Dr Sven Hansen on Resilience and Rhythm

10 February 2023

The energy around campus in these first weeks signal that staff and students are returning recharged and enthusiastic about the year ahead. 2023 started on a high note for us all as teachers and student leaders had the opportunity to reconnect with Dr Sven Hansen, a global expert on the field of resilience, founder of the Resilience Institute and an inspiring role model.

Throughout the past six years, Dr Hansen has built a strong relationship with St Andrew’s College, supporting members of our community in developing a robust understanding of the science of resilience (both as individuals and as a community). His research has contributed significantly to the direction of our whole school well-being goal. Little did we know at the beginning of this journey (pre-pandemic) how important his knowledge would be for us all.

You can read about other times that Dr Hansen has presented to St Andrew’s College here and find out more about 25 teachers in our Resilience Innovation Group here. 

Dr Sven Hansen presenting to students

This year, Dr Hansen reintroduced the concept of resilience, provided us with insight into his most recent global research including the factors that impact resilience (both positively and negatively) and set the scene for us to discuss intentions and goals related to our own resilience in 2023. The room was a-buzz with connection and inspiration.

In this blog post, I will share with you the main takeaways I reflected on after Dr Hansen’s presentation.

Rhythm matters

There is no doubt that we are living in a more complex and hyper stimulated world where technology impacts attention, focus and mental health.

In light of this, Dr Hansen emphasised the theme of rhythm when considering resilience. He believes that it is important to protect and honour our ancient rhythms if we are to flourish in life. He reminded us that nature is full of rhythm: the seasons, light and dark, circadian and ultradian cycles, attention and recovery, emotions, breath and heartbeat. Rhythm is how living things function best, so we need to carefully know when to reduce and increase pace.

The sunrises over Te Waka Calling Ceremony

We were challenged to consider the rhythm to the day that suits us best. When do we include an opportunity to breathe, rest, savour nature and be mindful? Do we prioritise space for activities that need our full focus and engagement? What is the optimum timeframe for our sleep? How do we prepare for sleep? When do we get bursts of physical activity?

We might not have control over every aspect of our day, but we can be creative in making small changes that respect the subtle ebbs and flows of energy that exist over the day, week, and year. One colleague posed a thought that made me reflect. What would it look and feel like if we swapped eight minutes of social media scrolling with mindfulness practice each day? What difference would that make to our resilience?

Students competing at a rowing competition

Find your flow

Flow is the holy grail for a classroom educator and it’s something humans should seek in life. Those moments when our strengths and skills rise to meet a meaningful challenge, thinking stops and we are at one with the moment. It’s a state where we are more productive, creative, and fulfilled.

Dr Hansen prompted staff and student leaders to reflect on how often they experience flow in their lives. Other questions included: What activities put you in the state of flow? What aspects of your job/school evoke a state of flow?

The research suggests that resilient people seek to achieve flow in their daily routine. On leaving Dr Hansen’s session I am more conscious of aspiring towards building opportunities for flow in work and life and putting boundaries around distractions.

Student playing the piano

Give to self to give to others

A key aspect of resilience is determined by our ability to connect to others. Ultimately, we aspire to make a difference and to serve others. Nothing is more rewarding than this and is particularly evident in the vocation of teaching and the process of leadership. Dr Hansen reminded us that connection and contribution may be the ultimate goal, but this must always begin with a respectful connection to self. It’s about self-awareness and deliberately checking in with our own bodies, emotions, thoughts, and purpose to consider next steps. To connect and do good, we have to take care of ourselves so we can give and serve from a “full cup”. This requires rest, reflection, and insight. Balancing our connection with self and others is another rhythm we need to master.

te waka ceremony huddle

Over the past two weeks I have reflected on Dr Hansen’s teaching with teachers and student leaders. They appreciated his wisdom, integrity, and ability to make evidence-based science relevant and practical. They also admired how he engaged us all in an inspiring, empathetic, and wholehearted way.

All Secondary School leaders have set well-being goals and will continue to check-in on these with a buddy throughout the year. Many goals are focused on themes such as sleep, building flow and focus during the school day and scheduling time for contemplation and mindfulness. Mastering these habits will require effort, discipline, and perseverance but have the potential to create an upward spiral in resilience and well-being.

Do any of my reflections resonate for you and inform what you could focus on in 2023?

If you were interested in learning about more of Dr Hansen's work, I highly recommend his latest book Rythym: 64 drills to live, lead and laugh. You can read more about The Resilience Institute here.

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