Principal's assembly 29th September 2020


Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States in 1976. In some ways, he was a really unlucky president. His time saw a worldwide recession that was not of his making and the subsequent decline of the American economy. It was no surprise that he became a one term loser when he was defeated in 1980.
In other ways, there were parts of his job that he just wasn’t very good at. For example, he had a tendency to micro-manage, to try to take every minute decision rather than see the bigger picture. It’s alleged that he even tried to determine the order of play on the White House tennis court.

Another example was his tendency to see only doom and gloom. In 1979, he made a speech that appeared to criticise the American people for not coming together to solve their financial problems. It became known as the “malaise” speech. Though he didn’t actually use that word, the speech seemed to sum up his negativity. The people wanted hope not harassment!
A friend of mine once told me that if you want to find a leader you find the optimist. I don’t mean a kind of bury your head in the sand, everything will work out ok naivety. I mean the kind of people who are solution not problem focussed. The kind of people who see silver linings in dark clouds. The kind of people who know that success is much more likely to come as a result of hard work than instantly or easily.

Nelson Mandela summed it up pretty well: “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”

It’s not always easy to be optimistic and I don’t think you should worry if you have the odd negative thought or day of procrastination. I wrote this assembly on Saturday morning after a couple of hours watching BBC Breakfast news. The headlines were dominated by the tragic murder of Police Sergeant Matiu Ratana in London, the rise in positive Covid cases, the local restrictions now in place in Leeds and the suggestion by President Trump that there might not be a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the November election to Joe Biden.

Thank goodness for a walk in Tong Valley with the dog!

I don’t doubt that some people are more optimistic by nature just as some people are more introvert by nature. What if I told you, however, that optimistic people do better at school, at work and on the playing field? What if I showed you evidence that optimistic people are physically healthier and live longer than pessimists? What if being optimistic enhances your mental wellbeing because it is simply a more pleasant state of mind to be in?

What if I told you that being more optimistic is a choice you can make? It is something that you can control. How would that affect your everyday life?

When you wake up on a morning and remember that you’ve got your most challenging subject first period. When you just don’t know how you can complete a piece of homework. When your place in the team is in danger. When you’ve had an argument with a friend or colleague. Whenever you fail at a task.

Martin Seligman is known as the father of positive psychology. Up until the 1970s, psychology was essentially a negative pursuit. It took ill people and tried to work out how to make them better. Seligman turned this on its head. He decided to look at happy, healthy and successful people and try to work out what had made them that way and how people can apply that before they became ill.

Seligman’s clinical research showed that optimism enhances your quality of life and optimism can be learned. Optimism isn’t just a mindset, it is a behaviour.

Today’s thought for the week comes from elite coach Allistair McCaw:
“This week, aim to:
learn new things; encourage others; be grateful; laugh more; reach out to others; be compassionate; look for the small daily wins; stop worrying and start trusting in yourself more; and, be positive.”

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