I can and I will – Lighting a fire in Young People’s minds

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Not that we’re obsessed with Great British Bake Off here at UFA…but even though it’s over for 2015 I have the winner’s victory speech still ringing in my ears: “I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.” Shivers ran up my spine when Nadiya spoke through tears of joy because I’ve heard those exact words from many of the young people we’re privileged to work with.

How do we enable youngsters to find enough self-belief to overcome years of negative conditioning? The research on word gap that our blog showcased recently highlighted the stark differences in the balance of negative to positive comments in families. The current school system with its relentless drive for academic attainment all too often heaps further messages of being worthless for many young people in the UK.

So I’m constantly striving to co-create truly transformational moments in which the lightbulb of belief switches on in their eyes. Only by “lighting a fire” in their minds – as one inspirational headteacher I’m working with in Derbyshire recently said – can we hope to give young people the hope they sincerely deserve. Not easy in today’s society of disgracefully low social mobility where so many of our youth face such tough odds to succeed and find happiness in their lives.

One of the mottoes I live by – “Never give up never give in!” – is what I try to bring to every child to lead them into a place where they have faith in themselves and their unique potential. I make no apology for my passion to teach young minds that what they say to themselves inside their own heads is one of the most powerful drivers for their health, their wealth and their wellbeing. In fact I use a metaphor of “who’s driving your bus and is that bus driver taking you to a place of pride or a destination of disgust?”

UFA teaches the power of self-talk and creates opportunities for our young leaders to practise and master the strategies to not only change their own negative self-talk habits but to notice others’ self-talk patterns and challenge them with fresh ideas about how to see themselves. We share a range of models and practical ways to shift unhelpful thoughts and language from Seligman’s Learned Optimism to Dweck’s Growth Mindset; from Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence to Berger’s Ethic of Excellence – anything which we believe has merit in unlocking self-belief.

Because as I took in the seriously depressed community that headteacher was working in, we agreed that the only way to reach a sustainable tipping point was to get the children to ignite fires in EACH OTHER. This is why the UFA is determined to give every child, every young person, the chance to be a leader – to lead themselves and their peers out into the best of who they are.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Nadiya, because she’s made the kind of journey UFA offers to young people; from lack of belief to being ready to take on the world:  “Before I did Bake Off I did wonder if, after 10 years of being at home, I was work ready. When I was called for the final 12 I nearly rang to tell them I couldn’t do it. My speech when I won came from somewhere deep. It was all about the boundaries I put on myself. But with each week of Bake Off another boundary fell away until I felt completely open and free to run as far as I wanted. I feel there’s nothing I can’t do.” UFA strips away boundaries about what leadership means and who’s entitled to step up to it.

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