SMART Strengths: Building Character, Resilience, and Relationships in Youth

Positive Emotion and Managing Your Mood

  • Fast thinking tends to be emotional in either positive or negative ways. (See my summary of Thinking Fast and Slow for more on this.) Negative thoughts tend to narrow our responses to flight, fight, or freeze. Positive emotions have a broader range of responses. They allow us to strengthen connections with others and build mental, social, and physical resources. Research shows that ratios of these emotions in the range of 1:1 results in failure. As the ratio increases towards 1:5 in favor of positive emotions, success is more likely for groups and individuals. Negative emotions can have some value so they shouldn’t be repressed altogether. You are more likely to be effective when your skills are balanced to the challenges you face. Otherwise, you are likely to be bored or frustrated and suffering from an excess of negative emotion. (Doug: This is an important lesson for teachers and parents.)

Building Resilience

  • Pessimists tend to see negative events as broad in scope and long in duration. This makes it seem like they don’t have control, which leads to hopelessness. They also see good events as fleeting and also out of their control. This leads to less success and happiness in life. The authors cite research that claims that our explanatory style is in our control and that we can learn to challenge pessimistic thoughts. The best way to do this is to slow down and think carefully. You will likely have to counteract your confirmation bias that tries to confirm what you already believe. This won’t be easy. You need to see negative events as not ruining your whole day and stop always blaming yourself. Think about what you can do rather than feeling hopeless. You also need to forgive yourself when you make a mistake rather than indulging in self-loathing. This chapter contains activities you can use to practice.

Student Mindsets That Work

  • This chapter borrows from the work Carol Dweck has done on mindsets. If students have a fixed mindset, any failure tells them that they are not smart or worse yet, a loser. For students with a growth mindset, however, failure means they didn’t work efficiently enough or that their strategy wasn’t effective. They then make a new plan. When challenged, they dig in, work harder, seek help, try new approaches, and eventually master the material. Fixed mindsets can also cause trouble for students who find school easy as they don’t know what to do when they face something that is difficult. Teachers and parents should praise students for effort rather than praising them for being smart. No one is smart enough to get everything right so we need to develop students who can face challenges with a positive growth mindset.
  • Be sure to read my summary of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol Dweck.Also look to this chapter for stories and ideas to help you build growth mindsets with students.
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