Sep 2, 2019
Hello! I’m so excited this day has finally come, after months of planning and looking forward to the launch of the “For Flourishing’s Sake” podcast, finally, it’s here!
It seems apt that, as I launch this brand new podcast filled with hope that you will find it helpful and that it will live up to the excitement so many expressed in anticipation of its launch, I should focus this episode on hope and excitement. If you are in the UK and this is the start of a new academic year for you, you may also be feeling a mixture of hope and excitement - I know I’ve seen much of this mix expressed on Twitter, particularly by newly-qualified teachers about to embark on their first teaching year after qualifying! I remember feeling the same way when I was a teacher! Your students are likely to feel a similar mix - they may welcome the return to school with the excitement about seeing their friends again, or as a relief from boredom during the long summer break, or even as a return to a safe haven if their home circumstances are challenging. They may be hopeful that they’ll have great teachers, that they will get on with their classmates, that they will get good grades.
One of the key elements to flourishing is an awareness of and the ability to work on our character strengths. There are different schools of thought on the nature of character strengths, from the philosophical basis used by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, to the psychology-based research by the VIA Institute on Character.
According to the VIA Institute, the strength of hope is linked to our expectations about positive future events and outcomes. It is closely linked to optimism and implies that we are in control; that we can take action towards achieving our goals and desires. Psychologists talk about “explanatory style” in relation to optimism. If your explanatory style is optimistic, you tend to see events as specific to any given situation, susceptible to change, and external, whereas a person with a pessimistic explanatory style tends to perceive events as spanning across different situations, unchangeable and internal. To put this simply, take a student that does badly in a test or exam. If their explanatory style is optimistic, they’ll see this as a one-off event, they may even put it down to a particularly difficult paper rather than blaming themselves for not doing enough revision, and they’ll focus on being able to do better next time. Whilst of course an overly optimistic explanatory style is not always helpful - it can lead to difficulties in taking responsibility, for example - having a certain tendency towards an optimistic explanatory style tends to mean you find it easier to be hopeful. Take a moment to reflect on your natural explanatory style. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic? Whichever way you lean naturally, you can still work on and make the most of your strength of hope. If you are naturally pessimistic, you may just need to work a little harder at it.
The VIA Institute don’t have a character strength called ‘Excitement’, but they do have one called ‘Zest’! Zest is characterised by a tendency to approach things with lots of energy and, yes, excitement; of having a sense of adventure about life. According to the VIA, zest is a strength closely linked to physical and mental wellbeing, and to overall levels of happiness, so it’s well worth cultivating.
Today, therefore, I invite you to tune in to your sense of hope and excitement as you begin your week and possibly your new academic year. I know, because I’ve been there, that these are not always the most prominent emotions and thoughts you experience as a teacher when starting a new academic year or even just a new week, but while all emotions are valid and I am not asking you to ignore any emotions that make you feel less great about the days ahead, I am simply giving you a nudge to spend a bit more time focusing on those positive, feel-good emotions and character strengths: Hope and Excitement.
As you set off for work this morning, what are your hopes for today? What are you looking forward to and feeling excited about? Check in with your thoughts throughout the day and the week to actively remind yourself to focus on what has you all fired up and looking forward to the days ahead, and what positive outcomes and events you are hoping for. As you greet your students each day this week, why not ask them what they’re excited about and what their hopes are for the day, the week, the year even?
Try it, and see what positive impact this deliberate focus brings… and let me know how you get on!
And…For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!