Resiliency topic of third Healthy Campus Summit
Keynote address focuses on SAVES model of resiliency
Binghamton University’s third annual Healthy Campus Summit was held Wednesday, Nov. 7, focusing on grit and resiliency. Gregory Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell University, gave two talks in the Mandela Room: “Being Resilient, Fostering Grit and Developing Life Skills,” and “Leading and Modeling Resilience on Campus.”
The summit also featured an employee flu vaccine clinic, restorative yoga, a cooking demonstration, a visit from the BARK-9 Therapy Dogs, a student research poster session and talks by Jennifer Wegmann, lecturer in the Department of Health and Wellness, on “Changing the Way You Think About Stress: Stress, Stress Mindset and Well-Being,” and Stephen Jay Lynn, distinguished professor of psychology, titled, “Mindfulness, Meditation and Acceptance: Strategies for Enhancing Personal Growth and Potential.”
In his morning keynote, Eells spoke about the SAVES model for resilience development: making social connections, improving attitudes, exploring values, accepting emotions and incorporating silliness or humor into our lives.
“When attitude is a fixed mindset, we have the idea that we can’t make mistakes and have to finish tasks – and that being smart is defined as being special or better than others,” he said. “But nobody is special. We’re all going to eat like the others, sleep like others.
“None of our achievements will make us special,” he added. “It’s important to realize that truth. And it’s a hard message because so many students come here saying they did so well and achieved so much, but now they’re no different than everyone else that came here.”
But when you look at attitude as a growth mindset, you give yourself the luxury of becoming, growing, developing and learning, Eells said.
“It’s the idea that I’m not more special than others, yet my life has meaning, value and purpose. Success is something that’s cultivated. It’s about your individual goals,” Eells said. “Failure hurts, but it isn’t defining. It’s just outcomes that we don’t want and the growth mindset comes when you know your value.
Eells said being resilient requires a shift from avoiding to embracing challenges, from giving up versus remaining persistent in the face of adversity. “This person did really well, so how can I learn from it?”
He also spoke of the values of meaning and purpose. “The Centers for Disease Control says that about four of every 10 Americans haven’t discovered a satisfying life purpose,” Eells said. “But having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem and decreases the chances of depression. Investing in meaningful and powerful relationships makes us more happy.”
Tenacity is another value that can support resiliency, Eells said, as is gratitude, which he described as the most powerful value. “It’s important to think about the concept that what we have is enough,” he said.
Eells also spoke of emotional avoidance that traps people in a negative place, noting that people who come to therapy are frequently in a tug-of-war with their own experience. “Therapy is more about emotional acceptance and how to be active and aware and embrace your experiences,” he said. “Therapy isn’t about winning the tug-of-war, but about learning about the world and no longer engage in the tug-of-war. Too often we spend way too much time locked in the conflict.”
Finally, Eells, who had quoted a number of famous people during his talk, quoted himself. “Laughter is the anesthesia for living,” he said. “Don’t take yourselves too seriously!”
Eells’ afternoon talk built on the morning messages about developing resilience by learning to recognize reality, accept limitations and take risks.
For example, he said there’s a big gap between the expectations of what college will be like and what students actually experience. “It’s much healthier to match the expectations,” Eells said. “Students who have always been the smartest in their class think that college will be the same. It’s not. You’re surrounded by other students who have always done well and been involved in tons of activities. You should expect that you will be challenged and pushed by professors academically. Accept the choices you’ve already made. You’ve chosen the challenges, embrace them.”
Eells focused on having a strong sense of love and belonging through being whole-hearted and developing courage, compassion and connection. “Too many of us don’t have the courage to tell the true story of who we are,” he said. “And compassion is so important, so simple and so rare. One of the main things we see as therapists is the imposter syndrome where someone thinks, ‘I don’t deserve to be here; someone made a mistake.’
“If you are where you are, you deserve to be there,” he said. “If we’re not able to be compassionate with ourselves, we’ll never be able to show compassion to other people. Let go of who you think you should be, and just be who you are, fully embracing your vulnerability.”
Eells said that people who are willing to admit their vulnerabilities are more liked, so cautioned against avoiding emotions. “Healthy living won’t occur until negative emotions are resolved.”
Other tips he gave included learning to accept what is, reframe experiences to recover from setbacks and learn optimism by acknowledging the contextual causes of difficult events and your own internal contributions to positive events. “There’s always a larger factor that’s not about us.”