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Bringing Their Best Selves

There is a secret weapon to help your children’s bodies work better, to help them feel better, to help them perform better and to help them be happier.

We all have our own concept of ourselves, our own idea of self, and our own idea of when we are our best selves. It may not happen very often, but you know those moments when you feel a little more alive, feel that you are thriving and contributing more. Our language says it all when the converse is true and we are feeling unsure of ourselves.

I recently became interested in the research and work of Professor Dan Cable. He has a fascinating talk online which you may like to watch here: The case studies he talks about involve adults, but I think the premise is valuable for children too.

He is interested in how we get to be our best selves more often, and in the effect this has on our physiology. For example how our hearts are performing, the chemical balance of our stress levels and immune systems, and our ability to think creatively - especially under pressure.
His experiments have consisted of asking friends, family, work colleagues and employers of the participants to write a short piece describing an occasion when that person had really shown themselves at their best. These were then collated into a report consisting of four of these stories. The participants were then separated into a control group, who didn’t get their reports, and a second group who did. Both groups were then subjected to a series of tasks that tested their ability to creatively problem solve and to endure social and other stresses. Guess what? Yes, the group who got to read their report in advance of the tasks (the other group got to read theirs afterwards) performed better to a statistically significant degree.
Fancy that! It turns out that feeling good about yourself makes you perform better in all sorts of ways. However, what might be more surprising are the medical tests run directly after the experiments which also showed an improvement in the immune system and in heart health.

When this kind of experiment was carried out with employees, they did not become complacent or arrogant as some might expect, they gave more of themselves instead.

So this got me to thinking about how we are with our children. Are we highlighting the positive rather than the negative often enough? Do we give our children enough of an opportunity to be aware of when they are being their best selves, so that they can enjoy that feeling and hopefully find it easier to replicate in the future?

If we want our children to be their best selves more often, they need to be able to recognise what that is, and to know that other people see it in them too, then they can reap all the benefits it brings, and we will benefit too.