Tuesday, 21 October 2014

What to do when you can't do anything

So, according to my schedule I should have done high intensity intervals on Thursday and Friday evening, a full weights workout on Saturday, a yoga class last night and another load of intervals tonight.  And in between all of that been a teacher and kept my house running.

I haven't done any of those things, because, following a slight altercation with an errant hoover attachment in which I came out far worse than the hoover, I am currently joined by my old friend Si. Attica.

I was only saying the other day how he hadn't popped round for a while.  Never, Tempt. Fate.  Or accidentally try to ice skate down a corridor on a hoover head.

Oh, and I have a giant head cold.

So, I can't actually do anything.


Ok, granted, to begin with I couldn't get out of bed unaided...but what I could do was rest.  Something my body has been trying to tell me to do for ages but I've been ignoring.  So, rest it is.

Then, when I did manage to shuffle out of bed and hobble to the kitchen, what I could do was make sure I eat right.  I may not be able to throw a 20k kettlebell about the place, but I can make sure I eat plenty of green leafy stuff and stay away from the sugar, dairy and caffeine (inflammatory, snot inducing and mood sucking the lot of them).

Ok, so I'm actually doing pretty good here, I can rest and I can eat well.  Boom.

Turns out after a few pain killers I can actually move a smidgeon as well.  So, every hour or so, in between resting (and watching complete turd on the TV), I move.  It may be just to shift position, it maybe to hobble 3 steps across the room and back, but I move.

I also learn I can crawl a lot more comfortably than I can walk.  I probably won't get a week's shopping done that way, but it's a start. And actually crawling is recommended as a fab all body exercise...possibly not the way I was doing it but there we go.

After the first few days I can move a little more so I build in some upper body stretching because all this lying around and bracing myself to protect my lower back plays havoc on the rest of it.  Have I ever mentioned how utterly excruciatingly painful it is to have a coughing fit when you also have sciatica?  Horrible.

Next I try to get some fresh air and actually make it to the doctors to stock up on anti-inflammatories which speed things up nicely.

Next I discover that a few of the yoga poses and stretches I've learnt recently are doable and also feel like they're helping.  Clearly lots more of them are definitely not doable and won't even be attempted, and that's ok.  

But, it turns out that if you're very careful, even a few chaturanga dandasanas are possible.  And anyone who's done a few of them knows that's a workout right there!  

So really, it's not about focusing on what I can't do right now, it's trying to work out what I can do.  It's just about trying to figure out what are the bare minimums I can do here to try and help myself out a bit.  Charging into the gym the minute I can actually move is not going to solve anything, it'll make it a whole load worse.  Lying in a heap of pity feeling sorry for myself and not moving from the sofa for 4 days? Same.  Heroically shuffling into work because I feel like I should? No need and not even possible. Can't drive. Can't sit down.   But I know I would have opted for one of those routes in the past.

I haven't done what I 'was supposed to do' these last five days or so.  I haven't completed a single day's work or a single work out.  My exercise has not been 'perfect'. But it has been better than nothing. And every day I've done a little bit more. Apart from when I've got it wrong and tried something that clearly very much hurts, I've enjoyed experimenting, seeing how I can work around this, which movement patterns and stretches help, what I can do that actually feels like some kind of a challenge without injuring myself further.  

And eating properly throughout  has kept me in a fairly positive mood.  I say fairly because it's been quite miserable, yukky, painful and lonely too to be honest, but it would have been a whole load worse in many ways if I'd tried to treat it with pizza and icecream.

Now, if only this cold would shift...

Sunday, 5 October 2014

I am what I am

I am what I am.

And by that I mean, I am not anybody else.

Which is a fairly obvious thing to say, but one that's not that easy to remember.

I have a t-shirt.  Here it is:

It says that happiness comes when we stop comparing ourselves to other people.  Again, simple advice but still a habit that seems so deeply rooted in very many (if not all?) of us.

I think comparing ourselves to others goes beyond a bad habit, it crops up all over the place. From being last to be picked in the school sports teams to being asked to rate yourself versus your peers in performance management reviews.

We're often told not to judge ourselves, but judgement and comparison are all around.  I'm writing this with X-Factor on in the background (it's ok, it's the 'Overs', I'm not missing much. By the way, over what, 25!? dear oh dear), Strictly not long finished on the other side.  Judgement, judgement, judgement. Comparison after comparison.

You're not as good a dancer as him.  She's a better singer than you.

What about comparing yourself, to yourself. About progress.

I say this because it's a lesson I'm having to keep learning and relearning and reminding myself of over and over again as I go through my journey to get fitter, leaner and more body confident.

The 12 month program I signed up to uses past successes as a way to demonstrate how brilliant the program is.  Which had the effect of making me believe that if I did the program I would end up looking like them too.

Which of course, I don't.

I look like me. Only better, smaller, leaner and fitter.

But I do NOT look like the buff amazing gym machines in the photos. AT ALL.  Which meant initially I was massively disappointed and felt like a huge failure.

When I see other girls at the gym with less dimples showing through their leggins, I feel like  massive failure that my legs don't look like theirs.

When I see somebody in yoga take a pose deeper than I can, I feel a massive failure for not being as flexible as they are.

When I see somebody running without knackering their back, I feel like a massive failure for not being able to cope with simple movement.

Because I'm comparing myself to others.  I don't know their story, their journey.  But I do know mine.

me then, not loving that hill
me now, literally jumping for joy!
And if I compare myself now, to the me at the beginning of my journey, happiness doesn't even begin to cover it.

Strong is the new skinny

I can hardly remember a time when I wasn't trying to be skinnier.  Or just less fat actually as in order to be anything-er, you have to be a bit of whatever it is in the first place and (in my mind anyway) skinny is not something I have ever been accused of being.

My entire adult, and pre-adult before that, life I have been trying in some way or other to lose weight. To make that number on the scales and the clothes label, along with my bulk, shrink.  With varying degrees of success.  Most dramatically a few years ago by following the Dukan diet and losing 3 stone.

But I have always struggled with consistency.  I know all the dos and don'ts, I could probably write a book on diet and nutrition, but sometimes cake and ice cream still wins.  Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn't really care what you know, it only responds to how you feel.

And, as this blog will testify, I haven't always felt great.

One thing I definitely haven't always felt great about, not surprisingly, is said bulky body.  I've always scorned statements like "love your body no matter what".  Thought it a load of old pap that appreciating your body as beautiful and loving yourself would naturally lead to it magically morphing into the leaner more lithe body you (were now not allowed to admit) you always wanted. 

It makes sense when considered alongside all the positive psychology I avidly believe in.  It's basically the same premise as Shawn Achor's happiness advantage - success comes from happiness not the other way around (thin people aren't happier, happier people find it easier to get/stay thin); The Law of Attraction (and other similar less new age versions) advocates 'living as if' and working towards what you do want, not trying to escape what you don't.

So, whilst trying to pretend that I love my flobberyjobs I continued to pursue ever new ways to get rid of it.

Most recently by following a year long online coaching program that turned out to be much more about what's on the inside, than the outside and that includes a not-for-the-weak-hearted 6 times a week gym program.

Which has left me in quite a peculiar place.

Right now, I am not the lightest I have ever been.  I am not the skinniest I have ever been.  I am not wearing the smallest sized clothes I have ever owned and I don't have less body fat that I ever have.

But I am the strongest I have ever been.  And the stronger I get, the more I push myself, the leaner I get, the more toned I get and the more my body changes shape.  

Suddenly I understand what it means to love, and to be grateful to and for my body (although I don't think the feeling's mutual after a round of weighted elevated split squats).  Sometimes I can hardly believe what it's just been able to do. The weight I've managed to lift at the gym or the yoga posture I somehow managed to bend myself into, and then hold. Yes, I can now even do the yoga I always wanted to but never managed to, um, manage before.  I am more flexible and more confident, I have more stamina and I love challenging myself to go just a little bit further every time.

I've still got rolls, but I've also got muscles I never even knew existed before and the more I focus on those, the more those rolls get less roly.  I may not ever learn to love the rolls, but I certainly love the rest.

So, it turns out I had it all wrong in the first place. I was entirely chasing the wrong goal.  It is not about trying to get skinnier. It's not about trying to lose weight.  It's about getting stronger.  I can't control what the scales do, but maybe I don't need to care about that anyway.

What I can do is get off my butt, get to the gym, lift those weights a little bit heavier than before and high five myself for being so damn awesome.

Strong is SO the new skinny.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The naggy draggy side of blogging

The problem with writing a blog is that when I'm not writing, I feel guilty about it.

The problem with having two blogs is that guilt doubles.

It's not that I feel bad about not having anything to write about, that doesn't really bother me.  If I don't have anything much to say at any point then so be it, I'll wait until something crops up.

The problem is more about having too much to say - ha, who knew, me having a lot to say!? ;)

The thing is, when I know I've thought of something I'd like to write about, but for whatever reason I haven't yet put finger to keypad, it just sort of hangs over me.  And then it builds up, and up into this really annoying, anxious naggy, draggy feeling that I 'should' be writing.

Which is really not the point at all - I don't NEED to write anything.  There is no SHOULD about it.  I'm not being paid for it, it's not my job, I don't have a huge raft of subscribers baying for more (although I have had one anonymous post demanding an update).  Since the point of this blog in the first place was about exploring the area of happiness and whatnot, feeling a sense of duty, guilt and shoulding all over the place about it kind of ruins the point.

But it happens nonetheless.

And the problem with that is it creates a kind of blockage.  That one post that doesn't make it onto the screen creates a barrier behind which every other post I think of builds up.  For some reason, I get complete blog paralysis.  On my Feeding Happy blog I have about 15 posts stored up ready to write from the last month or so.  Which is ridiculous, because I now actually can't remember the recipes or anything about the food I want to write about. Which means I'm still not writing them until I try to remember/find what it was I did in the first place.

It becomes this huge insurmountable scary mountain of a task.

And I completely forget my own advice.

Like any huge looming massive job, the key is to break it down.  Managing to get through all those backed up posts is pretty daunting, but just writing a quick little post about something new that has cropped up is totally doable.

And the funny thing is, as soon as one post is out, they just keep flowing.  This is the fourth I've written today and I can hardly type fast enough to get it finished so I can get onto the next one.

The dam is down, the floodgates are open, I'm on a roll and am destined not to shut up again for a very long time.

Sorry about that.

Blue Mind

I have often wondered if perhaps I used to be a fish. Or a dolphin.  Or another equally aquatic being.

Ever since I can remember I have loved water.  Being in, on, near, or under it.  On holidays as children my brother and I would spend hour upon hour in the water, one of my favourite things about living in Maidenhead is the river and whenever we visit Alex's parents I never tire of walking up and down the bank looking out to sea.  Whenever I'm feeling uptight, cutting through cool water and having a good swim totally resets my mood.

I should probably point out at this point, that in a cruel twist of something or other, I am also massively sea sick - but we'll just over look that for the minute, or it spoils my point.

This summer, I didn't go abroad, but it
was one of the nicest, most relaxing and fulfilling summers I can remember - probably helped rather a lot by the fact I had 6 weeks off. And the amazing weather we  had. But aside from that I think it has a lot to do with the amount of time I spent in, near or on the water.

I sat by, walked along and swam in the
sea in three entirely different parts of the UK. I even sat and watched a seal swimming along on one occasion.  I kayaked up the river and lounged by and in a lake.  I floated about in a swimming pool and bobbed around a harbour in a little boat.

There is something about water that just changes my mood entirely and almost instantly.  I can't really describe it other than to say it's a real "aaaaaahh" moment.  It is so relaxing and restorative.  It's so real and honest and natural.  It's impossible to feel stressed or to get bored just staring at water.  I suppose, what I'm really trying to say is that water just makes me feel so happy, in a lovely quiet content, grounded sort of way.

Water has this amazing power to still the mind and point out how wonderful life is.

For me, anyway.

And it seems I'm not alone.  After I was reflecting on this out loud, Alex found an article in The Guardian about a book called Blue Mind: How Water Makes you Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J Nichols.  One for the list I think.

I have to say though, I think my brother would probably beg to differ with the premise of the book.  Having spent the last 3 weeks sailing the most ridiculous stormy seas I'm sure he would argue that water, rather than make you better at stuff, makes it entirely impossible to do anything at all without falling over or bumping into something, thus making you anything but happier.  Stepping onto dry land again (and waiting for the ensuing weird rolling sensation to die down) might in fact make him a teeny bit happier.

So, perhaps its like everything in life, everything in moderation.

For  me though, I've yet to have my fill.

And I'm still convinced I used to be dolphin.  Blue mind or not.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Everything changes but you

This is not the post I imagined writing next.

When I wrote my last post I was full of the joys of achievement, reflecting on the progress I'd made  over the last 12 months . My glass was literally overflowing. I was loving the gym, loving the results, loving life in general and looking forward to continuing my journey.

Last week I had my final teaching observation and ticked a lot of the 'outstanding' boxes, I had the results back for my last 2 assignments (both As), handed in the final assignment for my PGCE and my first after school languages club was a great success.

I was looking forward to a trip to the seaside, a long walk and a generally lovely weekend basking in the glory of it all.

Then somebody drove into the back of me.

Now I'm signed off work, stuck at home with whiplash and sciatica as a result.

And I've been told not to do any exercise of any description. That my goal should be to get back in the gym in 8 weeks...not be back up to full speed in 8 weeks, but to first step foot back in the gym to start building up to full speed.

I am devastated.

It's taken me a year to get to this place, not to mention the years and years it took to get to the place I started this year from and now I've got to sit out for 8 weeks.  That might not seem that much of a big deal but it is basically 48 workouts missed and then another who knows how many pansying around trying to build it all back up again. So it is a big deal to me, and to my waistline, and my motivation and my sense of self and my progress and my momentum and...

So here I am faced with a bit of an uneasy dilemma type thing.  Here I am, this quite positive upbeat person, in danger of calamitous thinking, but this is rubbish and I want to moan, even though I know it won't help. My last post was about being able to fill the glass back up when you're in danger of getting down...yeah, except I'd already discovered that my glass gets filled up by keeping active and going to the gym and now that's specifically what I absolutely cannot do.  I've also noticed that since I'm not going to the gym and being all bouncy and active and jolly, my eating has gone a bit southward as well.


This tells me a few things.  That my attachment to the gym is possibly as unhealthy as my attachment to food in a way.  I need to find a more healthy relationship with it, turns out I'm a bit too dependent on it for all manner of things, including my identity...it needs to be a part of it, not all of it.  I need to reframe it so that I go to the gym because I'm me, not I'm me because I go to the gym.  It's a bit ridiculous that everything else I value falls apart just because I can't go to the gym and am feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I need to find a way of internalising the whole healthy eating part of things as just a big a part of who I am as the exercise thing so that it can carry on going even when the gym bit can't - and especially when the gym bit can't.  Ironically, with a body full of inflammation eating well is even more important than the rest of the time.

Me thinks a little more 'inscaping' is required.

Having sat and thought about it for a few moments, I realise that all that moaning and harrumping feels a bit weird.  It's not really me.  It's something I used to do a lot of but I didn't really like it and as soon as I realised quite to what extent I was doing it, I stopped.  It's that old story again.  Why is it that when something happens to knock me off course a little bit I revert to the old story of me and not the new one...or the original one actually that just got drowned out by the old one?  It's like there are two tracks on the 12" and the slightest bump knocks the needle off the energetic, positive gym bunny track onto the whinging woe is me fat grump track.  Weird. Or not, haven't figured that bit out yet.

But it is quite refreshing to note that actually, despite how quickly everything changed, I am still the me I'd
been quite enjoying getting to know.

That me says, it could have been worse. Much worse.  It is only 8 weeks and hopefully the progress I've made to date will assist any recovery.  Had I not been signed off and made to sit still I would probably have got straight back into things far too soon and too intensely and just made everything worse.  As soon as the sciatica eases off enough I can get walking. I love walking and don't get as much opportunity for it as I used to.  Now's my chance to correct that.  Fingers crossed my physio agrees!

And I'm just going to have to make eating the new gym.  I'm going to treat mealtimes like my workouts. They're going to be carefully thought out and mindfully executed, designed for maximum recovery and nutrition and minimal lardacious self loathing. And delicious.  I shall eat when I'm hungry, eat slowly, eat well, and drink plenty of water and green tea (for a change).

me, beating this thing!
But I'm also going to be a bit kinder to myself.  I think it's ok to feel a bit fed up about all of this.  It's ok to eat a few commiseration cakes. But not every meal and not forever. The time for weepy wallowing is up!  But it's also ok if I get a few meals wrong, I know I'm not going to make perfect choices every single time but at least I can set the intention and give it a good go.  I also know some days are going to hurt more than others. Some days I'm going to be more knackered than others. Some days I'm going to feel better or worse.  I'll just have to ride them out and see what happens.  I also know the scales will go up  (they already have) but to just try and ignore them.  And the workouts will have to be scaled back a lot when I finally get back in the gym...but maybe seeing how well I can progress them again can be my new challenge when it comes to that.

To hold myself accountable, as that does really work, I'm going to create a separate page on here to log how I'm doing: What I'm eating, what activity I've been able to do, that kind of thing.  I suspect it will be intensely boring for everybody else hence it shall sit on its own little page somewhere else so as not to clog up the blog proper.  Feel free to read it as some kind of non-medicinal insomnia cure.

In the meantime, I'm off to ice my neck, this typing malarkey hurts.  Must find more whiplash friendly blogging position...

**Update** Feeding Happy is now live and accessed via tab above in pages bar :)

Friday, 30 May 2014

Filling the glass

I saw Shawn Achor (amazeballs psychologist with loads of cool stuff to say about happiness) in a chat thing with Oprah Winfrey the other day. She was asking him about optimism/pessimism, glass half full or half empty stuff, and he said why does it matter either way as long as you can fill it back up again?

I love that. That really is the whole point isn't it...getting back up and at 'em and finding ways to fill the glass back up again.

So I was thinking about what helps me fill my glass back up when it's running on low and it struck me that sometimes happiness is actually quite counter intuitive.

No, I'll rephrase that.  To people who are naturally fit, healthy and happy it's all very obvious stuff.  To somebody not quite so naturally that way disposed, sometimes what you THOUGHT makes you happy, turns out to be the stuff chipping a little hole in that glass letting all the good stuff leak out.

For example, I'm pretty sure I used to think that literally filling my glass, many times. Many, many times, made me happy.  Clearly it actually made me throw up and embarrass myself in all manner of ways instead. Don't get me wrong, I'm not/never have been an alcoholic, just a teenager / London media type / human,and I still do love a drink (or several).  On occasion. As part of the occasion...not as the actual be all and end all of the occasion.  Now it comes as a side dish served alongside my happiness rather than being the starter, main course and dessert.

Which brings me to another thing.  Yep, you guessed it.  Food.  Now I know there has always been a mahoosive link in my brain between food and happiness.  Not necessarily a bad thing, we are programmed to think like that about food to a certain extent. But me, and actually most of my family, have been guilty of taking that to the limits on far too many an occasion.  Again, food becomes the occasion as opposed to something you eat and enjoy as part of that occasion.  Food becomes an excuse for an occasion, a manner of celebrating...or commiserating, or eeking out a good day.  So many occasions in my family have a particular food linked to them. Party tea. Popcorn. Peanuts. Custard and Cream. Fish and Chips. Take aways. Family Roasts. I could go on.
it's in the jeans
And then there's spending money on nice stuff...surely that's got to make you happy?  Well, depends. On how much stuff. How much money. Any why you're doing it.  A new pair of skinny jeans to show off all the hard work at the gym (ahem, that might have just happened)...ok, yep, that's part of a happiness boost from achievement.  But piles and piles of unnecessary crap that you can't afford and that's now clogging up the house (erm, ok so guilty as charged with that one too), that's just trying to buy happiness lacking elsewhere....I know that because that's what I did.

Consumption in general doesn't really seem to do it.  It engineers a fake sort of high for a split moment, but leaves a big stinking hole of regret or something lurking behind it.

So what does work then?  I had a look at my 'Happier' app to see what most of the happy moments I'd shared were linked to.  

Guess what?  Not a single one of them was about buying stuff. Or eating lard.  Champagne was mentioned in celebration of a new job.  Food was mentioned a lot, but in terms of healthy happy nice natural soul boosting stuff...not self loathing cheese topped lardacious stuff.  Slight aside, my mum and brother refer to the food I eat now as 'gravel'.  They mean stuff like quinoa and bulgar wheat and an unexpected added benefit of eating healthier gravel, means my brother doesn't even bother looking in my fridge to see what he can nibble on when he comes round. ha!

Anyway, I also spotted lots and lots of mentions of nature, being outside.  That didn't surprise me, I've always been an outside freak.  A gravel eating, outside freak, that's me.  Spending time with friends and family, also up there.  Doing well at work/school (same thing these days) defo keeping that glass full too.

But interestingly, the thing that got the most mentions was not eating and drinking, wasn't having fun, wasn't chilling out or holidays.  It was going to the gym.

So back to the counter intuitive.  Going to the gym is basically sweaty pain.  Yet it's my number one happiness inducer.  In a nutshell, where all the other old days stuff makes me feel a bit depressed and like somebody I don't want to be, going to the gym makes me feel like me.  Like the me I really am, like the me I want to be.  And that makes me happy.  I stick my earplugs in, turn the music up and off I go.  It's physical, it's energetic, there's an element of 'flow', there's achievement, goals and learning new stuff.  It's perfect.  Sweaty, painful and calloused finger inducing, but perfect.

None of this should really surprise me. In fact it doesn't.  Because I knew all of this already from all the reading and whatnot I do about positive psychology.  But knowing something and experiencing it are two very different things.  Reading somebody else's account of happiness  and taking the time to work out your own, again, are two different things.

So now you know mine, but yours might be different...so here's a challenge. Stop reading this, shut down the computer and go out and do something that makes you happy.  Start noticing what makes you happy, and do more of it.  Test out a few theories, challenge yourself, try something you always told yourself you hated (ask anybody, I "am not an exercise person", only turns out I am)...what are you missing out on that you actually love but just don't know it yet?

Next time you notice your glass is dangerously near to half empty, don't dwell on it. Instead ask yourself, how can I fill it back up again? Then go do it.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

On reflection

The last year has gone by so quickly.  I find time always does fly by, but nothing compared to the last 12 months or so, I literally don't know where it has gone.

And it's been not just a very fast year, but a very busy year, full of newness and change.  Fast change, but change that felt so painfully slow at the same time somehow.  I don't know how that works, but that's just how it felt.

It's been a relentless year of ridiculously hard work.  It's been hard for many and often unexpected reasons. Harder than I expected in some ways, but easier in others.

It's been uncomfortable and challenging and at times made me question my sanity. 

But worth it.

And this is only the beginning.

Yet as I approach July, two programs I embarked on at the same time are drawing to an end and, as part of the process, both are calling on an element of reflection, a moment to look back and consider the progress made, the changes, the journey and the next steps.

Anybody who knows me will know that one of these areas is of course the on the job teacher training I started last September.  But very few people know that at roughly the same time I signed up for a 12 month online fitness coaching program as well.  Which might not sound very significant, but it was more than a fitness program, it has been a proper, full blown soul searching, sort your life out inside and out coaching program.  So as well as 6 trips to the gym each week there's also been fortnightly habits to learn and daily lessons to complete, tantrums to be had and all sorts.  On top of learning to become a teacher, planning, completing my assignments etc etc.

So yes, it's been busy.  And having not blogged about either of these things at all, I now feel like I have about 800 posts swirling about in my brain desperate to come out.

For now though, on the subject of reflection, I can't help but notice how different my reactions to both courses seems to be.  

From a teaching point of view: I know I'm only just starting out, I know I have loads left to learn and to experience but I am super proud of how well I'm doing so far and know I have loads of potential to be a really great teacher over time.  Sometimes I catch myself berating myself for not being better yet, for not knowing it all yet...but mostly I am very forgiving of myself, I'm not too hard on myself.  I am still a perfectionist and practically kill myself trying to do the best lesson ever in the whole world for every observation and then get frustrated afterwards with all the ways it could have been better...but that's just because I really want to do the best job I possibly can at this and because I'm just a very reflective person always wanting to learn and improve for next time. Exhausting way to be, but that's me.  On balance, my overriding sense at the end of this course is achievement, pride, excitement and hope for the future.

However, when it comes to the online coaching side of things, the same feelings are there but totally skewed in the other direction.  I have glimpses of pride, of feeling strong, of recognising my progress, of revelling in how much I can lift now compared to a year ago, but there's a bigger part of me that says I haven't done enough. I haven't made as much progress as I wanted. I'm not as strong as I wanted. I can't lift as much as I wanted. I haven't lost as much weight as I wanted. I don't look as good as I wanted.  The results have been amazing.  But not as amazing as I wanted.  Which is just ridiculous because actually, the results have been awesome (it's an American program, it's compulsory to say things like 'awesome')...my body is a whopping 50cm smaller than it was last July, nearly 20cm of that from my waist.  What's not to love about that!?

It seems to me that I see my teaching thing as something I am doing, but the other is still more intimately linked with who I think I am...uh oh, issues alert.

This is interesting to me.  It throws up several questions:  Did I just want too much?  Were my expectations too high? Undoubtedly yes.  Did I actually give it my all and follow all the lessons to the tee?  No, not really.  I especially had a massive blip in March that I'm only just starting to claw my way back out of.  Does that matter?  Does that make me lazy and useless?  Well, actually, no.  It makes me human.  It shows me that actually this past year I've had a ridiculous amount of stuff going on and at times some of the other stuff just had to take priority.  Am I scared of what happens next when the program comes to an end? Yes.  Do I still have issues around my self image and especially body image?  Clearly...or I would be just as proud of my transformation there as I am of my journey towards becoming a teacher.   

But I'm getting there.

And I think my reaction to this reaction says the most about how far I've come.  Am I going to say oh sod it then and disappear into an ice cream fuelled misery fest?  Nope.  That's what the old me would have done. The new me puts her pink trainers on and gets back into the gym, lifts heavier than last time and keeps on going.  The new me realises you just can't control the results, but you can control the decisions you make and the actions you take. Keep taking those actions and the results will come.

So if that's what I can control, actually, that's what I should be measuring progress on...hard work, good decision making, not my warped view of the end result...there is no end result anyway, it's a lifelong process.

And there's where my two courses collide.

In teaching you're taught to promote and congratulate good decision making in order to effect behavioural change. You're taught to praise the process not the outcome..."oh you've worked so hard on that and kept on going when it got difficult" versus "gosh, what a pretty picture". You're taught to refer to behaviour as just that, not an inherent part of the person..."do you think that was a kind thing to do?" as opposed to "you're so naughty".  I know that, I do it all the time with the children.

But perhaps it's about time I learnt to do it with myself as well.

Lighting the touchpaper

I was just thinking to myself that I hadn't posted for ages and came in to find I had in fact written this post way back in September but never published it.  So, here it is:

As I start my teacher training I've been doing a lot of reading around how children learn, what helps them develop and grow and what my role as a teacher in this whole process is going to be.

Needless to say I'm loving every minute and every word of it.

My first assignment, about the role of the teacher in developing the exploratory spirit of all learners, has inspired me to share my thoughts on the subject here:

A while ago I observed a lesson where there was a little boy, brand new to the class. He hadn’t been in the day before so hadn’t had the homework. There was no pre-teaching from the teacher to help him catch up. As soon as the lesson started he felt on the backfoot & it showed in his body language. As the class went on the boy realised he actually knew some of the answers, and it was a subject he loved to learn about. He became more and more animated and more and more excited, his body language literally opened up as he began to explore the subject with the others. In his excitement he had his hand up and was jumping up and down making little whimpering noises desperate to make his contribution to the class. The teacher walked past, looked down her nose at him and said “I can see you, there’s no need to make that silly noise”. And Boom. The shutters were down, the light went off, the body language closed. He didn’t move or speak for the rest of the class and he certainly didn’t explore any further.

We may well all be born with a drive to learn, but it’s all too easy for it to be squashed. Either by life itself, as we learn about things like shame and embarrassment, we learn to judge ourselves. Or, for others of us, like that little boy, by parents and teachers who just don’t really know any better, who aren’t armed with the knowledge or tools needed to help it flourish.

And so we end up, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The new psychology of Success, with two types of people: those with a growth mindset and those with a fixed mindset.

And to boil a whole body of work down, the two mindsets can pretty much be summed up with Henry Fords "whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you're probably right".

And if you think you can’t, what’s the point in trying or exploring any further.  If you think you can, that spirit keeps you going, keeps you progressing

And that’s what we’re looking for really. Progress. It’s what Ofsted are looking for anyway.

And as teachers, our role as defined in our Standards is to promote the intellectual curiosity that leads to that progress.

In fact curiosity and exploration are woven all throughout the Early Years Framework as well.

As teachers we’re aiming to keep, or move all our learners into a growth mindset and away from a fixed mindset by:

a) doing everything we can not only to keep those growing minds flourishing, but also by protecting them from anything at all that might lock them down


b) to work out the code for the padlocks and break off any chains already there… bearing in mind the code for each learner will be different.

Dweck does seem to simplify this bit somewhat.

But if you think about it, our minds and brains are the most complicated bit of kit we’ll ever have to use and none of us gets an instruction booklet on how to use it.  So in a way I see my role as a teacher a bit like helping each of my learners write their own mind user’s manual.

The more I think about all of this and read through the books on my PGCE reading list, the more it seems like one big minefield out there. Every which way we turn there’s a potential bomb shell. A potential trigger to shut a learner down.

Be it the language we use, the type of praise we give and to whom and when and for what.
The type of assessment we use, what we measure for and what we do with the results
What we as teachers value and what we model ourselves
The feedback we give
How we lay out our classroom
Our behaviour management strategies
How we work with parents and other partners
The type of questioning we use and we encourage our learners to use
How we plan and use the curriculum
The targets we set, the challenges we put out, the choices we allow our learners to make for themselves
And so the list goes on.

But used in the right way these bombshells become a powerful armoury…the minefield becomes a rich treasure chest.

An abundant toolkit fool of goodies to help our learners thrive.

And within my treasure chest, as I see it, are 3 compartments.

Me myself, How I teach and What I teach.

Which roughly correspond with the teacher roles of Modelling, Conveying, Orchestrating and Explaining as Guy Claxton lays out in Building Learning Power, and three of the themes from Development Matters in the EYFS, Positive Relationships, Enabling Enviroments and Unique Child.

There’s literally SO much to say within each of these boxes that I could go on for a week so I’m going to pick one or two key points for each.

Firstly, me.  I think my first duty to my learners it to adopt a growth mindset myself. After all, in the words of DuBois “children learn more from what you are than what you teach”.

Secondly. Even as I was writing this I realised that the main point about how I teach and what I teach, is that that’s not the point at all. Rather it’s about how and what my learners learn.  I mustn’t do all the thinking for them, I needn’t have all the answers, but instead use and encourage those higher level questions that encourage expansive and exploratory thinking beyond right and wrong…and create a safe risk taking environment for that to flourish, and then praise accordingly, avoiding at all costs that ‘gilded cage’ that Dweck talks about. How I use assessment is important but more important is that the learners can self and peer assess, know how they’re getting on and what to do about it.

And in terms of what I teach, well why not ask the learners what they want to learn? One teacher I’ve observed always starts a new project by jumping to the end of term quiz as a fun way for the class to explore their existing knowledge together and then come up with ways to fill the gaps and decide together what they want to learn next.  I  also think it’s important that we give all learners time to discover themselves, their own strengths, their own learning styles. That’s why free-flow play is so important in early years and why encouraging collaborative play is not always the right thing to do…solitary play is just as important in developing an exploratory spirit.

And then as well as modelling, there’s explicitly learning to learn and thinking skills. This could be through something as simple as having 6 coloured hats in each classroom to represent De Bono’s 6 thinking hats and inviting learners to try on different hats to find new perspectives and new ways of approaching the issue at hand…I’ve seen this done to great effect.

So, if I’m getting it right, it’s not about me at all. It’s about “us”.

What I need to do is light the touch paper and get out of the way!

A bit like a pyrotechnician if you like...light the fuse and watch the fireworks dazzle and shine. Get it wrong and it all blows up in your face. Or at the very least you dampen the fuse and put out the flame.

Yeats is quoted as saying "education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire”, and before him Plutarch posed that  "the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited".

But to light a fire, to open the treasure chest, we need a match. A key.

And as much as I love Carol Dweck's work and her Mindset book, I think she is missing something that Barbara Fredrickson captures with her work on the Broaden and Build Theory.

According to Fredrickson, it's positive emotions that open our minds right up like a water lily, so we can literally see the bigger picture, beyond the immediate horizons of our own situation.  Her research is grounded in positive psychology, essentially the science of optimum human flourishing and positive psychology tells us that people who experience more positive emotions are more optimistic and more creative. They exhibit more resourcefulness, more resilience, and more reciprocity and reflexive skills, otherwise known as the 4 key Rs of of Guy Claxton’s  learning powered brain.

And the reason this happens is because positive emotions send dopamine flooding round our brains, lighting up all our learning centres and putting us in an optimum state for learning. 

Without it, our brains are pretty much closed for learning.

So we can teach thinking and learning skills and encourage exploratory thinking but if our learners are too hot, too cold, tired, hungry, sad, scared or bored, their brains will be closed and it just not going to go in.

I think Claxton and Lucas go some way to addressing this with their ever evolving model of real world intelligence where they put 'presence of mind' right in the centre of everything else. Without it, everything else falls apart.

For me, this is why programs like the Tools of the Mind early childhood curriculum described by Paul Tough in How Children Succeed, the Penn and then the UK Resilience Programme, SEAL, Healthy Minds, ELSAs and other programs that teach ‘soft’ skills like  mindfulness, focus and self control etc are key here. In fact Tough argues these are far more important than the more cognitive skills in determining whether a child will exhibit a curious spirit and I'd be inclined to agree with him.

But I also propose a step further. I would set the whole model within a  frame of positivity.

So, as teachers, if nothing else, our role in ensuring the exploratory spirit of all learners is fully developed, is to fill our classrooms with positivity, to give our learners what psychologist Shawn Achor terms “the Happiness Advantage”.

And there are plenty of ways we can do that, but that’s a whole other post.