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Any of you who have/care for/know children of exam age will be coming towards the end of a relatively stressful and intense period for the teen and possibly you too. At that age, weeks of revision and exams does seem like an impossible task  (“How will I ever remember all of this?”) and messing up a question in an exam can feel like the end of the world (“There’s no way I’ll be able to do what I wanted now!”).

 

Fortunately we develop coping strategies for difficult situations over our life time by filing and categorising information in our brains so we can respond quickly to a variety of situations. The problem is that these categories are often over simplified and our resulting habits and interpretations can stop us finding new perspectives and ways to respond when we are stuck in a rut.

 

According to Srini Pillay MD - founder and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and a pioneer in brain-based executive coaching - by giving your brain a break your subconscious will work harder at finding a solution for you. Research also suggests that focusing on the negatives effective frazzles your brain and makes it less effective at doing its job ( a colleague and I call this “whizzy head”) – whereas focusing on positives releases opiates that stimulates your brain to work for you – all while you think about something else!

 

These simple techniques might help you to put things in perspective, see things differently and break out of that rut. At the very least they will improve your mood.

 

  • Park your worries – write down the things that are bothering you and stopping you from finding a solution or taking positive action. Put the paper in a sealed envelope and move on to something else. When you read them at a later date make a note of what actually happened to start storing making new neural connections for future reference
  • Change your physical state– go for a walk, stretch, phone a friend, play a game, listen to music – all these things will positively change your mental state
  • Count your blessings – make a note of anything that you appreciate, makes you happy, is going well in your life – then read it before you go back to tackling the current issue or situation
  • Believe it is possible – even if you don’t know how you will change something, do something, believe something – tell yourself that it is possible and your brain will work to make it so

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Cornwall is now very much open for business and we are well on the way to a gorgeous spring but we famously came in for a severe lashing over the last couple of months as storm after storm lifted surging tides to record highs, battering our beautiful coast.  Perched above the beach at Watergate Bay,  Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall is something of a top spot for watching waves and weather, and it was great to see our restaurant team managing so well with the stresses and strains some of our customers had to endure with the floods, power cuts and storm damage caused across the country.  Resilience is the buzz word of the moment, and having seen it in practice recently in some quite severe consequences, I’ve been reflecting on what makes a resilient team.

Our ethos at Fifteen is the development of the whole person.  The restaurant exists to deliver the highest standards of professional training while coaching individual trainees to overcome their personal development challenges and life-blighting circumstances.  It makes no sense to us to train a top-flight chef without helping them be the best person they can be too.  Our daily practice therefore is geared both to professional and personal development, and this helps breed a culture of aspiration and development across the whole workforce. 

My preferred definition of resilience is ‘the capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure, and identity’, from Charlie Edwards 2009 Demos pamphlet Resilient Nation.  I like it because it is more about people, less about structures than other definitions.  This reflects the way we try to work at Fifteen – organically rather than mechanically.  Starting from where people are, helping them develop a vision of where they want to be, working with them every step of the way sharing regular authentic feedback and coaching them over inevitable obstacles.  Focusing on developing the whole person is good for business, and that’s what I enjoy so much about Fifteen – a very social enterprise.

The ironic sting in the tail is that the only building that was affected by the storms was ‘Matt’s Hut’ where our resident coach and welfare manager took apprentices down to the sea wall for their intensive one to one sessions.  Fortunately he is resilient enough to be able to run those sessions in our private dining room for now.  Anyone want to help us rebuild Matt’s Hut?!

Image: Roger Sharp/SWNS

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I am a fair weather skier. When the sun is shining and the snow is squeaky you’ll find me swooping around the mountain with the wind whistling past my ears (safely encased in my helmet of course). But put me on a run with poor visibility, big bumps or deep fresh snow - and I go completely to pieces. Instead of the wind whistling you’ll hear me squealing as I lurch from one turn to another.        

Last week we were lucky enough to be skiing.  In spite of the heavy snow and poor visibility on several days, I found the lure of the mountains and fresh air overcame my dislike (and slight fear) of skiing in a white out. I chose to step outside my comfort zone, give it a go and increase the level of risk and stress - within limits. When my legs were getting tired and I really thought I might hurt myself, I stopped. After 3 days I had learnt to relax into the bumps and how to avoid getting stuck in snow drifts. Then the sun came out - and it was suddenly all so effortless by comparison.   

The idea of the comfort zone has been around since the early 20th century, when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. But in order to maximise performance, we need a state of relative anxiety - a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety," and is just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we're too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply. 

An article in Future Science Leaders suggests that any goal or challenge could fall into either our comfort zone, growth zone or panic zone. A goal in your panic zone would be too frightening to do now, but if you try similar challenges in your growth zone, your comfort zone expands so that things that would have been unthinkable at one point become challenging but doable. 

Choosing to step outside your comfort zone in a controlled way helps to build the flexibility and resilience to deal with unexpected changes. This could be something as simple as trying a new dish in your favourite restaurant or assigning a regular activity to a different member of the team. Wherever you start remember that small incremental changes are just as beneficial as big steps - and the important thing is to start.

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