What are our “basic” needs?

As I have spent time in recent years listening to the life stories of individuals who were in hospice care I realized that their stories of resilience often had roots in the unmet needs of childhood.

Many of those needs clearly fit into Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” which began with the physiological requirements of life and continued with safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization needs. (He later added cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence needs to the list.)

But some of their stories revealed unmet “needs” that, while implied in Maslow’s hierarchy, are worthy of special emphasis:

• Being seen and known for who we really are,

• Feeling accepted and appreciated for those qualities, and

• Being treated with dignity and respect.

Because those needs emerge during our earliest years, they have important implications for schools.

Therefore, it is essential that principals and teachers:

• Create classrooms that ensure that all students are known, appreciated, and respected; and

• Establish school cultures that satisfy teachers’ needs in those areas because without such a culture young people are far less likely to have those needs met in their classrooms.

In your experience, what do people “need” to lead physically and emotionally healthy lives, and what roles do schools play in satisfying those needs?

What is your preferred style of conversation?

Most of us have one or two favorite styles of conversation.

1. Some people prefer fast-paced, serial monologues during which what each person says may or may not be linked with what the previous speaker said.

2. Other people like to recount the facts of their days.

3. Still others tell stories.

4. Some people prefer to ask questions.

5. Less common, in my experience, are people who prefer conversations in which they and others disclose important but often invisible things about themselves.

6. Even less common is a conversational approach in which speakers offer a point of view in the spirit of dialogue, not to convince others but to stimulate their thinking and to better understand their points of view. In short, to be influenced as well as to influence.

Style 1 seems ego based. Style 3 offers speakers a way to share experiences through compelling (hopefully) narratives that move beyond recitations of facts, while style 4 is driven by curiosity.

I personally find styles 5 and 6 the most engaging because they enable participants to move beneath surface appearances and understandings.

While resilient people are often skillful in blending styles (for instance, telling a story, asking an open and honest question, and seeking a deeper understanding through dialogue), most of us rely on one or two approaches.

Which style or styles of conversation do you prefer?

4 reasons why willpower is overrated

[O]ne of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t have to use self-control or make decisions; we’re on automatic pilot. I don’t use willpower to get up at 6:00 or to skip dessert or to post to my blog or to wear my seat-belt. Those are habits, so they happen without any conscious effort on my part. —Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin elaborates: “Some people say to me, ‘I want to learn to go through my day making healthy choices.’ And I answer, ‘No, you don’t!’ Every choice is an opportunity to make the wrong choice. Every choice is a struggle that requires willpower. Choose once, then stop choosing. Make important behaviors into habits, and save your willpower for complex, urgent, or novel situations.”

Many people believe that when they or others fail to achieve an important goal it is because of a lack of willpower. Or they believe that resilient people have more willpower than the rest of us.

But the effectiveness of willpower is vastly overrated. Here’s why:

1. Willpower is finite. That means that we can overwhelm its reserves when we try to achieve too many things that depend on it or to do any one thing that requires vast quantities of it.

2. The power of a compelling purpose can never be overestimated, particularly when that purpose is larger than self interest. Willpower doesn’t have a chance without such a purpose.

3. Habits and routines are in the long run far more effective in changing behavior. Once we have established a new habit or routine we no longer have to make a decision, as Rubin points out, which in combination with other such decisions, leads to willpower fatigue.

4. When willpower fails, as it inevitably does, we tend to attribute the problem to shortcomings and even to character flaws in ourselves and others.

What is your experience with the effectiveness of willpower in achieving important goals?

Our last good day

A hospice patient very near the end of her life after an extended illness told me that she regretted not having been aware of her last good day until it was well behind her.

That day went unnoticed because it was likely the same as many other days that also went unnoticed.

What she was sorting out for herself, I think, was that like most of us she had not really appreciated what she had until it was gone.

That conversation encouraged me to develop the habit of reflecting each day on the things for which I am grateful, a very simple exercise that draws my attention to the presence of many things I would otherwise take for granted.

Living in the moment with an awareness of appreciation requires vigilance and discipline.

Fortunately, when we drift away from the moment, as we inevitably do, each new moment is an opportunity to reclaim that awareness and gratitude.

What do you do, or might you do, to notice and appreciate the moments of your days?

Find micro-moments of positivity

[W]ell-being can be considered a life skill. If you practice, you can actually get better at it. —Barbara Fredrickson

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson advocates nurturing everyday “micro-moments of positivity” to increase our overall well being.

According to a New York Times article, “Activities Dr. Fredrickson and others endorse to foster positive emotions include:

Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as helping someone carry heavy packages or providing directions for a stranger.

“Appreciate the world around you. It could be a bird, a tree, a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even an article of clothing someone is wearing. I met a man recently who was reveling in the architectural details of the 19th-century houses in my neighborhood.

“Develop and bolster relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and, long-term studies have shown, is associated with better health and a longer life.

Establish goals that can be accomplished. Perhaps you want to improve your tennis or read more books. But be realistic; a goal that is impractical or too challenging can create unnecessary stress.

Learn something new. It can be a sport, a language, an instrument or a game that instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence and resilience. But here, too, be realistic about how long this may take and be sure you have the time needed.

Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Rather than imperfections and failures, focus on your positive attributes and achievements. The loveliest people I know have none of the external features of loveliness but shine with the internal beauty of caring, compassion and consideration of others.

Practice resilience. Rather than let loss, stress, failure or trauma overwhelm you, use them as learning experiences and steppingstones to a better future. Remember the expression: When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.

Practice mindfulness. Ruminating on past problems or future difficulties drains mental resources and steals attention from current pleasures. Let go of things you can’t control and focus on the here-and-now. Consider taking a course in insight meditation.”

Which of these positive activities is most appealing to you, and how might you incorporate them into the “micro-moments” of your day?

Break the script of small talk

“Break the script” in some part of your life that has grown too routine. —Dan Heath 

Resilient people often “break the script” of expected behavior, which is a recommendation offered by Dan Heath In an interview with author Gretchen Rubin in which Heath encourages us to alter parts of our lives that have grown too routine.

One of the script-breaking practices he recommends is to “push beyond small talk with someone in your life.”

Heath adds: “When someone asks you ‘How are you?’, and you’re just about to give the automatic answer, ‘Fine, how are you?’, take a breath. Then give the actual answer. Share something real—maybe something you’re struggling with. Trust that the other person will care and reciprocate with something real from their life. You may be amazed at how such a simple moment can deepen a relationship.”

While small talk has its benefits, including increasing our comfort during routine social encounters and easing us into deeper conversations, it also has its limitations.

The benefits of “big talk” include more intellectually and emotionally-engaging conversations, deeper relationships, and the possibility of learning important things about ourselves and others.

In what situations and with what people have you or might you break the script of small talk for the benefit of others and yourself?

The attributes of resilient people

Resilient people:

• often had early role models—family members, teachers, and mentors—who guided and inspired them during difficult times.

• have a willingness to learn from their experiences in ways that others who have had similar experiences do not.

• possess ways of thinking that empower themselves and others. For instance, they are likely to believe in the importance of sustained effort in achieving important goals over talent alone.

• display skills that help them manage themselves and interact with the world in productive ways.

Lolly Daskal offers a list of such skills:

1. Knowing yourself. “If you’re aware of yourself and how you function in the world, you’re in touch with how you feel, and you know your strengths and weaknesses,” Daskal points out. “You also know how your emotions and actions can affect the people around you.”

2. Building relationships that are satisfying and productive. “Human beings are naturally social creatures–we crave friendship and positive interactions just as we do food and water,” Daskal writes. “So it makes sense that the skills involved in building and maintaining relationships are never going out of style.”

3. Active Listening. “When someone is speaking it is vitally important to be fully present and in the moment with them,” Daskal notes. “Whether you agree with the speaker—whether you’re even remotely interested in what they’re saying—focus on their words, tone and body language and they’ll feel heard….”

4. Expressing empathy. “Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is a key element in building trust…,” Daskal explains.

5. Giving feedback. “Providing effective feedback in a useful format and context benefits both the giver and the receiver,” Daskal writes. “Leveraged properly, feedback can lead to real growth and development. And effective feedback will always require a person-to-person connection.”

6. Managing stress. “The skill of being able to manage stress—our own and that of others—will never be obsolete…, Daskal concludes. “Create a line of defenses against stressful situations that you cannot control—use your network, be sure to get enough exercise and sleep, and learn to relax.”

Resilient people combine some or all of the above into habits of mind and behavior that enable them to focus their energy on living out their most important values and purposes.

What qualities, in your experience, distinguish resilient people?


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