Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

How to Bring Out Your—and Your Students’—Best Self

By Angela Duckworth — September 01, 2021 3 min read
How do I bring out my best self?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is the third and last installment in a series about the work of psychotherapy pioneer Tim Beck. Read the first piece here and the second one here.

How do I bring out my best self?

Different situations can trigger different sides of yourself, so you want to pay attention to the good more than the bad. Here’s something I wrote about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

In one of Tim Beck’s recent articles, he tells the story of David, a 37-year-old man hospitalized with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

David’s symptoms are severe, and traditional therapeutic approaches have so far been unsuccessful. Some days it’s a challenge for him to even engage in a conversation.

One day, his therapist asks him what activity he liked most in the past. “McDonald’s,” he replies. “I’ve always enjoyed going to McDonald’s for a hamburger.”

The therapist proposes that they walk over to the hospital restaurant. On arrival, without explanation, a miraculous transformation occurs.

Suddenly, David is alert to his surroundings, able to cheerfully complete the transaction at the cash register and even to joke with the cashier before taking his food.

Had you been waiting behind David in line, you would never guess that he was suffering from a severe mental illness. But he wasn’t cured; once they left the restaurant, his schizophrenic symptoms returned.

It was the observation of these strikingly different modes—co-existing personality states in the same individual—that inspired Tim to develop an alternative psychotherapeutic approach for patients who don’t improve in traditional cognitive therapy. And the implications of Tim’s Theory of Modes extend to all of us, not just those struggling with mental illness.

Rather than helping the patient correct maladaptive thoughts, this more recently developed approach is asset-oriented. The therapist, Tim explains, aims “to ferret out the individual’s values, interests, capacities, skills, [and] provide collaborative experiences that cater to these attributes and provide new learning.”

For instance, in the months following their visit to the restaurant, David and his therapist explored his interest in preparing and serving food, and together they discovered that the meaning of this particular interest was a deep desire to care for others. After learning to cook for himself, David learned to cook for other patients in the hospital, eventually leaving the hospital altogether to live on his own, with a full-time job at a restaurant.

Everyone, Tim says, has a profound need to feel accepted, respected, effective, and connected to others. “When individuals shift into an adaptive mode,” he says, “these critical needs and meanings in their lives can be met.”

Don’t dwell on your worst selves. In each of us coexist multiple modes—some more adaptive than others. Problematic behavior grabs our attention, but focusing on the positive is often more fruitful.

Do ponder, and perhaps share with the young people in your life, this parable, quoted verbatim from Tim’s recent article:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good—his is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Balanced Screen Time
This Spotlight will help you understand responsible online behavior, what schools can do to prevent the overuse of technology, and more.
Student Well-Being Half of School Nurses Report Being Harassed, Threatened
The past few years have been tough for school nurses for a few different reasons.
2 min read
Missy Gendron RN, Lewiston High School nurse, unpacks pooled COVID-19 testing materials on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, at Lewiston High School in Lewiston, Maine. Gendron is going to be doing a walk through with staff next week. Classroom pooled testing is planned for the week following. Consent for COVID-19 pooled testing is being collected from parents now.
Missy Gendron, a nurse at Lewiston High School in Maine, unpacks COVID-19 testing materials in September 2021.
Andree Kehn/Sun Journal via AP
Student Well-Being School Sports Participation Drops, Raising Concern About 'Physical Learning Loss'
But interest in e-sports and inclusive teams is rising.
5 min read
The Michigan City High School Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a Future Wolves basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at the high school.
The varsity girls basketball team at Michigan City High School in Michigan City, Ind., hosted a basketball camp for elementary and middle school girls last spring.
Kelley Smith/The News Dispatch via AP
Student Well-Being Biden's National Strategy on Hunger: What It Means for Schools
The administration seeks more access to free school meals and nutritious foods. But a universal free meals bill is stalled in Congress.
4 min read
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks during the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in Washington on Sept. 28.
Evan Vucci/AP