Dealing with Exams

Dealing with Exams

‘Sit. Feast on your life.’

I remember well how hard it was at times to study… especially if the sun was blazing and I could see outside to it to place I much rather wished to be. I remember working all day on Saturdays to get study done so that I could go out that night and have some fun. It was always worth getting the work done and I enjoyed the sense of knowing I had made an effort. We each have a different relationship with academic work, and a different attitude to it. Such is life. We have different interests and talents, many of which are not covered or recognised in state exams and therefore, much of what is great about a young person is not given credit in the form of points or marks. No one gets graded on their level of kindness, their interpersonal skills, their level of emotional intelligence and yet all of these aspects of how a person is plays a big role in how ‘successful’ our lives will be. This of course depends on each person’s definition of what success means to them. However, the state exams offer not just the opportunity to get qualifications that can lead on to other qualifications, the exams process affords us all the opportunity to work out the relationship we have with effort. This, apart from anything else it may offer, is a very good thing indeed.

Whatever age you are, whatever stage you are at in life, all people have to make an effort in order for things to work out well. Take the person who does not care too much about making an effort to study for an exam…. is that same person 20 years later more likely to be in a relationship they are not making an effort in? Are they more or less likely to be happy than the person who worked out years before that it is always worth making an effort, even if the end result does not work out the way you want it? All sorts of things influence relationships and our happiness but making an effort is definitely one of the things that matters most. State exams provide an opportunity to develop a positive relationship with effort.

People sometimes say youth is wasted on the young. Maybe people say this because young people, because of the stage of development  their brain is at, are not thinking long term necessarily and therefore don’t link their current life choices with their future. I don’t think youth is wasted on the young at all but I do believe that as adults, we have a responsibility to encourage young people to reflect on how their behaviour right now is impacting on who they may become and to encourage them to think, even for a minute or two, about the type of person they wish to be becoming. One way of doing this is to ask them what type of relationship they have with the idea of ‘effort’ and to offer praise and encouragement for effort, rather than having a focus on results. Effort is always the thing that counts most. It is always the thing that gives a sense of satisfaction, a sense of knowing you did as much as you could, whether that is to pass an exam and get the grade you want or whether it is to make a relationship with someone you really love work. Effort is what counts. And for me, this is as true today in all aspects of life as it ever was when I sat state exams. No-one ever regrets developing a positive relationship with the intangible yet very real thing that is ‘effort’. No one I ever met has told me they regretted making an effort. In the end, I reckon no one ever does.


Mental Fitness

‘Mental Fitness’

‘The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.’
Tony Robbins

Being fit, getting fit, feeling fit; there is a lot of talk about it at this time of year… with new year’s resolutions abounding and RTE’s Operation Transformation on many people’s TV screens. And there is no doubt about it, fitness is fantastic and has a multitude of health benefits. But think for a moment just about the word fit…. think what it would be like to then focus on the term ‘mental fitness’ in your mind, instead of always associating it with the physical. Physical fitness has almost become one word but what if we were to broaden the word out…
What would you imagine this country would be like if RTE dedicated an entire series of Operation Transformation to our mental fitness? Yes, physical fitness matters a great deal and it is important to pay attention to our diet, our level of physical activity and our BMI. But is it more important than our level of mental fitness? Does our daily diet of thoughts not impact on us just as much, colouring our experience of living this life, influencing how we each feel?
We indeed have a crisis in this country. As a nation we are physically less active than we ever have been before so attention to physical fitness, particularly for children, matters an awful lot. But mental fitness matters too as the levels of depression and anxiety being experienced are at a very high level, for our young people growing up as well as for many adults. It’s just not as obvious as how a person is doing mentally is not immediately obvious when we look at them, whereas a person’s physical appearance which can hint towards a level of physical fitness, unlike a person’s mind, is readily available for us to see.
The phrase ‘mental fitness’ is one I tweeted about this morning. I stated that a person’s mental fitness level mattered as much as a person’s physical fitness level and I got an immediate positive response from Operation Transformation. So maybe the idea is catching on. Maybe a new journey could be beginning where people in the future will spend 30 minutes every day doing a ‘mental fitness workout’.
What do you believe would happen if people in this country took their mental fitness as seriously as they take their physical fitness? What would happen if as much effort was going into selecting thoughts for the day as is going into the planning of healthy meals? Would the mental health of the nation start to rise? I believe it certainly would. Do you?

Mindfulness at Christmas

Mindfulness at Christmas….

‘Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too…. Whatever you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.’

W.H. Murray

Some people find it hard to begin mindfulness practice and some find it hard to continue with it once they have begun. While mindfulness is a great practice which helps us deal more effectively with difficult times and help us appreciate more the good times, while it has been found to change for the better how people experience their lives,  it is still sometimes, a difficult practice to incorporate into daily life. Part of the reason for this is that people find it hard to do. But all you really need to do is commit. Commit to the decision to do it.

We all know how to be mindful and live in the present moment but sometimes it is hard to believe this. Try and remember back to what Christmas was like when you were a child. If you were lucky enough to live in a society like this one, where a certain special visitor brought gifts from the North Pole for all the children who tried their very best to be good all year, you will probably remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation that that special time brought. Now try to remember what it like when you went downstairs to open gifts  that were left for you under the tree. Remember the moment you saw the gifts, the moment you got to see what was inside. Try to remember back to what it was like to open those gifts and maybe take them out for that first play…. were you living ‘in the moment’ then? We are each born with an innate ability to live in the present moment. We forget that though and do it less and less as we grow (generally speaking) as we have more and more on our minds and our minds are all clogged up. But don’t ever think you can’t do mindfulness. Don’t think you can’t sit still and look up at the stars, or look at the Christmas lights and nothing else….just being in that moment for a moment.

Adults (generally speaking) don’t bounce on trampolines. Adults don’t usually sit down with a packet of twistables and colour in a Christmas tree but that doesn’t mean gmailwe couldn’t do it. We could if it was what we choose to do. So neither should we say we can’t be mindful just because we’re not in the habit of it, but habits are down to choice and once we commit to making it part of our day, it becomes automatic again, just as it was in childhood. If we as adults have lost the ability to just be, then all we need to do to be mindful is to make a commitment to it. Notice your in breath. Pay attention to the beauty of the lights…… watch and learn from those lovely little people all around. They are doing it automatically an awful lot of the time….kids at Christmas, living in the moments.





Minding Mental Health

Minding Mental Health

‘If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.’


E. Joseph Cossman

We all know how it goes…. Someone tells you not to worry about something and while it may help marginally, the worrying does not just automatically stop. Someone else telling you not to worry about something can be good because it gives you the idea that for others the thing you are worrying about is not necessarily that worthy of worry, you may even feel that things won’t  turn out so bad. But to take control of your mind, to actually train your mind to not get stuck in loops of worried thought, that can be a harder  thing to achieve.

Research has emerged that is suggesting a possible link between chronic worrying and the likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University, researchers have found while studying participants over a long number of years, that those who as children were prone to worrying a lot over everyday occurrences were much more likely to develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic event. The statistics indicated clearly that chronic worrying is an indicator of vulnerability to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than the chronic worrying being a feature that develops as a result of the trauma.

So how can this research help us to better mind our children’s mental health? Are there things we can do to try to steer our children away from developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life if a traumatic event occurs for them? We can’t necessarily avoid the trauma that happens on the journey we all make through life but can we better prepare the next generation to meet trauma with resiliency? Tuning in to how much worrying children do is the first good step in helping them take control of minding their mental health. If the child has a natural propensity towards worrying, you can guide them to an alternative way of thinking, not by saying not to worry but by increasing their own awareness about what thinking is behind the worried feeling. To explore with them what the thoughts are that are causing the worry and then to look at the evidence to suggest that that particular thought is not essential. For example, a child who is worried about what may happen in the schoolyard may be feeling worried because something difficult happened in the yard the week before. By exploring the child’s thoughts around this, they may be able to come up with a strategy to deal with the particular situation and then will begin to develop a belief that is along the lines of ‘I am able to problem solve.’ If this belief becomes strong over time, by strategising when worried feelings arise, even a child who has a natural tendency to worry can gain control of their thoughts and learn to manage their mind. This is not only then a route to better mental health but as the researchers in Michigan have found, it may also be a part of the resiliency a person develops to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes life is really tough and there are traumas that happen that knock us right over. Sometimes developing Post Traumatic Stress disorder is unavoidable but we can try to build up the resources of the next generation to better deal with trauma just as we can build up our own resources too. Minding mental health. There are things we can do….. and it matters.

A Way to Think About Disappointment

A Way to Think About Disappointment

‘Disappointment to a noble soul is what water is to burning metal; it strengthens tempers, intensifies but never destroys it.’

Eliza Tabor

Disappointment is not one of those feelings that we all wish for in our daily lives. It can be a difficult thing to feel and when it is present within us,  there can be a felt sense of wanting to shrug it off or distract oneself from really feeling it. But disappointment, like all feelings, has validity and by not allowing it to inhabit us even for a short time, we then fail to see what it can offer. Here’s what I believe is often overlooked when the merits of feeling disappointed are discussed…….. disappointment bears witness to  hope.

Hope is a great thing. For me, it is one of the most important feelings of all. Sometimes we are very aware of what we hope for.  Other times we may not be aware and so it may be when we feel disappointment that we realise that we had hoped for something or some outcome. By focusing on the presence of disappointment, we can bring the hope into view. And it is always worth paying attention to what it is we hoped for… Because hope can begin anew. It can be reborn. Part of the process of renewing and replenishing  hope is sometimes to feel disappointment.