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Love the One You’re With. Yourself.

24th May 2024

"There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy." - Friedrich Nietzsche

It can be scary to sustain an injury in an accident or because of illness. The body we largely ignore, assuming it will function at an optimum level indefinitely, is suddenly vulnerable, flawed and requires our undivided attention. It demands that we prioritise its needs, tune into its every nuance and respond with care. Its oblivious to us having places to be, people to meet or responsibilities. It reminds us that it is the boss and it cannot be neglected or ignored. It cannot be mistreated or abused. The message it sends – that healing is paramount – is salutary and essential. Everything and everyone else must wait.

Our bodies are miraculous and mysterious, robust yet delicate, endlessly surprising yet with important limitations. All human bodies are fundamentally the same yet house individuals as diverse as our limitless imaginations.

When we’re young, it’s almost inevitable that we are fearless, feel invincible and want to experiment with the lengths to which we can test our bodies. It’s almost a cliché that the young assume they will live forever, that the mere mention of old age is akin to speaking to them in an alien language as their eyes glaze over and they sigh! Old age is never a planet they will inhabit – that’s what they think. In many contradictory ways, we want the young to be brave, to explore new horizons and to test their limitations. After all, being a ‘risk taker’ is an element of the IB Learner Profile and some of the most amazing feats of endurance and the most phenomenal discoveries are a consequence of the young, curious, and fearlessly leaping in where angels have previously feared to tread.

There can be a heady price to pay, though, for ignoring body signals. Consider the accumulated research and current alerts to sportspeople about concussion and the fatalities we continue to see on roads due to alcohol, speed, and exhaustion. There are those who simply must bungee jump, skydive, swim with predatorial ocean life, run with bulls, ice climb, see great white sharks up close, raft in treacherous rapids and summit precipitous mountains. There is a proliferation of vaping. Millions of people consume fat clogged fast food. It seems that we humans take an interminable period or a tragedy to cherish our bodies.

There are those, too, who, very sadly, adopt ludicrous measures to adhere to fictional ‘ideals’ of bodies. The Australian Butterfly Foundation (Positive body image Butterfly Foundation) is a reputable organisation for those caught up in dangerous modes of body destruction. Increasingly, there is evidence of the malevolent impact social media and influencers can have on perceptions of beauty. (Is there a relationship between social media and body image?). One example the Foundation cites is ‘image-centric social media platforms like Instagram’. We know that cyberbullying can negatively impact body image and self-esteem. Filtering and editing tools can make people feel inadequate and ‘TikTok content often promotes disordered eating habits, presenting thinner body types as more ideal and preying on the viewers’ insecurities around their bodies…‘ A 2024 study noted that “thinspiration” or “fitspiration” are likely to trigger poor body image and eating disorders’

"Life is so much more beautiful and complex than a number on a scale" - Tess Holliday

The Butterfly Foundation explains that body image refers to ‘the values and beliefs we hold about our body and appearance, the way we think and feel and the attitudes and behaviours we engage in’. They advocate body positivity – inclusive promotion of ALL bodies irrespective of their ‘size, abilities, colour, gender, or shape.’ We are all valuable and enough, deserving of respect and appreciation.

Beyond Blue advocate we need to focus on our personal strengths and qualities that are not appearance-based so our self -esteem is robust and our lifestyle conducive to overall health. Laura Bajurny, from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, claims ‘…young people can easily acquire both nicotine and non-nicotine vapes online… and that they are aggressively marketed targeted at young people. She explains that ‘…heavy alcohol consumption is connected to some of the most common causes of death for young people – accidents and injuries including drownings, motor vehicle crashes. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey (March 2022) … ‘one in four Australians drinks too much and those 18 to 24 are more likely to have consumed five or more on any day at least once a month consistent with “heavy episodic drinking”,

At ISWA, we imbue all our student interactions with reflections on their strengths, ways they can appreciate themselves and how to form healthy habits. These are all elements of the S.E.A.R.C.H. pathways in Visible Wellbeing. We want every student to be resilient so they can avoid physical, emotional and psychological injury. We encourage them to recognise their uniqueness, to maximise their potential and to be thankful.

– Christine Rowlands

Take A Risk. Forgive.

3rd May 2024

Take a Risk. Forgive.

Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.

Indira Gandhi

We all feel wronged at times.  It’s legitimate to feel like this, particularly if our wounds are grievous.  We may experience anger, pain and resentment.  Should we simply let go of such feelings or will this condone what’s been done to us, feel unjust or too passive?  What if the offending person fails to recognise what they’ve done?

Given the current explosive conflict continuing to erupt in various parts of the world it can seem as if there is a deficit of forgiveness being demonstrated. However, forgiving is not the same as forgetting.  Deciding to forgive is a conscious one about relinquishing the past. Some argue it’s a virtue.

Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital claims that ‘Forgiveness is a choice…and an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not’.   We can ‘…decide to forgive’, she argues.

Forgiveness is also not about disregarding our injury or distress, ignoring, pretending or excusing something unjust or cruel, nor is it accepting that what happened is OK.  It is not about making excuses for someone or even reconciling with them.  Instead, it’s about abandoning the desire for an apology or revenge.  It’s seeking to overcome feelings of malice and aiming for harmony.

At ISWA, we try and guide students to recognise and accept that all people are flawed and that sometimes we will feel negatively in response to what happens or what someone says to us. It can be an understandable default position for young people to think in ‘black and white’ when they perceive things in categoric terms of right and wrong, but there are innumerable reasons why opting NOT to forgive is detrimental to our wellbeing.

‘Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’ 

Mark Twain

So, what are the benefits of forgiveness?

Physiologically, it boosts our immune system and minimises heart related issues.  Mentally, we know that people who forgive are inclined to experience less stress, anger, anxiety and depression.  Feelings of autonomy and control increase, as do feelings of self-worth and the ability to manage stress. It’s makes sense that all types of relationships are buoyed by forgiveness – it strengthens a sense of connection, fosters trust and is aligned to empathy.  It can enhance communication, loyalty and the ability to compromise. 

But what does forgiveness require?  Being attuned to our thoughts and feelings is an essential start, as is being both courageous and honest enough to examine these in the proverbial cold light of day. Deluding ourselves will not counter feelings of malice.  It won’t dispense with blame. Harbouring resentment begins to exert power over us because emotions such as this can be toxic for our mental health. Ruminating on them eats away valuable time, attention and energy.

Bob Enright, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, pioneered the study of forgiveness three decades ago.  He says, ‘…true forgiveness offers empathy, compassion and understanding to the person responsible for the hurt’.  Fred Luskin, a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness.…says that ‘The essence of forgiveness is being resilient when things don’t go the way you want—to be at peace with “No,” be at peace with what is, be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life. Then you have to move forward and live your life without prejudice’.

Harvard Medical School recommends the R.E.A.C.H method of forgiveness.  This acronym stands for: Recall, Emphasize, Altruistic gift, Commit, and Hold. These are the steps -.

Recall.  Begin by recalling the wrongdoing in an objective way. The goal is not to think of the person in a negative light nor to wallow in self-pity, but to come to a clear understanding of the wrong that was done. Visualize the person and situation and all the feelings that come with it. Don’t push aside anything, especially if it makes you feel angry or upset.

Empathize. Next, try to understand the other person’s point of view regarding why they hurt you, but without minimizing or downplaying the wrong that was done. Sometimes the wrongdoing was not personal, but due to something the other person was dealing with. “People who attack others are sometimes themselves in a state of fear, worry, and hurt,” says Dr. VanderWeele. “They often don’t think when they hurt others, and they just lash out.”

Altruistic gift. This step is about addressing your own shortcomings. Recall a time when you treated someone harshly and were forgiven. How did it make you feel? Recognizing this helps you realize that forgiveness is an altruistic gift that you can give to others.

Commit. Commit yourself to forgive. For instance, write about your forgiveness in a journal or a letter that you don’t send or tell a friend. “This helps with the decisional side of forgiveness,” says Dr. VanderWeele.

Hold. Finally, hold on to your forgiveness. This step is tough because memories of the event will often recur. “Forgiveness is not erasure,” says Dr. VanderWeele. “Rather, it’s about changing your reaction to those memories.”

The advice from this revered institution is that this process may take time so additional tips from Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, are to practice self-compassion

Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor’.

Dalai Lama

Perhaps, then, the first question to ask of ourselves is ‘Are you willing to take a risk and forgive?

Christine Rowlands

Why Making Mistakes is Imperative for our Well-being

9th February 2024


Take a moment to consider how many mistakes you have made today.  If we are scrupulously honest this may be confronting, disappointing or salutary.  Admittedly, mistakes can be problematic, and even painful but the alternative renders us like automatons. 

Is there really a link between making mistakes and our wellbeing?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines mistake as an actiondecision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result.’  This should resonate with us because being wrong does not equate to failure. It is not shameful, stupid or necessarily permanent. They don’t signal a lack of ability, indifference, indolence or flawed character traits.

Mistakes happen when we misjudge a step and take a tumble, eat too much spicy food at a party, inadvertently disclose a secret, harbour unrealistic expectations, speed when late for an appointment, misjudge someone on first impression – the list is limitless. And the very reason it IS limitless is because we are living beings. Consider the famous mistakes made which were deemed beneficial such as Post It Notes, made in an attempt to make strong adhesives, the microwave oven, penicillin, x-rays, tea bags, pacemakers, Velcro and even Coke- a-Cola.  We have all heard tales of business leaders even actively encouraging risk taking employees to make mistakes as this is both a sign of imagination and striving to improve. It’s vital in the areas of medicine, science, music, art and in education we try to model the learning struggle by acknowledging mistakes and how these can be insightful, rather than condemning or ignoring them.  As educationalists, we are committed to learning. It’s the rationale for our professional existence. We champion life-long learning and, in every context, emphasise the significance of trying. There is no learning without mistakes. At ISWA we champion ‘growth mindsets.’

So, why is it that making mistakes contributes to our wellbeing?

They deepen our self- knowledge. When we reflect upon a mistake, we can spot our own prejudices and biases. This process can engender humility as it encourages us to recognise our shortcomings. Analysing mistakes can lead us to embrace different beliefs and feed our curiosity. Oftentimes it can lead us to being more realistic. If we’re honest and willing to change it can result in us being more responsible. 

In fact, the experts at Headspace argue that ‘It would be healthier and more accurate to think that admitting when you’re wrong affirms something positive —that you are confident and well-reasoned, and that you won’t let your ego get in the way of a good idea.’

If we do not make mistakes, some things that can happen are:

  • Our creativity is limited.
  • Change does not happen.
  • We miss out on so many experiences.
  • We can be over reliant on assumptions rather than upon asking questions/interrogating our beliefs.
  • We may be plagued by regret over lost opportunities.
  • We remain in ignorance which is universally acknowledged as being dangerous.

It’s all right to be wrong. Mistakes need not threaten our sense of self or confidence. Mistakes can connect us with others, Mistakes can fuel development.  If we continually strive to learn and improve in the wake of mistakes, at the end of each day, we can feel justifiably proud of having TRIED.

The Well-Being Benefits of Learning New Skills

2nd February 2024

Navigating New Waters

Take a moment to think about the last new skill you learned.  How did you feel about the challenge?  What strategies did you use to overcome any difficulties you experienced?  How did you feel about mastering the skill and in what ways have you incorporated it into your life since?

Aside from the vital skill of learning to read, for which many of us are eternally grateful and which was an entrée into a myriad magical world, leaning to swim is an essential skill for those of us living around the fringes of this large island continent. 

As our Primary Head of School Paul O’Brien explained in last week’s Newsletter acquiring this skill is fundamental for survival, but also to engage in many opportunities in life here. He cogently explained the additional benefits it brings such as enhanced communication and problem solving.

What, then, is the relationship between acquiring a new skill, such as swimming, and wellbeing

The Importance of 'Having a go!'

It could be argued that across the span of our lives, beginning in uterine, we are continually growing, adapting, evolving, and changing.  That’s one of the wonders of being alive.  To what extent, though, do we take time to reflect upon these things or are we inclined to take them for granted?

One compelling argument for learning new skills is that it can be enormously enjoyable in both more formal contexts, such as schools, but also in all other aspects of our lives.  Learning how to ride a bike can be just as thrilling and liberating as crafting an argumentative essay.

Of course, embarking upon new skill learning takes courage and can be a risk.  Not all of us can collaborate successfully to write a hit musical, paint as sublimely as Monet or play English Premier League level football but ‘having a go’ helps us feel positive and proud of our efforts.  These experiences can also reveal to us previously unknown strengths, such as creativity. and provide the incentive for us to tap into our potential.

Seeking out the Positive

Learning in relation to others, in these ways, results in a greater likelihood that we will appreciate alternative perspectives.  Logically, such cooperation engenders empathy, inclusivity, and respect.  If more people exposed themselves to those different to themselves and improved their understanding of alternative beliefs, values, cultures, languages, and histories, we may have a more peaceful, harmonious world.

Unquestioningly, life be unexpected, mystifying and even incredibly distressing.  If we stubbornly maintain a laser-like focus on searching out the good, on continual learning and on embracing each opportunity to make an effort, the likelihood is that, not only will we become dolphin-like swimmers, but we will fight off the deleterious consequences of stress, and thrive.

How FUN Fosters Well-Being

25th January 2024

Try asking people what FUN means to them – how they recognise it in others, how they feel it themselves and to describe the circumstances in which fun manifests.  It’s tricky.  Universal definitions of ‘fun’ don’t exist, nor is it something that can be readily quantified, but we all know when we’re experiencing fun. 

The Colour of Fun

Friday afternoon, January 19, was fun.  Why?  Because our entire ISWA school community joined together, with a tangible, meaningful goal, to participate in some (colourful), laugh- out- loud fun. Doing something so counterintuitive i.e., breaching the rules of etiquette and civility by targeting others with ‘paint’’, mucking up, not concerning ourselves with grubbing our clothing, stimulated laughter.  It offered us permission to see each other in a novel context, to witness different aspects of our personalities and to ‘step outside’ our normal personas.  We had a licence to play up; we were sanctioned to be naughty.  

Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, and a science writer, says that rather than just being “frivolous”, fun is absolutely essential for our mental and physical health. How having more fun can enrich your relationship .  Price proposes that fun ‘counters the harmful effects of stress and isolation, both of which raise the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol’.  Consistently raised levels of cortisol can predispose us to some diseases. “When we have fun, we’re socially connected and relaxed, both of which lower cortisol levels,” Price says. Her beliefs about fun, comprising three elements, ‘playfulness, connection and flow’ are the result of discussions with people across the world about moments when they experienced the most fun.  (Why having fun is the secret to a healthier life ) TED Talk.


A Fun Research Topic

It seems contrived to try and justify/explain the advantages of fun but ample evidence exists.   Fun fosters and enhances our relationships.  It can eliminate barriers to communication, develop trust and encourage empathy. Whether we participate in spontaneous fun or willingly collaborate in more ‘planned’ fun, we’re taking risks.  We’re tossing aside the shackles of the norm and the predictable and adopting alternative guises.  This can be revealing and allow others to then view us through different lenses, perhaps more curiously, more compassionately and as fellow, flawed humans.  We’re reminded that even though fun can have many historical, cultural, regional and even religious underpinnings, there is also a certain universality to it.  Who can resist the contagious giggles of young children in moments of flow whilst safe, loved and at play.    

Doris Bergen, a professor at Miami University’s Department of Educational Psychology in ‘Want resilient and well-adjusted kids?  Let them playis quoted as saying that: “Play is one of the main ways that children really consolidate their learning. The way we really make our skills permanent and enriched and highly developed, is often through our play experiences.”

Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in the USA, reminds us, though that play is “…not frivolous and not just for kids, but something that is an inherent part of human nature.”  The authors of: The importance of adult play explain that play ‘…  fuels imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and emotional well-being.’ Travis Tae Oh Ph.D. in  What is the underlying psychology of having fun posits that ‘…an essential characteristic of fun is the sense of liberation a state of hedonic engagement…’ with enjoyment as the only intended goal.  This view is corroborated by Mike Rucker (How to start having more fun)   an organisational psychologist, and behavioural scientist who cites the ‘hedonic flexibility principle’ investigated by scientists at MIT, Harvard, Stanford (2016). 

The consistent message from the experts, then, is to dismiss any pre-existing notions we may have about fun being unproductive or unimportant.  It was clear at our ‘Colour Run’ that fun can be not only memorable but terrifically enjoyable.

Perhaps our wellbeing would benefit from intentionally aiming for MORE FUN every day.

The Power of Habits: A new year, a new you?

19th January 2024

At the beginning of each new year, many of us are tempted to set noble goals which we are convinced will improve our health, relationships, financial status and general prospects in life. For this reason, it was very timely that our partners in the Visible Wellbeing (VWB) programme returned to ISWA on Monday, January 15 to facilitate staff training on the final pathway of the S.E.A.R.C.H. model, ‘Habits and Goals’.

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t all grapple with what are considered ‘bad’ habits.  Examples of these range from: nail biting, procrastination, skipping breakfast, stereotyping, gambling, swearing, gossiping, walking whilst staring into a phone, keeping other people waiting, smoking, watching endless episodes of Netflix series late into the night – the options are endless!

Defining the Habit

But, what is a habit?  James Clear, author of the widely quoted ‘Atomic Habits’ (2018) explains them as: ‘The small decisions made, and actions performed every day’.  Clear cites researchers at Duke University, to explain that ‘…habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day’.  Encyclopedia Britannica defines habits as ‘Any regularly repeated behaviour that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate’.  It makes sense, then, that what we think, believe, do, and how our lives unfold are the result of our habits.

How are habits connected to our wellbeing?

If our lives had no structure and no predictability, things would be too chaotic to manage. Habits, like routines, can keep us, and the wider world, safe and healthy.  Examples of these are fastening car seat belts, maintaining sleep patterns, speaking kindly to ourselves, recycling and attending to our pets. Habits such as flossing, smiling when we greet people, slapping on sunblock, wearing bike helmets, and factoring in vegetables to our meals are constructive habits that contribute purposefully to our wellbeing.

Constantly relying on our willpower to make a multitude of decisions each day is a sheer impossibility.  Habits are a way of reducing variability allowing us to be more consistent.  Folklore about ex-US President Barack Obama is that he only ever wore grey or blue suits because this minimized the minor decisions he needed to make each day providing him greater ‘mental space’ for the internationally important issues of his leadership.  Being fatigued because of making insignificant decisions could have sapped all his energy.

Unleashing the Power of Self-Awareness and Positive Reinforcement

We can optimise our own strengths when creating new habits or dispensing with bad ones.  We can practice forgiving ourselves, spend time with people who care about us, express our emotions, relax using mindfulness, immerse ourselves in hobbies, skills and passions.  We can ‘habit hack’ by tagging new habits onto existing, constructive ones, such as being consciously grateful when we are provided delicious, wholesome food.  Although, according to Lally, Van Jaarsveld, Potts and Wardle (2010), it can take an average of 66 days to embed a new habit (generally between 18 – 254 days), we learned through our VWB programme that successful goal striving is a major predictor of wellbeing and that the longer the practice, the better the habit (Lowenstein, Price and Volpp 2016)

Clearly, habits are learned behaviours which can be unlearned so it’s useful to have an awareness of how our habits work by identifying the cues and rewards.  Divorcing from an unproductive habit requires the motivation to change.  Additionally, cravings can drive our behaviours so it’s worth reflecting upon what we get out of maintaining our habits.  Rewards can be powerful if they satisfy cravings.  Socrates famously said: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom and this is what is required to begin battling habits. Being conscious of our cues and rewards means we can begin regaining control over habits.  If we want to consume less ‘junk’ food or empty calories, we need to figure out whether it’s actually the McDonalds sundae we crave or the company of friends after school. Is the ‘reward’ satisfying hunger or is it about socialising?  Arming ourselves with the knowledge that ‘Habit loops’ consist of: cue → routine behavior → reward (meaning we’re more likely to repeat the habit) is crucial.  Behaviors with affirming consequences, attention and activities tend to be repeated until they become automatic.  Self- awareness, then, is vital to determine our motivation.  It’s also wise to wrestle with negative thoughts like ‘A chocolate is the only way I can make it through the rest of the day’ which may sabotage us.

Practical Steps for Building Good Habits and Breaking Bad Ones

Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit’ refers to ‘keystone habits’ or those “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”  These create a domino effect that change every area of our lives – small habits can have a massive impact. If the habit results in fulfilment and it is easy, then it is more likely to ‘stick’. A familiar example of a ‘keystone habit’ is exercise. When we start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, we often start changing other, unrelated patterns in our lives. For instance, we tend to start eating better and arriving at school/work earlier. We feel less stress, grow more patient and even spend less money. Exercise, as a ‘keystone habit’, triggers widespread change.

James Clear’s suggests the following:

  • Figure out, specifically, what we want to achieve. What are our intentions?
  • Be conscious of our environments (for example. avoid stocking the freezer with ice cream if we’re trying to break the junk food habit)
  • Start very small and be patient. Don’t make enormous changes immediately.
  • Celebrate achievements throughout the journey and invite friends to support us.
  • Reward ourselves.

The journey is always worthwhile!

Works Cited

Building Good Habits: 10 Tips for Lasting Change. (2013, June 30). Sparring Mind. https://www.sparringmind.com/good-habits/

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Penguin Publishing Group.

Davenport, B. (2020, November 8). How To Make Good Habits Stick: 11 Secrets From Research. Live Bold and Bloom. https://liveboldandbloom.com/11/habits/how-to-make-good-habits-stick

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit : why we do what we do in life and business. Random House.

Improvement Pill. (2017, August 26). 3 Habits That Will Change Your Life. Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DSscQlSZR4&ab_channel=ImprovementPill

Modgil, Dr. R. (2013). Why new habits are so hard to stick to. Bbc.co.uk. https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/why-new-habits-are-so-hard-to-stick-to/p07zqc7w

Proctor, B. (2015, March 31). A Habit You Simply MUST Develop. Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gzj7zP5BXdc&ab_channel=ProctorGallagherInstitute

Rutledge, T. (2023, March 16). The 7 Habits of Health and Happiness | Psychology Today Australia. Www.psychologytoday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-healthy-journey/202303/the-7-habits-of-health-and-happiness

Team Credible. (2018, April 14). 10 Habits Of All Successful People! Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dk20-E0yx_s&ab_channel=TeamFearless

Waters, L. (n.d.). Visible Wellbeing. Lea Waters AM, PhD. https://www.leawaters.com/visible-wellbeing

Collaboration and Wellbeing

1st December 2023

Given this week saw us all relish performances of ‘CLUE’ it’s opportune to reflect upon what it is about such events which benefit wellbeing – and there are many reasons!

Of course, there is magic…

Embracing Kindness: World Kindness Day

17th November 2023

We read about it, consistently rank it as one of the most important human attributes and often admire it in others.  Kindness. A word definitely worthy of attention because it’s powerful – positive and…

Embracing Kindness: Nurturing a World of Goodness

6th November 2023

Given the profoundly disturbing news that circulates each day on topics such as war, corruption, environmental degradation, medical crises, poverty and crime, it can feel natural to begin to believe that the world is a…