Several activities were strength-based: for example students were asked to write narratives about times when they were at their very best; they interviewed family members to develop a ‘family tree’ of strengths; other lessons included learning how to use strengths to overcome challenges; students also identified students or teachers whom they considered models of each strength.
Among the activities aimed at building positive emotion there was
- writing gratitude letters to parents;
- learning how to appreciate and “savour” good memories
- learning how to overcome negativity bias.
In other classes, students were guided to learn about the ABC model (Ellis, 1962):
how beliefs (B) about an adversity (A) influence the consequent (C) feelings.
Then students learned how to slow down this ABC process through more flexible and more accurate thinking.
This technique is particularly powerful with students who still have not developed profound introspective abilities. I have personally experienced how effective the A.B.C. model is for secondary school students, in extra-curricular courses aimed at coping with school stress and performance anxiety at school.
Awareness of negative self-talk must be followed by a phase in which faulty self-demeaning thinking is challenged and replaced by more correct and rational statements. I usually make examples of reframing of the most sypical negative self-statements. Succesively I ask students to identify their inner criticisim and practice reframing it.
This training was first proposed within positive psychology by Martin Seligman as a training for happiness, in his first best-selling book “Learned Optimism” (1990) where he pointed the techniques to improve our own “explanatory style”, i.e. practically modifying our own inner dialogue against adversity.
Another typical exercise is the “blessings journal”, in which students every night keep track of what went well (WWW) that day.
In the Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum, one typical exercise is “Three Good Things”: students are instructed to write down three good things (both minimal episodes and major achievements/events) that happened to them, each day, for a week, adding a reflection on one of the following questions: ‘Why did this good thing happen?’, ‘What does this mean to you?’, ‘How can you increase the likelihood of having more of this good thing in the future?’.
At Geelong students were also taught the importance of Losada’s 3:1 positive-to-negative ratio