Get rid of ANTs & Change your thinking!

gen-next-short-logoThis was originally written for the latest Generation Next Newsletter.

Of late, more and more schools are asking me to work with their students as well as their staff.

My most popular workshop at the moment is Learning to Bounce where we explore resilience.

Resilience is generally accepted to mean the ability to bounce back after adversity.

However, inspired by the words of Dr Sue Roffey a couple of years back, I’ve been fascinated by the notion that resilience is also the ability to bounce forward.

Specifically, Dr Roffey talks of Post Traumatic Growth as opposed to the more commonly thought of, Post Traumatic Stress.

When I’m working with staff and students, we explore how being resilient also gives us the confidence to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. To take opportunities we might otherwise pass up if we feared failure. This is another example of how resilient people bounce forward.

One of the things we can all do to enhance our resilience (like any ability, we can develop it) is to look out for ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts.


Everyone experiences these thoughts from time-to-time, and how we deal with them can have a huge impact on our lives.

See which of these four ANTs you can recognize in yourself.

Catastrophising – It’s a disaster! It’s completely ruined.

Overgeneralising – Everyone else is going, No-one likes me.

Filtering – When someone asks you how your day was, you forget the three positive things that happened and focus on the one negative.

Mind-reading – They said they liked it, but they were just being polite.

There are many more, and sometimes it’s easier to spot ANTs in others before you see them in yourself.

If you do see an ANT… try to get rid of it!

Challenge your thinking.

Have you got all the facts? Can you look at it from the other person’s point of view? Is ruminating on the issue doing you any good at all? Can you accept or solve the situation?

It’s not easy. It takes practice. But just for the next week, try some ANT spotting.

Because sometimes just identifying them can change the way you look at a situation.

And if you can do that, you’ve taken the first step to strengthening your resilience and being able to bounce forward.

Education Social Justice Wellbeing Youth

When Freedom of Religion becomes Bullying

This article was originally published here at Online Opinion.

In polite company, I tend to avoid discussing politics or religion, and whilst writing around educational matters, often requires me to comment on the former, I’ve managed to steer clear of the latter. Until now.

In response to the federal government announcement that it intends to consolidate the five separate human rights policies into a single Act, Christian Schools Australia (CSA) argue that they must be able to retain the right to discriminate against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (GLBT) teachers, or those heterosexual teachers who live with a partner out of wedlock.

To date, the government has granted exemptions for religious schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and marital status with respect to staff and students. With the government’s announcement, the CSA are worried that its schools stand to lose that right.

The group’s chief executive officer, Stephen O’Doherty, said exemptions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity should remain in place. “We currently have the ability to employ people who have Christian beliefs and whose lifestyles are consistent with those beliefs.”

He goes on, “We are seeking exemptions to be able to employ staff who are Christian and hold certain beliefs. For instance, many Christians believe that being an active homosexual or living with a partner out of wedlock is not part of the Christian faith.”

All this from an association that claims on its website to, “[serve] the diverse needs of a large network of member schools.” (My italics.)

Presumably then, schools in the CSA do not hire women, as Timothy 2:11 states:

“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

Or do they pick and choose which Christian beliefs best suit their argument?

I’m not a scholar of religion. I am not anti-Christian, or anti any belief system.

I’m in favour of people having the right to worship who, what, when or how they like. So long as that in doing so, it does not impinge on anyone else’s rights or wellbeing.

In what is reportedly the first systematic review and analysis of suicidality and depressive symptoms in sexual minority youth, Dr Michael Marshal PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania conducted an analysis of nineteen studies that included a total of 122,995 participants.

He says, “gay and lesbian individuals experience much more violence, discrimination, and victimization than heterosexual teenagers, which in turn leads to increased stress and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that can develop into depression and [suicide].” He also argues that gay teens are socially marginalized and ostracized from mainstream social groups and, as a result, they gravitate to “fringe” social groups, where there tends to be more risky behaviour, including drug and alcohol use.

In short, GLBT teens are three times more likely to report a history of suicidality and more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than their heterosexual counterparts

And what is the Christian response?

That it’s okay to discriminate against GLBT kids and adults?

And if you’re GLBT, you have no place in our schools or community?

The schoolyard bully takes on an entirely more dangerous form in this instance.

In March of this year, the federal government launched, with great fanfare the Bullying. No Way! website. But should the federal government continue to grant exemptions to these schools then it will be complicit in the institutionalized bullying of GLBT children and adults across Australia.

For this to occur in the name of God is one thing, but surely it can’t be allowed happen in the name of education?

Support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Media Social Justice Wellbeing

Impact of the Influential on Mental Illness

Appalled by some of the comments made by BBC personality Jeremy Clarkson last week, I wrote this piece. It has been published on the ABC website, The Drum.

“Imagine in the aftermath of a suicide on a busy rail network, trains don’t wait until body has been removed from tracks. Imagine the remains of the victim are left, while drivers are ordered to get the train back on schedule as quickly as possible. You can’t imagine that. Can you?” Read the full article on The ABC…


Five Ways to Wellbeing

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Felicia Huppert. Felicia is a well-known researcher in the field of wellbeing, and has advised and informed the UK Governments policy making in the area of mental capital and wellbeing.

Amongst other things, she introduced me to the work of the New Economics Foundation who, in their own words,  look at economics, “as if people and the planet mattered.”  Based on the latest scientific research the NEF have produced the “Five Ways to Wellbeing.”


With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

Be active…

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

Take notice…

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

Keep learning

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.


Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

If you (or your school) are looking to take a more proactive approach to wellbeing, as a starting point, I think you could do a lot worse than explore how you can embed the Five Ways to Wellbeing in what you do.

In fact, if put into a school context, I think the Five Ways to Wellbeing presents a nice little values/mission package for your school…

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Media Wellbeing Youth

Talking Youth Depression on Channel 10

In case you missed my appearance on Channel 10 discussing youth depression and wellbeing, you can watch the interview here.

Please share it with your staff at your school, friends or family.

We need to keep on talking about it…

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Media Wellbeing Youth

Catch Dr Suzy Green and Me on Channel 10 – Monday 6.30pm


Just a quick note to let you know that last week I recorded an interview for the 6.30 Report with George Negus. It is due to be aired on Monday 15th September at (guess when?) 6.30pm on Channel 10 in Australia.

The subject of the story is youth depression and how education can address student wellbeing in a more proactive way. As well as me, Dr Suzy Green from the Positive Psychology Institute in Sydney also features.

If you can’t manage to see it tomorrow, I’ll post the video of it on my site in the coming days.

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Education Engagement & Motivation Mindset Wellbeing

Label kids – Limit kids.

On Friday 22nd July, my colleague Ray Francis and I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at the AIS Pastoral Care Conference. The keynote speaker was James Nottingham. He gave an insightful, entertaining and at times, touching talk on the concept of Mindsets.

Mindsets 101

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Mindsets in Education

Using these definitions, let’s assume that growth mindsets are essential in nurturing a genuine love of learning. What does your school do to promote that?

Having spent time with Carol Dweck, James Nottingham spoke with passion and authority on the huge disservice we do to kids when we label them – even with labels we think are complimentary.

He and Dweck suggest that by labeling kids – we limit them. With labels like bright or gifted we create children with “fixed” mindsets who are afraid to take risks for fear of failure and losing their “status”.We create kids (and parents) who are only concerned with marks or grades, rather than the process of learning.

Then there are the children who underperform because they’ve been given the negative labels, as Nottingham mentioned, at school he visited, the groups were Diamond, Gold, Silver and Charcoal.

My immediate reflection of James’ talk was to ask how many staffrooms are gripped by a fixed mindset? You may remember my Pressure Fear Relief talk touches on a similar topic.

How many schools sell themselves on the notion that they are the “top-ranking” school in the HSC? How many schools publish their NAPLAN scores as a medal of educational honour?

How many teachers have a fixed mindset about ability and learning? (according to Nottingham about 80%!) And how does this impact on the education of our students?

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Education Wellbeing

An alternate three Rs for the 21st century?

While the traditional three Rs (reading, writing & arithmetic) were only aimed at the students, these alternate three Rs would serve as an operating system for the whole learning community; students, staff, parents and the wider community.

Relationships – Humans are social beings and as such positive relationships are key to human flourishing. As well as nurturing the skills to develop positive inter-personal relationships, we also need to see the relationship between who we are, what we do, the impact of our actions and how we react emotionally. To be able to do this, we need to be given the opportunity to reflect.

Reflection – We are living in the most stimulating time in history. Having hundreds of TV channels to choose from, social media updates to keep on top of, smartphones buzzing in our pockets we have become enslaved to the technology. We feel guilty if we have any spare time on our hands and as such, we find something to do… like updating your Facebook status to say “just chilling out on the beach.” We have created a world in which we see little value in reflecting on the What, Why and How of our experiences. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to say, “Nothin” when asked, “What did you do at school today?”

Resilience – The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 depression will be the largest cause of illness in the Western World. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and serves as a protective factor against depression. It has become something of a buzzword at the moment in education. Whilst schools do a good job of promoting physical health (PE/health classes, healthy canteens, no-smoking and OH&S policies etc) I believe schools need to be more proactive in nurturing the mental health of their learning community.

To what extent does, could or should your school/organisation value these alternate three Rs?

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Change Education Wellbeing

Positive Schools Conference in Fremantle

Today I had the privilege of giving a key-note talk at the Positive Schools Conference in Fremantle.

This was a great opportunity for me to engage with some of the leading minds in Australia in the field of mental health, wellbeing and education.

I gave a talk based on my Drowning not Learning blog post from last year. It seemed to go down pretty well with the 400-strong audience.

I’ll have video snippets of it up on my site in the next couple of weeks.

Tomorrow I’ll be keen to attend Steve Biddulph’s workshop on “The Road to Manhood –  How to make pathways to being good men.”

I’m already looking forward to speaking at the Brisbane event where over 700 people will be in attendance…

If you heard me speak (either at Perth, or even earlier this year), I’d be keen to get your feedback… you can tell me what you think on the testimonial page.

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Change Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

Have you read The National Times today?

My latest article has been published by Fairfax Media’s National Times.

The most popular course at Harvard University is not medicine or dentistry. Neither is it engineering or even law. It is positive psychology, the field of psychology that is sometimes dismissed as ‘‘happy classes’’.

Tal Ben Shahar first offered the class in 2002 and eight students enrolled. By the third year 855 undergraduates attended the course making it the most popular class at Harvard. 

How could it be that at one of the most respected universities in the world, America’s top scholars need lessons in how to be happy?

Closer to home, of the one-third of high school students who walk through the gates of an Australian university nationally, about a fifth will drop out – at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion  to the taxpayer.

The reasons for dropping out are complex, but rarely related to academic ability.

Read the full article at The National Times. 

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