Peter Oliver

Category: Personal Blog

Five ways to wellbeing

Tomorrow marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK; and the Mental Health Foundation is focusing on kindness.

The focus has been placed on kindness “because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity.” They rightly state that kindness “strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.” We also know that kindness is a key element of maintaining a strong sense of wellbeing, and in developing the same in others. The ask is to celebrate acts of kindness this week – and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone has to share.

Click here to find out more.

More broadly, we know that there are wider influences on our mental health and wellbeing. A great way to consider these is through the ‘five ways to wellbeing’:

  1. Connect: taking time to connect with others, even virtually in these current times, is hugely important for sharing in life, what’s happening, what could be troubling you, what could be troubling someone else, and maybe even some laughter.
  2. Be active: getting out, stretching the legs, doing whatever exercise you’re able to helps to keep your mind alert, increases your energy and helps to create a positive mood.
  3. Take notice: observing the world around you helps to keep you focused on the present, the things you can enjoy, the things you can control and the things you can influence.
  4. Learn: self development is really important – even if just something small – learning something new helps to keep the mind active and helps us to grow our self esteem.
  5. Give: and not necessarily physical gifts or money… giving someone, a community, or an organisation, the gift of your time and support can significantlty help others, and develop a strong sense of wellbeing in yourself.

Click here to find out more.

Developing a strong mental wellbeing is, in my opinion, something we should all be cognisant of at all times – not just if we feel down, or find ourselves struggling to deal with specific circumstances. Take a little time, every day, to find ways to connect, be active, take notice, learn and give. From my own experience, you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.

And, over the next week, let’s celebrate kindness.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration: Combining impact to tackle challenges for young people.

The Children’s Society recently published ‘The Good Childhood Report 2019‘ and it’s a fascinating read. It’s the eighth edition of their annual report and summarises their studies of the state of the well-being of children in the UK. The report is informed through a research partnership with the University of York and was initiated to ensure that the voices of young people are given a platform and the opportunity to influence public debates about their well-being – with 67,000 young people having been engaged.

Key points I’ve interpreted from the report:

  • Since 2010/11, there has been a steady decrease in how happy children are with life as a whole;
  • Happiness with friends and school is at the lowest level since 2009/10;
  • No significant changes in happiness with family, schoolwork and appearance over the last 10 years;
  • When considering their futures, children are most concerned about having enough money, finding employment and getting good grades – with existing but lesser concerns in relation to mental and physical health;
  • In relation to broader societal challenges, children are most concerned about crime, the environment, cyber-related matters and homelessness.

The report makes some interesting policy recommendations that support my own view that there is no one answer to securing brighter futures for generations to come. Our fragmented approach to delivering the services that young people require of society is lessening the potential combined impact on their wellbeing. We need collaboration.

I see great opportunity for public sector, private sector and third sector organisations to increase their collaboration, focused on specific outcomes, and radically improve the impact on wellbeing of young people.

An interesting article in The Guardian in 2017, clearly positioned that funding cuts have been drastically impacting the delivery of vital services for young people; also citing the Casey Review. The article called for “real leadership, more collaboration and efficient spending” in order to change this trend – but I’m not sure we’ve seen this happen; certainly in my home County of Merseyside.

We have a great unrealised opportunity to develop much closer collaboration between the bodies, services and organisations serving young people.

Albeit they’ll often be worded differently, these bodies largely have similar objectives – broadly to create bright futures for young people by developing good health and wellbeing, developing life skills, fostering inclusion and integration, tackling key social issues, lessening social exclusion, developing aspirations and enabling choices.

Simple, right. Wrong. But eminently sensible and absolutely doable with a little effort, hard work and focus.

Who’s in?

But, why do you do it?

Like so many others; I volunteer. I’m passionate about my belief in society’s need to build social capital, and feel a level of responsibility to support communities to work together to function effectively – to tackle some of the challenges we face, and to secure bright futures for generations to come.

But why? One of the questions I frequently get asked is “why do you do it?”. I’m afraid I don’t have a polished answer. Something deep inside drives me to try and make whatever difference I can – not always successfully – but with an underlying desire to make the world (or whatever part of it is in focus) better. All quite vague words, right?! There’s a chance my Mum might be to blame, and the answer might be as simple as that!

There’s plenty of research out there about volunteering and how it can:

  • Improve your mental wellbeing, resilience and empathy;
  • Improve your physical health and increase levels of activity;
  • Ensure you’re better connected with those around you and help you to build stronger networks;
  • Develop your skills, often in ways education and employment simply can’t;
  • Support you in changing career paths or in more rapidly developing your career;
  • Make you more tolerant and more adaptable;
  • And that’s just a short list; some brief searching on the Internet will reveal many studies.

But; I think many of these, however valid and life-changing, are side effects. They happen as a result of you finding something you’re passionate about; then giving freely of your precious time, and adding a little effort, to see what impact you can have. With no monetary reward; you’ll only keep doing it if you develop an emotional attachment with what you’re achieving – whether your time affects the lives of others, or the communities or causes you’re serving.

What is likely to really motivate you is a strong sense of pride in the difference you make – and, the future potential difference. In some cases, you may never see your true impact – that may come many years down the line.

In a world where the public purse simply cannot afford all the services our communities need for us to be effective, there are many opportunities to volunteer your time and make a real difference.

If you already volunteer; thank you – for giving of the most precious thing you have – your time.

If you don’t; give it some thought – there are people, communities and causes who need your time, skills, energy and effort. You can get started at places like

So; ‘why do you do it?’… answers on a postcard, please! Each of our stories will be personal ones and likely to have a level of uniqueness.

Young People Today?

When you search Google for ‘Young People Today’; here’s a few of the headlines of the top pages that you’re presented with:

  • “Are young people today worse than ever?”
  • “Is today’s generation of young people in crisis?”
  • “The top 10 challenges facing young people today.”
  • “The problem with young people today is…”

You see – here’s the problem – so many people waste time trying to compare today’s generation of young people with what they think they might remember of young people from their own generation – and it’s not possible to do this; our worlds are different.

It is true that young people today face challenges; some of which are unlike those which previous generations of young people will have faced. We know that young people are concerned about things such as:

  • Lack of economic opportunity and unemployment
  • Political stability (but who isn’t right now?!)
  • Education
  • Safety, security, and well being
  • Poverty
  • And having a sense of belonging

However – I am fortunate to be able to see first hand a different perspective. I, along with many thousands of colleagues, across many organisations in the third sector, volunteer our time to provide opportunities for young people to develop skills for life. We deliver opportunities that the public purse can no longer afford, and we help young people to develop:

  • a sense of belonging, which helps them to find their place in society
  • a strong balance between empathy and resilience, which improves mental wellbeing and helps them to connect with other people of all ages
  • greater levels of independence, balanced with the ability to work in teams
  • improved perseverance and grit
  • the courage to take risks, and tackle challenging things in life
  • into global citizens, ready for a new world

I’ve spent today helping to celebrate the significant achievements of hundreds of young people, of all years, from across Merseyside Scouts who have dedicated many years to improving themselves and to making their contribution to society. And, I tell you, don’t believe the headlines. Many young people, albeit facing challenges, are filled with optimism and drive – they want to play their part in society and they want to succeed in life.

Let’s help them – not label or hinder them.

Let’s celebrate the great things they do and the bright futures they’re building. And be proud of the way the vast majority of our young people are living their lives, the contribution they’re making to society today – and the unquantifiable contribution they will make in the future.

Labels Divide Us

In a world that seems increasingly divided and filled with tension; I often find myself thinking about what causes this… and more importantly, how we can address it. Admittedly, I believe there are many contributing causes, and that second bit is a rather large question!

What is clear is though is that we need more and more people to feel passionate about wanting to build a united world. A world in which people are more accepting of difference, tolerant of other views and recognise, celebrate and encourage individuality – and reduce prejudice.

I think one of the problems we have in the world is our tendency to ‘label’ and categorise – rather than simply accept. Whether it’s labels based on political views, age, disability, gender, sexuality, marriage or civil partnership status, race, religion or belief; we’re a world full of labels. Categorising. Dividing. Creating unnecessary and unhelpful tension.

Bias and prejudice is a massive part of the problem – views that we form are based on our experiences, what we read, who we engage with. Therefore; bias is perpetuated all too easily.

It’s time to embrace diversity. Properly. Like we actually mean it.
Being aware of bias and prejudice is undoubtedly the first step – potentially making ourselves aware of what’s in the back of our mind and that comes through, often unintentionally, in our actions – and then actually acting to address it. Broadening our world view. Broadening our acceptance of others. And breaking silence to help others to do the same.

Here’s a short clip I find thought provoking….

And here are some really interesting real life stories of what bias looks like.

They’re worth a read; they’ll help open your mind.

Don't stop believing… unless your dream is stupid!

Today, at Merseyside Scouts, we held our Programme Re:Focus event. The day was designed to support our adult volunteers in further enhancing their knowledge of our life changing programme of everyday adventure and to help them develop additional tools to support them in delivering skills for life to our 8000 young people across Merseyside. The team did a great job – well done to everyone involved! More about Merseyside Scouts in a future blog.

I was asked to close the day and I decided that I wanted my message to go some way to help everyone understand the vast impact they have on young people across the county. They change lives and they change communities; and many will never see the ultimate impact of their work, as those young people take their experiences and build upon them on their journey through life.

I’m a firm believer that we should each try and find a passion – something we are interested in, care about, enjoy and something that will leave a legacy for years to come. When you find that passion; keep hold of it, don’t let go and don’t stop believing in it… unless of course it turns out not to be a good idea! Perhaps most importantly, especially if volunteering your time to follow this passion, is to have fun… and have absolutely no shame in enjoying the journey with those you meet, who could become great friends.

How's your emotional intelligence? Here's some insight to my journey…

For some years, I’ve been deeply intrigued by the role emotional intelligence (EQ) plays in determining the effectiveness of the leader, the team member and the overall team.

It can be defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically” and is absolutely key in developing strong relationships; whether personal or professional.

EQ is distinctly different from IQ and there is little evidence to suggest that the two are linked, in any way. Whilst clearly a level of IQ is important, it is argued that you reach a point where EQ becomes vastly more important to your ability to effectively contribute – and therefore, your success.

At an early stage in my own leadership journey, I realised I was missing something – but I wasn’t sure what – so I needed some help. I arranged to meet up with a friend who, after a highly successful career as a senior leader in higher education, had become an Executive Coach. He introduced me to the concept of emotional intelligence – I’d never heard of it before – but quickly became fascinated.

There are essentially four key components:

  • Self Awareness: understanding your own emotions and how they will be perceived – and importantly staying constantly aware of them;
  • Self Management: developing the ability to use the knowledge you gain though your self awareness to manage your emotions and to positively motivate yourself;
  • Social Awareness: understanding the emotions of others and being able to respond appropriately;
  • Relationship Management: developing the skills needed to build and maintain strong and authentic relationships with other people; and managing interactions in an appropriate way.

These components are underpinned by your resilience – and your ability to have an appropriate level of resilience, yet remain empathetic – and to proactively manage this.

After some time, lots of talking, reading, some formal training and a great degree of self observation; I started to become equipped with the tools necessary to logically and objectively understand the science behind my own behaviours. This was significant. With understanding comes the opportunity to control and develop your behaviours – whether that was attenuation, amplification or to change behaviours altogether. It was transformational.

I noticed rapid developments in my ability to understand myself better, to engage more positively with a wider range of people, to better understand the emotions and interactions of others, build stronger, more authentic relationships and improve the management of my resilience. I don’t think you ever stop your journey of enhancing your EQ – almost every day brings the opportunity to use one or more of the tools you learn to address one or more of the above key components.

My friend and mentor who helped me is involved in running an organisation called EI4Change. They’ve published a good video short and it’s worth a look.

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

You may have heard the saying “do one thing every day that scares you”? It’s attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was once the First Lady and recognised as a Social Activist. It also featured in the Baz Luhrmann song, Sunscreen!

There’s a really important message here. So many of us go through life permanently living in our comfort zone – doing the things we know we like, engaging with the people we know we like and seeking to reduce the risk of being ‘scared’. It’s human nature. Our minds naturally prioritise the avoidance of fear, uncertainty and the unknown.

But – what if that thing that you think scares you, doesn’t actually scare you? What if it leads to a new interest, a new friendship, a new hobby or a new career. You can guarantee if it does, it will be just the start of many new experiences and a development of a new level of self-confidence to try new things.
We just never know what could be around the corner; and we will never know if we don’t explore – and experiencing a rich life is all about exploring.

So, today, explore – even just dip your toe in to start with low risk – try something new, perhaps something that scares you. If it works out, it will be just the start.

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