Recently our Year 12 Senior Boys undertook a session on Mental Fitness, facilitated by future Paralympian, Liam Twomey.
Liam generously shared much of his personal story of understanding the importance of training our minds to be STRONG, FLEXIBLE and to have ENDURANCE. These are the three elements of Mental Fitness.
When Liam was seven years old, cancer caused his right leg to be amputated. He seemed by all external measures to bounce back from this fairly easily, but when he went to high school and encountered new people and new challenges, he became angry and disengaged. Finally at 21, he realized he had hit a crisis point and sought help to deal with the grief, shame and guilt he was experiencing.
Now, Liam tries to “pay it forward” by working with the Black Dog Institute to help young people see that their minds need the same care and training as their bodies.
Mental Fitness allows us to have better relationships with others, overcome life’s obstacles with more ease, be resilient and be able to focus when we need to. This was a message that is certainly pertinent to Year 12, but also one that I think resonates with us all in lockdown.
COVID19 has tested us all and is certainly one of those big obstacles that mental fitness can help us overcome. So I thought I might share some of the key strategies Liam spoke about to our whole community.
Being mentally strong allows us to stay positive during difficult times. This isn’t to say that we need to be positive at all times – in fact recognizing and accepting our emotions (and a full range of emotions) is very important. But we do need to develop strategies to assist us when we recognize that our mood is low.
One of the strategies Liam recommended was one we have talked about on The Wellbeing Hive a number of times – Gratitude. This is probably the most useful of those articles. Gratitude draws our attention to the positive elements in our lives – even those we can recognize in lockdown. No matter how we might wish our situations were different, we can take a moment to acknowledge the benefits of extra sleep, more time spent with family and pets, and perhaps even more time to pursue some of our passions.
Liam also suggested we work to create opportunities for little wins – which is a great strategy for lockdown. We can work to create small moments of joy. We know for example that boys often enjoy eating – so the habit of making and sharing Lockdown Lunches on House Teams pages is enjoyed by many.
We should all be on the lookout and create opportunities for anything that makes us small or gives us a sense of achievement. Hopefully the Lockdown Decathlon can help with this!
Mental Flexibility is the ability to change and adapt as the situation requires -and haven’t we all found this a necessary skill as we pivot in and out or lockdown, remote learning and working from home – sometimes quite unexpectedly.
Being flexible allows us to deal with change with more ease, and also to focus on what we need to.
A key skill to develop mental flexibility is Mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about staying rooted in the present moment and not getting caught up in possibilities. Meditation is a common form of mindfulness, as are breathing techniques or focusing on savouring (food, music, hygge etc).
One of the key strategies for this suggested by the Black Dog Institute was actually taking photos! These help us savour important moments and appreciate them when we see them!
Stamina not only helps us adapt to change, but to long term changes and series of changes. It also helps us to keep focused on our goals no matter what happens to detract us from them.
In times of challenge like we are experiencing now, it helps us stay focused on learning and growth.
Having a sense of purpose is an important part of this – and purpose was our Wellbeing theme in Term 3 last year. A sense of purpose helps us accept lockdowns as we know we are helping beat this virus.
As an elite athlete, Liam shared that mental endurance helped him on all the cold mornings he did not want to get up and train. By staying focused on his long-term goals, he was able to do all that he needed to and embrace hope and resilience. For Year 12 students, endurance will help them keep at their studies despite the turbulence in the world around them.
What is meaningful and important to you? How might it help you navigate these unchartered waters?
These terms may provide an interesting and relatable frame of reference for any young person you work with – so why not bring up the parallel with them today?
You might also check out the program here.