“Know thyself: Why are YOU working on student wellbeing?  Identify your motivation so you can stick with it when the going gets tough.”

Know thyself.  That’s the focus in today’s post.  “But why am I wasting my time on me?” – I hear you ask – “Isn’t it about the students?  Just tell me what I’m supposed to do!”  Don’t stress, we’ll get to ‘What’ and ‘How’ in this quest for student wellbeing soon enough; but it won’t be nearly so valuable until you can also tell yourself why you are doing this. In previous posts we’ve covered the rational reasons for pursuing student wellbeing, and they are good strong reasons.  But now you need to be able to tell yourself your own reason or reasons.  We’ve looked at the head; but the heart needs to come on this journey too, or it will just be another temporary fad.  We don’t want that at all.

Know thyself. That inscription, ‘Know thyself’, on the ancient Greek Temple at Delphi, inspired Socrates to go further and say ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.  More recently, leadership guru Simon Sinek has combined his marketing savvy, his underlying grasp of business performance and a passing understanding of neuropsychology to say much the same thing – ‘Leaders Start with WHY’.

How will knowing myself help?Here are a few reasons that knowing yourself will help you stay focussed and motivated through the highs and lows of your quest:

  1. Happiness. If you can put into words who you are and what you desire, you personally will be happier [1]. (If you are attending to your own wellbeing, you will be setting a good example for your students – more on this in a future post). Even more importantly; if you can clarify what you want, you have a better chance of asking for it and getting it!
  2. Less internal conflict (we psychologists like to call it ‘cognitive dissonance ’[2] – just in case you wanted some jargon..). If you can identify your core feelings and values you have a better chance of taking actions that align with those values. This reduces inner conflict which is important because with any change process, any quest, there will be enough obstacles from the outside without more from the inside.
  3. Improved decision-making. Knowing your values gives you a yard-stick to use in solving difficulties that arise.  At the risk of over-stating it, there is virtually no life decision, big or small, that knowing your values won’t help with.  This ‘inner compass’ will serve as an extra reference point whether you’re deciding to push ahead with a wellbeing intervention or to wait, deciding whether to go to the pub or hit the gym, or deciding whether this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
  4. Better self-control (or ‘self-regulation’ [3] we might also say). Having insight into your own values and beliefs helps you resist external forces that may otherwise thwart your efforts.

Now you’re convinced of the need to do self-exploration, let’s look at how to do it.  There are many ways to go, but here are two that I’ve seen a lot of success with.  (Choose one of these exercises as today’s action towards you quest).

Reflect on a peak experience

Think about a peak experience you’ve had in your workplace; a time during which you felt really proud of your contribution.   Next, write down an answer (or share with a partner/friend/colleague) for some or all of the following questions:

What was happening?  What internal and external conditions allowed that peak experience to occur?  In what ways are you responsible for what happened? How can you create similar conditions in future?

Values can reveal themselves when we drill down into peak experiences in this way [4].  What was it that made it work?  Was it your sense of fairness?  Or that you got to be creative? That you had a chance to help others?

Take the Values In Action (VIA) survey

Every shade of colour appears at some point of the rainbow, but the rainbow can be broken down into seven main colours.  In the same way, some researchers have tried to identify a spectrum of 24 basic character strengths, which we all have in different amounts.  Strengths of character are simply ‘values in action’ as the title of one leading survey suggests.

Take the free VIA survey (https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths-Survey ) to identify your top strengths.  Consciously using these strengths as you proceed with your quest for student wellbeing is one way to make sure your values align with your actions.

Concluding thoughts

Having taken the time to know yourself a little better, you’re in a much stronger position to implement an approach to student wellbeing.  A good quality implementation takes time and effort.  To be of lasting value, the effort you put in needs to be something that is not only ‘for the kids’; it also needs to be a genuine expression of who you are.  Having said that, if this work is not an expression of your identity, stop.  Find a way to make it an expression of you – or find other work that makes you come alive.

Your work – including this quest for student wellbeing – is so much of your life, if you can relate it to your core motivations, your impact will be more significant for you colleagues and students.

Bring the real you to this work.  Know thyself… and live thyself, too.

Congratulations!  You’ve just completed the WHY of student wellbeing, which is the first part of the series.  The next section is WHAT – what are the guiding theoretical frameworks you will use in your quest.

Next post in the ‘How to lead a Quest for Student Wellbeing’ series:

‘PERMAH Wellbeing Theory – possibly the world’s top theory for guiding student wellbeing’

  1. Lyubomirsky, S., The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. 2008: Penguin.
  2. Cooper, J., Cognitive dissonance: 50 years of a classic theory. 2007: Sage.
  3. Baumeister, R.F., T.F. Heatherton, and D.M. Tice, Losing control: How and why people fail at self-regulation. 1994: Academic press.
  4. Privette, G., Peak experience, peak performance, and flow: A comparative analysis of positive human experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology, 1983. 45(6): p. 1361.

Nahum Kozak | Psychologist

Nahum is a Psychologist who uses the power of story, humour, and data to help improve organisations.  Nahum has a wealth of experience from school and corporate contexts – as Head of Positive Education and Senior School Counsellor (John Paul College), Corporate Coach (including experience with Griffith’s Work and Organisational Resiliency Centre) and Youth Minister (in Catholic Schools across Australia). He holds a B.A.(Psychology), M.Ed.(Educational Research: Theory and Practice), and is currently undertaking a second Masters in Organisational Psychology. He has presented at schools and conferences around Australia, and has had his research on wellbeing, social connection and sleep quality published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry. Nahum is passionate about building healthy, happy organisations.