilst an element of this is true, positivity is less about who you are and more about who you are with. In fact, quite like a virus, positivity is highly contagious and spreads from person to person through a process that scientists call mirror neurons. This is where cells in your brain try to understand and interpret the feelings of people around you by copying those feelings in your own brain. Mirror neurons work tremendously fast and we do not have any control over them. Have you ever yawned because you have seen somebody else yawn? – mirror neurons are to blame. In practice, and nowhere more relevant than our current global situation, if you are positive about something the people around you are likely to be positive too. If the people around you are positive, you are likely to be (and remain) positive in return. This creates a perpetual circle of positivity and optimism that spans households, families and even whole communities.
Resilience, like positivity, is also mistakenly thought to be an innate personality trait that one possesses. In fact, it is a skill. It can be learnt, developed, practiced and mastered over time, and by anybody. Resilient derives from the word ‘resiliens’, the present participle of the latin word ‘resilire’, meaning ‘to recoil, or rebound’. The word developed in the 1850s to mean something that had ‘flexible qualities’ and is today described by psychologists as being the ‘process of adapting well in the face of adversity, challenge, threat or stress’. In short, a more applicable definition views resilience as the ‘process of being knocked down by the adversities of life and returning just as strong!’.
Nowhere is this more important than our current situation. As a community we must adapt well in the face of global adversity; we must demonstrate our flexible qualities in our working and personal lives; and we must prepare to truly rebound from this unprecedented situation and reopen our school with more positivity than ever before. To help achieve this, here are three examples of how we can nurture and practice our resilience skills and actively spread positivity amongst our immediate families and our British School Yangon (BSY) global community during the ‘lockdown’ period.
Three tips for Positivity and Resilience
Think like the US Marine Corps.
Throughout the ‘lockdown’ period I have read a lot of information about adopting ‘new’ routines. I disagree. Instead, I have tried to think like the US Marine Corps and utilise their famous motto – Adapt, Improvise, Overcome. Rather than seek a ‘new’ way of doing something, I am trying to adapt my routines, improvise how I do things and overcome the challenges to my daily personal and professional operations.
One thing I have managed to keep is my ‘normal’ week’s exercise schedule. No weights? No problem – you can keep the same activity but use your bodyweight, changing a bench press to a push up for example. Another great example is how the BSY teaching and support staff have managed to create a virtual school, rather than just provide online learning. Instead of changing what we do, we simply adapted and improvised so that school life could continue as normal as possible – great examples being the virtual House Competitions and ASCs that Miss Clara Tileman and Miss Cardelle Dunne are facilitating. Great improvisation, fantastic flexibility and extremely resilient.
Positivity is 99% perception.
‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ At a time like this it is very easy to dwell on negatives, observe only tragedy and in some cases – hold apocalyptic thoughts! Don’t allow yourself. Take control of your perceptions, search for positivity and see the optimistic half-full glass.
On the day of the school closure there was great sadness and uncertainty in our school Sports department. Negative thoughts, assumptions and predictions circulated our office until Mr. Andy Dean paused the conversation and plucked out the positives: “We will have lots of fun making videos for the students; we will keep everyone engaged with online challenges; we will even better ourselves and become really competent with ICT and its uses in PE”. In an instant my perception changed and mirror neurons fired positivity around the room. Mr. Dean was correct – I have learnt some fantastic ways of using ICT and online platforms to better the education experience for our students. These skills will be polished over time and will remain with me throughout my career.
I challenge you to do the same. First, search for the positives. I am enjoying spending more time than ever before with my partner; working together, relaxing together and if you recognised the quote – we have just finished the third audiobook (thank you Stephen Fry!). I hope you can also see the positives of spending additional time with loved ones and the memories you are creating.
Connect and converse, but do not scroll!
Scrolling social media is not a meaningful connection with friends and family. We all know how unproductive, and sometimes harmful to our mental health, social media can be. It has been linked to body dysmorphia and depression amongst other things. Yet, before even getting out of bed in the morning many people spend a considerable amount of time scrolling a vortex of pretty pictures, memes, tik-tok videos or instagram posts. We do this because a social media platform’s sole purpose is to win your attention and keep your attention. In fact, they are designed to cleverly manipulate your dopamine release and keep you online, to follow, to like, to buy. This is addiction in action, and it is important we see it and prevent it.
My tip here is to be resilient with your relationships and think about your intentions when using social media. Don’t just use social media to passively scroll in the same way you would not just walk up to the refrigerator and stare at its contents for no reason. If you do use social media, do it with a clear intent to meaningfully communicate with loved ones or connect with friends during this time of social-distancing. Let’s actively arrange opportunities to connect with our family and friends, this will keep us sane and help us triumph from this situation, together. Online quizzes, virtual dinner parties, group exercise sessions and virtual board games are an excellent way to connect with our family and friends and show resilience with our relationships. In addition, this will help spread positivity within and beyond our immediate communities.
To some it may seem simple, but positivity, resilience, improvisation, and adaptability are not innate. They are things we have to consciously think about, things we learn, develop and master over time. In fact, they are the very cornerstone of our existence, or, as Charles Darwin poetically put it: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” So, stay safe, be resilient and prevail we will!