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Two forgotten friends when we face uncertain times

There’s no denying it – 2020 has been hard. Really hard.

Bush fires, floods, a global pandemic, mass shake up of our education institutions, loss of connection and community through protracted social isolation and an ongoing battle for a safe climate future. Yikes.

At so many points this year we’ve heard educators being encouraged to just do their best. To keep calm and carry on. To adapt, pivot, and regroup. And, to the credit of educators across the state (across all sectors in schools, universities, community groups, government and early learning), they have done just this!

However when we withdraw, grit our teeth or just try to keep our heads down (which are all very sensible coping mechanisms in a time of crisis and uncertainty), we can easily forget two important friends who might just be able to help us in our time of need.

Our two forgotten friends

Celebration might feel out of place when serious or all-encompassing challenges are facing us. However our ability to celebrate the positive despite feelings of loss, fear or anxiety can be a source of great strength for us personally as educators, and also a powerful motivator for our programs and work.

Recognition might feel tainted if a project or goal has been delayed, shifted or moved out of reach. However our commitment to giving recognition to ourselves and others for the work that has been achieved, or the very fact that we persevered none the less, can be the difference between someone giving up, and finding a second wind.

The research agrees

Psychologist and social science researcher Barbara Fredrickson is best known for her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. This theory argues that not only do we function best when we engage with positive emotions like joy and interest (key feelings associated with celebration and recognition) but that they are also a means to achieving psychological growth and improved well-being over time.

Prioritising acts of celebration and recognition, especially in a time of crisis, help us tap into these core positive emotions which in turn unlock our creativity, build social bonds and can ultimately improve our resilience and ability to cope with future hardship.

Much like research has shown that a depressed mood moves in a downward spiral leading to narrowed and pessimistic thinking, the broaden-and-build theory suggests a complementary upward spiral in which positive emotions and the broadened thinking they bring lead to increases in emotional well-being over time.

We also have an important responsibility to model these positive choices to students and young people. There is no denying that in times of uncertainty or upheaval, young people look to those around them for cues for how to respond. While we don’t want to gloss over difficulties or overly shelter young people from the problems around them, we do need to show them positive and constructive ways of moving through them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a generation coming through who knew how to acknowledge and face challenges while also choosing to celebrate and recognise the good?

Three ways to rekindle the friendship

As they say, practice makes perfect! As with any behaviour change, the key to tapping into the positive benefits of celebration and recognition amidst uncertainty is to just do it. A lot!

Here are 3 ways you can rekindle your friendship with our forgotten friends of celebration and recognition in 2020:

1. Give some recognition

Giving recognition generally only takes a few minutes but it can have a profound impact. We so often think about doing it, but then we don’t end up following through. Let’s make a decision to act on those prompts whenever they occur – write a short note of gratitude, give positive feedback to someone’s supervisor, or nominate a project, colleague (or yourself!) for one of the many great awards programs open at the moment. Giving and receiving recognition for work well done (especially in trying circumstances) triggers those positive emotions that allow us to broaden and build our, and others, perspective and resilience. You’ll be amazed at the improvement in the outcomes, culture and attitude of your team when recognition flows freely.

2. No reason is too small to celebrate

“This calls for a celebration!” Who doesn’t love to hear these five little words? Unfortunately, we sometimes set the bar for “this” way too high. We don’t celebrate the half way point, only the finish line. We don’t celebrate 10%, we wait until we hit our full target. We don’t acknowledge the breakthrough in a battle because the war is still going. Why not practice a new approach where you celebrate what you can in that moment, rather than waiting until some other bigger win has been achieved? The truth is, celebrating the small wins won’t take away from the joy of celebrating the big wins. There’s no rationing required!  In fact, you may find it builds the energy you need to achieve the big wins, and makes the party at the end even better.

3. Involve the young people in your world

Young people rarely lack enthusiasm when it comes to a celebration! Get them involved to not only model these positive choices to them, but also to enjoy the infectious optimism young people so often bring to a situation. In your green group or class at school, you could create a new award that the group gives to another student each week. Or you could do a brainstorming activity listing all the things that the group has achieved despite the chaos of 2020. In your family or community group, you could make time to celebrate a great harvest, a lower energy bill, a positive outcome of time in lockdown or a breakthrough on a project or problem. Better yet, let them come up with their own ways to celebrate and give recognition and watch them build their own connection with these two vital “friends”.

What will you do to celebrate or give some recognition, today?

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