I’m Positive About Being Positive

Dr Alia Crum

I stray from education websites when I’m wondering if there might be some research that could apply to our profession. I sniffed around the other day and found a post from psychologist, Alia Crum (Does the Mind Impact Health? A Researcher’s Insights, Culture of Health Blog, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Oct 2017).

While her blog post was really about physical improvements because of a positive mindset, I did find a few nuggets for us in education.

In her blog she stated, “The ability to make sense of the world through our mindsets is a natural part of being human. But the mindsets we hold are not inconsequential. In fact they change reality by influencing our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology.”

“Being POSITIVE won’t guarantee that you’ll succeed. But being NEGATIVE will guarantee you won’t.”

Jon Gordon

Dr Crum goes on to talk about the critical importance of having a positive mindset about stress — now we’re talking. Stress is a constant in public education, even without the presence of a pandemic. Now add a pandemic and all of its twists to how we teach and learn, and you can literally feel the increased stress level in our community of students, staff and parents.

Dr. Crum goes on, “Stress is a great example of how mindsets can be self-fulfilling. Stressful situations are unavoidable. And yet we’ve found that most people perceive stress as negative—even debilitating. Media or public education campaigns warn us about its harmful effects. However, ample evidence suggests that stress can enhance how our minds and bodies function. It’s how a person thinks about stress that can determine its effects …”

Beliefs about stress can be self-reinforcing. It’s kind of like the saying, “You are what you eat.” Translated for handling stress, one might think of something like: “You either handle stress or stress will handle you.” Your mindset can help you reach your goals even when times are difficult.

Dr. Crum emphasizes that it is particularly important to model how we handle stress, because our children will learn from us — either positively or negatively.

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

Zig Ziglar

When adults react negatively to stress, an observant child’s own response will likely also be negative. Like a child who is learning any number of skills, the ability to handle stressful situations is a learned skill. We have an obligation to model positive mindsets about stress — the everyday stressful events that actually are critical to us becoming resilient, problem solving adults.

One of my personal observations in my 34 years as a public educational professional, is that children can be remarkably resilient — if we model it for them. However, if we respond negatively to change, stress or other environmental realities, children will follow our lead. When adults show resilience, a positive attitude and fortitude — our children see that and grow in their own competencies.

16 Ways to Keep a Positive Mental Attitude - PureWow
Teaching our Children How to Handle Stress can be Life Changing

Even in the medical field, researchers have found that health providers can actually enhance the effect of a drug or treatment with their actions or words. By being familiar with a treatment, being warm and understanding, a provider can cause a stronger response in their patient.

It doesn’t take a huge leap to understand that the same approach to helping children deal with stressful situations could be equally as positive. As parents and teachers, we can help our children develop these important life skills if we teach them that some stress can be positive — that it’s a natural part of life that can help us grow and become stronger.

Constantly warning against the negative effects of stress can reinforce an unhelpful mindset that stress is debilitating.

Alia Crum, October 2017

A positive mindset by itself may sometimes not be enough to enact a significant change in a situation. But, what it CAN do (and what research is now supports) is have a measurable effect on how we move through a stressful situation and how our own competency in doing so will better prepare our children for their own stressful moments.

2 thoughts on “I’m Positive About Being Positive

  1. Dave,
    I can fully attest to your self-reflection as a mainly positive calm person that can get a tad grump at times. 😉 I think that tad grump part actually is important simply to showcase your humanity. I know positivity has often been preceded with “toxic” and I understand what that refers to and why some people reject positivity as the desired mindset. But as you’ve modelled and many other of my favourite leaders model, is not an ignoring of problems, challenges or inequities but facing them with optimism and empathy with a constant desire to improve. In today’s world, hope is really important and in fact is different than optimism. See: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/09/hope-optimism-happiness/620164/
    Once again, thank you for your leadership. (FYI, if you ever want to use a cute baby image in a post, let me know, I’ve got lots and you can use them free of charge)

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    • Hi Dean, Thank you for your kind words and your reminder about the importance of optimism and empathy. I completely agree with yoiu that being positive is not the same as being naïve about the world around us — it’s about tackling those problems with optimism and empathy. Hoping our paths cross in person one day soon.

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