Mental Resilience: Our Superpower (MHAW 2019 Talk @ Beacon Academy)

I was kindly invited by Beacon Academy to host morning assembly for Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 for Mental Health Awareness Week which ran in England from Monday 13th May until Sunday 19th May 2019.

It was a great honour and privilege to have the opportunity to share Smilinggg, a little of my personal story, and ways to strengthen mental health/resilience and to cultivate a more positive mindset.

I calculated that over 1,000 students attended the ‘Mental Resilience: Our Superpower’ talk over the course of the week, and I truly hope it planted a seed or two in at least a handful of the students minds.

I have tried my best to turn the talk into a blog post and you'll find it directly below. Thank you.

I'd like to firstly start today by sharing a snippet of my favourite song from when I first started at Beacon, dare I say it over twenty years ago! Which I'd like to add makes me feel incredibly old!

 ***Play first 27 seconds***

Back when I was at school this was my favourite song because it was the soundtrack to my favourite video game at the time; FIFA World Cup 98. Now it's my favourite song because of the significance in the lyrics.

"I get knocked down but I get up again. You're never going to keep me down."

That line right there in a nutshell is what we term Mental Resilience. Our ability to overcome challenges, hard times and adversities and not only bounce back but bounce forward and grow as human beings to realise all of our goals and dreams.

So today I'd like to share with you a little of my personal story, and provide ways to  help us  strengthen our mental resilience and to cultivate a more positive mindset.

In 2014 I experienced a depression that rocked me to my core. Both my grandma and grandpa died within four months of each other. My long term relationship with the woman I thought I'd spend the rest of my life abruptly ended too, further compounding my sadness.

For many months I wallowed in this sadness. I felt pain, emptiness and quite frankly completely hopeless.

So what do you do when you're fed up of feeling unhappy? Well I'll tell you what I did...

I Googled 'How to be happy'... Yep, I really did...

What Google shared with me were a number of habits that have been scientifically proven to improve ones wellbeing and happiness, but a lot of these I already knew. Such as exercise, eat your fruit and veg, limit junk food, spend time with friends, spend less time watching TV and mindlessly scrolling through social media, get outside more and of course get those eight hours of sleep each night.

But there were three concepts I didn't realise could help me become happier. Three G's to be exact.

Gratitude; being thankful for what you do have in your life rather than focusing on the things you don't have.

Generosity; the act of not only being kind to others but equally as important, being kind to oneself.

Growth; knowing that where you're at right now has no determining factor as to where you can get to with hard work and purposeful effort.

It was shortly after my Google search that I read a book that in hindsight completely changed my life. At the time it provided me with a sense of hope that my situation could improve. When you're feeling pretty hopeless, a small flicker of hope can have a big momentary impact.

When I was your age I believed very much in what's termed 'the fixed mindset'.

  • I thought failure was the limit of my abilities.
  • That I'm either good at something or I'm not.
  • That my potential is predetermined.
  • And that I can either do it or I can't.

This lead me to stick to what I knew or to give up way too easily.

Carol Dweck's book "Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential" taught me that success and fulfillment is a result of the growth mindset. The great news is that we can all possess this mindset. It's a choice. The growth mindset sees...

  • Failure as an opportunity to grow.
  • That we can learn to do anything we want.
  • Challenges actually help us to grow.
  • Our effort and attitude is what determine our abilities. Our effort and attitude determines our abilities.

Reading and reflecting on these truths changed my perspective. I had hope and belief. Nothing has helped me strengthen my resilience more than recognising, believing, applying and living by the growth mindset.

So with this new belief I began walking and jogging around my neighbourhood, applying these concepts and to cut a long story short. On Sunday 17th May 2015, The Smilinggg Mile was born...

 You'll notice I lost the American accent which I never actually had... But jokes aside; I'd like to emphasise "Slowly but surely. Slowly but surely my terrible days got better and my good days got great." It wasn't as though I suddenly leaped out of bed all happy. It wasn't an overnight success, it took gradual and consistent effort with a fair share of failings, falls and mishaps along the way. 

So since 2015 I've been on what you could call a 'Smilinggg Mission'. Participating in endurance events around the world, fundraising for Mind and Samaritans; two mental health charities doing incredible work to help those with mental health difficulties. Whilst of course raising awareness of Smilinggg, The Smilinggg Mile and positive mental health in general.

The definition of endurance is 'The ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.' These endurance challenges each year have gotten tougher, pushing me further outside my comfort zone, where most growth and resilience is achieved.

In 2015 I completed a marathon. In 2016 was a 16-hour ultra marathon. 2017 were a couple of Half-Iron Triathlons, and then came 2018. Exactly this week last year for Mental Health Awareness Week.

 

2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles cycling and 26.2 miles of running, every day for seven days. A walk in the park right?

The goal stretched me to my limits and beyond. In training alone I swam 62 miles, cycled 3,106 miles and ran 560 miles in the six months before the challenge even began.

By setting and working towards meaningful goals, you'll have greater resilience when times are challenging. When the going gets tough, a strong why will keep you moving forward. So I encourage you to all set meaningful goals and to ask yourself why? Why do I want to achieve what it is I wish to achieve. The deeper the reason why, the greater your resilience.


 

So how did The Smileathlon go?

Well, I managed to complete four Iron Triathlons in four consecutive days before my lower legs completely gave out. I could barely crawl by the end. Hence the crutches. You'll see Day 1 and  Day 2 I finished in the dark... Day's 3 and 4 weren't finished quicker. No. The blue sky you see is the following morning. Walking, jogging and crawling through the night to complete the required 26.2 miles each day.

The challenge taught me that success lies in having the courage to pursue big scary goals and that it's who you become in the journey towards your goals that matters most. For me The Smileathlon journey made me more courageous, mentally stronger and resilient but most importantly for me, I became a more compassionate human being in the process.

Yes I fell short of my athletic goal but thanks to friends, family and the local community, we smashed our fundraising target. £7,124 was raised for both Mind and The Samaritans.

Now here's a quiz question for you. What do these nine people have in common?

There are numerous correct answers to this question but the answer I'd like to share is this...

They were all beginners once.

Now they're regarded or were regarded in the case of our mate Albert, as the most successful people in their fields. Yet it's important to remember and recognise what it takes to achieve success.

The Iceberg Illusion displays this perfectly. It's what people don't see that is the secret to ones success. It's everything that is beneath the surface.

It's the dedication, the hard work, building good consistent habits, whilst being able to handle disappointments and temporary failings along the way. I can guarantee right now that every single one of those nine on the last slide had to overcome their fair share of difficulties, disappointments and failings from when they started to where they are now. But it's by showing persistence and a willingness to sacrifice in the short term that helps build resilience and ultimately achieve the success that we all see today.

Our mental resilience increases when we try new hobbies and develop new skills. So I recommend you develop as many new skills and hobbies as possible, and when you're trying new hobbies and developing new skills it's worth reminding yourself of 'The Power of Yet'.

How we talk to ourselves, and our thoughts and beliefs greatly shape our reality.

When you catch yourself saying any of these statements, do yourself a big favour and finish with YET!

"I can't do this... YET!"

"I'm not good at this... YET!"

"I don't understand... YET!"

"This doesn't work... YET!"

"I don't know the answer, well you know the answer to this... YET!"

Have faith that through hard work, consistent and persistent effort, you will improve at whatever you put your mind to.

 These five mental resilience strengtheners were laced throughout the talk but let's quickly recap.

  1. Learn new skills and try new hobbies: You'll acquire so much more than just the skill and the hobby in the process.
  2. Set meaningful goals. What's your why? When the going gets tough, what is it that'll keep you going? Pay particular attention to this. Keep your why with you at all times.
  3. What's your endurance race? Don't worry, I'm not asking you to line up next to me when I start my next challenge. As we learnt earlier, endurance and to endure simply means going beyond the point at which its easier to stop. How can you step out of your comfort zone? Remember that it's at the edge of our limits where we obtain the greatest growth.
  4. Remember: No failure, only feedback. This right here is the essence of the growth mindset. Learn from temporary setbacks to set you up for future success.
  5. Start Smilinggg each day! It wouldn't be a Smilinggg talk without me promoting the Smilinggg Mile after all. But where might your S*miles lead you? Starting the day with an attitude of gratitude, taking a moment to reflect on some of the great things within your life will over time completely shift your mindset to one of abundance. Generosity too; be kind to those around you, share a smile with strangers, it'll not only brighten their day, but it'll brighten yours too. and Growth. Growth will be the natural reward, because it can be incredibly uncomfortable smiling at strangers at first, trust me... I know.

Oh and one final tip before I go... Whatever you do, be sure to listen to "I get knocked down, but I get up again" on repeat. Every. Single. Day.

Thank you :-)


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