Home' Teacher : August 2010 Contents 16 TEACHER AUGUST 2010
just fail.' You could reply, 'Sounds like your
mind is trying to hook you with a pretty
unhelpful thought, there.' The strategy aims
to objectify the thought, helping the student
to notice the thought for what it is -- just a
You might want to explore whathashap-
pened to make the student think this way,
obser ving, for example, 'Your mind is doing
a good job of beating you up today. What's
happened to make you think like that?'
You and the student can then focus on the
things that have happened, rather than on
the much more slippery messages that come
from negative self-talk.
Suppose the student thinks, 'I'm just
stupid.' Rather than challenge this thought,
ACT starts by allowing the student to
accept it by saying, for example, 'I'm notic-
ing the thought that I'm stupid.' This helps
the student to look at the thought, rather
than from the thought, reducing its impact
and influence. The student can then ask,
'Is this thought in any way helpful for me?'
Typically, the answer is it's not: thoughts
and doubts of the 'I'm just stupid' variety
simply steer us off track and stop us trying.
As Russ Harris explains in The Happi-
n e s s Trap, staying on track depends on dis-
tancing ourselves from unhelpful thoughts,
allowing them to come and go without a
struggle; making contact with the present
moment so that we can observe ourselves
and our values; and setting goals according
to those values.
Share examples with your students from
your own life about times when you've had
unhelpful thoughts -- and how you man-
aged to keep doing what was important to
you anyway. 'Some days I feel like a terrible
teacher,' you might admit, 'but I know that's
just my mind telling me an unhelpful story,
so I try to remember what's important to
me, like doing my best at work, and keep-
ing on trying.' If you're not su re you can
trust your students with this kind of vulner-
ability, remember they trusted you enough
in the first place by saying, 'I can't do this.
There's no point in trying, I'll just fail.'
Maybe they deser ve a little trust in return?
Remind your students of how the learn-
ing process works -- through small and
often subtle improvements. Positive results
aren't always instant. Remember what it
was like learning to drive a car? Have a
discussion with your students about what
it was like when they were learning, say,
to ride a bike or swim. There's a good
opportunity here to point out how resil-
ient they've already shown themselves to be
by not giving up on something important
Have a discussion with your students
about the ways we all sometimes get so
caught up about the things we can't do that
we forget the many things we can do. We
all forget that other people might wish they
could play sport, or draw, or talk with oth-
ers, or sing or write as well as someone else.
It's vital that we remind our students, and
ourselves and our colleagues, to be mind-
ful of the talents and interests we have --
and that others may wish they could do the
things that come so easily to us.
Our minds are amazing things. Yes, our
minds can beat up on us, but equally it's
ou r minds that can learn to let go. So when
you next catch your mind beating up on
you, grab the boxing gloves and take a look
at them. You don't have to be a punching
Timothy Bowden is a school counsellor
who taught English and History in high
schools for 14 years. Sandra Bowde n is a
registered psychologist and school coun-
sellor who taught in prim ary schools for
13 years. Their latest book, I Just Want
To Be Me! Building resilience in young
people, is published by Exisle Publishing.
Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap:
How to stop struggling and start living.
Wollombi, NSW: Exisle Publishing.
Share examples with
your students from
your own life about
times when you've had
unhelpful thoughts -- and
how you managed to
keep doing what was
important to you anyway.
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