Positive Childhood Experiences: Protective Factor for Adult Mental Health?

Photo by  MI PHAM  on  Unsplash

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

The Montana Institute (TMI) has been a key part of groundbreaking new research indicating that positive childhood experiences may not only decrease the risk of depression or other mental health issues later in life, but may also counteract the detrimental mental health effects of negative or traumatic childhood experiences. You can read the study, “Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels,” online at the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics website.

For the past two decades, The Montana Institute has been a thought leader in the fields of resiliency and positive health promotion through its development of the Science of the Positive framework, which focuses on growing ‘The Positive’ in ourselves, our families, communities and cultures.  This latest research is part of “a revolution in thinking about child development,” which has historically focused on the negative impact of childhood trauma, according to Dr. Robert Sege, a Pediatrician and Researcher at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Senior Author of the study, and a longtime TMI colleague and contributor.  TMI’s Director Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, also an author of the study, emphasizes that, “while healing from trauma and adversity is critical, a focus on prevention of adverse experiences and promotion of positive ones is also needed. This research found convincing evidence that the beneficial impacts of positive childhood experiences dramatically reduce the long-term effects of childhood trauma on adult mental health.”

More than 6,000 adults in Wisconsin completed a 2015 population survey that included questions about their mental health as an adult, and asked them to recount memorable positive childhood experiences, such as supportive family interactions, caring relationships with friends and connections in the community. The results were striking: Those who reported six or seven positive childhood experiences were 72 percent less likely to have depression or other mental health issues as an adult than those who recalled only two or fewer positive childhood experiences. Even those who reported between three and five positive childhood experiences saw their risk of mental health issues as an adult cut in half. The statistics remained consistent even when respondents recalled multiple negative childhood experiences. 

This research shows that positive childhood experiences have an extremely powerful impact on the likelihood of having healthy adult relationships and maintaining sound mental health later in life.  This research is an outgrowth of a bell-weather paper published by these and other authors about H.O.P.E. (Health Outcomes from Positive Experiences). (You can download the HOPE article on our Resources page.)  Momentum for positive approaches is growing across North America to grow; our hope is that it will eventually lead to national initiatives to cultivate and promote positive childhood experiences in concert with existing efforts to reduce childhood trauma and other adverse childhood experiences.

H.O.P.E research has been an important part of our Montana Summer Institute, held annually in Big Sky. Pre-registration is now open for the June 22-25, 2020 event.

Your Why Matters: A conversation with TMI Trainer Jason Anderson

Amanda Decker, host of the Organizing for Change Podcast, sat down with TMI colleague and trainer Jason Anderson. Jason is passionate about health leadership, fatherhood, theater and the outdoors. In this episode, he and Amanda talk about the importance of finding your “why.”

If you don’t have time to listen (see links, below), here are three insights that Amanda distilled from this episode:

  • Your Why Matters. Most people are not motivated by facts, they are motivated by emotions. This is why your “why” matters.

  • Appreciate and Understand Someone Else’s Perspective. Even though you may disagree, it is important to be empathetic, and try to understand where someone is coming from. Just being willing to hear someone express their perspective can open the door for communication.

  • Don’t Be the Expert. Our attitude matters. If we come across as the “expert”, people tend to be defensive and shut down. Instead, Jason talks about remaining curious and engaging people in the solution as a better method for getting results.

Follow the links below to listen to Jason and Amanda’s conversation, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more great insights from people who are changing their communities and the world. 

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Guest Post: The Science of the Positive in a Negative World

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We’re proud to post this article written by our friends and colleagues from the Tri-Town Council in Topsfield, Massachusetts. We’ve been lucky enough to host them at our annual Montana Summer Institute in Big Sky, and we had the pleasure of working with their community and staff on their turf in November, 2018. Read on for their take on how the Science of the Positive guides their work.

The big question: How to stay positive?

Given the 24-hour news cycle, the relentless nature of our social media feeds, and access to information whenever, wherever and however we want it, it can often feel like we live in a frightening world, where dangers and problems seem overwhelming, particularly when focusing on the issues and risks that our youth are faced with daily. Here at the Tri-Town Council, we are guided by the science of the positive.

That sounds good, but what does that actually mean? It means that you can change the lens through which you view the world, and while acknowledging and addressing the concerns, grow the positive by first recognizing where it exists and then, with intention, growing it. How? By shining a light on all the good, positive behaviors that exist en masse in any community. Based upon this core assumption, that the positive is real and worth growing and fostering, in ourselves, our families, workplaces and our communities, it allows us to strengthen “protective factors” and grow the positive that already exists.

Sounds like social-work jargon - How does it relate to keeping kids safe?

The term “protective factors” may sound like something out of a “Law & Order” re-run, but it’s much more concrete. Protective factors for our youth are many things that may already exist, such as caring adults, strong families, mentoring teachers, clear boundaries, safe, healthy communities, a sense of belonging and community connections. TTC aims to strengthen and enhance these protective factors through our varied programming.

Half empty, or half full?

It’s easy to make sweeping assumptions about youth and spread the negative; simply listen at the lacrosse field when a concerned parent may proclaim, “Every kid in the 8th grade is vaping!” Yet the truth is that the vast majority of our youth are not vaping (the 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey indicated 82 percent are not using) and are are making healthy choices.

Are we concerned that vaping rates are on the rise? Yes.

Are we concerned that youth are at risk if they engage in this behavior? Absolutely.

Do we need to educate ourselves and kids about the health risks of vaping? Absolutely.

As parents, caring adults. and communities that care deeply about the health and well-being of youth, we absolutely are concerned about youth vaping. Is everyone doing it? No. Do we need to promote the healthy norm that most kids do not vape among ourselves, our kids and our community? Absolutely.

What difference does it make? By highlighting the positive norm, we are encouraging, and in turn, promoting, the healthy behavior. It may sound simplistic, a sort of childish “turn that frown upside down” mindset, but research unequivocally shows that highlighting the positive works! Scare tactics are not as effective as highlighting the positive and our youth will model their behaviors on the positive.

Read the article in its original location here.

The most H.O.P.E.-ful Summer Institute yet!

Photo from MSI 2018, at nearby Beehive Basin. Amazing wildflowers!

Photo from MSI 2018, at nearby Beehive Basin. Amazing wildflowers!

Positive Community Norms is all about balancing concern (the very real dangers and harm that our communities face) with hope (the equally real sources of strength and positive change that exist in our communities, too). This summer Dr. Jeff Linkenbach and his dynamic team will share key concepts and interactive activities to help you jump start or recharge Positive Community Norms in your community. You’ll learn from visionary leaders who are applying the Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms in successful prevention efforts around the country. And you’ll discover how to use these approaches to identify protective factors, increase healthy norms, and transform your community on issues including:

  • underage, college, and adult substance use

  • child abuse prevention

  • distracted & impaired driving

  • marijuana legalization

  • sexual assault and dating violence

  • opioid abuse, and more.

New! Choose a PCN or H.O.P.E Pre-Institute track!

Sign up for our Positive Community Norms Intensive for a deep dive into how this approach works. This day-long event will provide the information and insights you need to get a new campaign up and running or get an existing effort on track for success. Additional PCN materials will be provided to those who register.

Or enroll in our brand-new Health Outcomes from Positive Experience (H.O.P.E.) Seminar, where you'll develop a better understanding of the effects of childhood experiences on the brain’s growth and development. H.O.P.E. is a complement to ACES-based work that opens exciting new opportunities for promoting health in children and adults.

...Then join us in Boston for even more H.O.P.E!

We are thrilled to announce our first-ever Summit on H.O.P.E. (Health Outcomes from Positive Experience) on November 6 & 7, 2019 near Boston, Massachusetts. H.O.P.E. offers a more holistic foundation for programmatic efforts to assess and address child and family needs, and provides an important complement to the entire the toxic stress portfolio. It reverses the ways we typically understand the role of resilience, neuroplasticity, and the developing brain. Research shows that positive childhood experiences both support child development and mitigate the effects of ACEs. This two-day event will explore the research behind H.O.P.E. and its applications for preventing and reducing harm. Registration for this groundbreaking event will open soon. 

Sign up and mark your calendars for June 25-28, 2018. Bring your family, your fishing rod, your hiking boots -- and your passion for making positive changes in your community. Hope to see you there! 

New Year’s Reflections

Photo by  Andrew Preble  on  Unsplash

Reflection is one of the key habits of a transformational leader.  The Transformational Cycle of the Science of the Positive tells us to focus on Spirit first, followed by Science, Action, and, finally, on the Returns hope to achieve. Before you start thinking about the Spirit with which you want to start the New Year, you might benefit by spending some time reflecting on the Returns of 2018. The Seven Core Principle reflections below can help you look back as you plan ahead.

Be Positive
Choose to be positive when you look back over the past year. When we reflect on the past with a positive outlook, we grow, learn, and gain energy for the future. “Failures” are simply experiments with outcomes we did not expect. Are there positive lessons to be learned from last year’s negative experiences?

Be Present
The lessons of our past become meaningful in the present. By staying present and mindful, we can see the past more objectively. Think back over the past year: did you spend time looking backward or rushing ahead? How can you spend more time in the present moment in the year to come?

Be Perceptive
Examine the past year with the scrutiny of an objective investigator. This will allow you to ask new questions of yourself — perhaps ones you have been afraid to ask before. There is much we can learn from our experiences, if we can set aside our preconceptions and misperceptions. What wisdom have you gained over the past year that could be helpful in the future?

Be Purposeful
Reflection can help us refine our purpose, and work towards it with renewed determination. If we start from a place of compassion, we can use reflection to understand and grow. What happens when you think about your past year with an attitude of compassion? How can you use these insights to refine your purpose for next year?

Be Perfected
Although we will never reach perfection, we can always learn from what we’ve done in the past. Ask yourself where you could have devoted more energy to being perfected over the last year. In what areas did you improve? Where can you do better?

Be Proactive
Reflection takes time and energy. It is through proactive allocation of our most precious resources (focus, time, and energy) that we can learn and grow. Did you take time for reflection over the past year? How could you be more proactive about building time for reflection into your life going forward?

Be Passionate
Living from our deepest passions allows us cherish our successes and laugh at our mistakes. Celebrating the goodness that we have experienced sustains us. We must dare to be inspired by growth. What passions sustained you over the past year? What passions have you lost connection with that you could rekindle?  

Speaking in Freddish: Inspiration from Mr. Rogers

We at TMI were deeply inspired by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the documentary about the work of Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers, as he was known in his public television show, dedicated his career to communicating with young children. According to the book, “The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers,” Mr. Rogers developed a rigorous system for editing his scripts to make sure his words would reach children in the spirit they were intended. We were touched by his process, which reminded us of the care we take in crafting Positive Community Norms messages in a way that does not stigmatize, cause harm, or promote misperceptions. We hope you enjoy this excerpt:

There were nine steps to Freddish translation.

First, state the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand. Example: “It is dangerous to play in the street.”

Second, rephrase in a positive manner, as in “It is good to play where it is safe.”

Third, rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust. As in, “Ask you parents where it is safe to play.”

Fourth, rephrase your ideas to eliminate all elements could be considered prescriptive, directive or instructive. (i.e., “ask): Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.”

Fifth, rephrase any element that suggests certainty. (i.e., “will”) “Your parents CAN tell you where it is safe to play.”

Sixth, rephrase your ideas to eliminate any element that may not apply to All children (as in, having PARENTS): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is safe to play.”

Seventh, add a simple motivational ideas that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice: “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is good to listen to them.”

Eighth, rephrase your new statement, repeating step one (i.e., GOOD as a personal value judgement): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is important to try to listen to them.”

Ninth, rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand (i.e., growing): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is important to try to listen to them. And listening is an important part of growing up.”

For those of us who grew up watching Mr. Rogers, we would never have guessed the work that he put in to making sure his words were kind, comforting, and useful.

ACES and HOPE: A conversation with Dr. Robert Sege

Amanda Decker, host of the Organizing for Change Podcast, sat down with our friend and colleague Dr. Robert Sege to talk about the importance of balancing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) with HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences). Those of you who have come to the Montana Summer Institute during the past few years have had the pleasure of hearing Bob speak about our HOPE work and the amazing ways in which positive experiences impact the brain. Listen to this podcast to hear more of his insights about this important topic. For more information, you can download the HOPE report on the resources page of our website.

Follow the links below to listen to Bob and Amanda’s conversation, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more great insights from people who are changing their communities and the world. 

Listen on iTunes
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OK, Google: Tell me something good


Sometimes it seems that all news is bad news. But while there are lots of difficult, challenging, and even scary things happening in the world right now, they are not the whole story. In the Science of the Positive, we always balance CONCERN with HOPE. The news media, unfortunately, does not do the same. During my three decades of health promotion work, I have learned that no problem, big or small, can be tackled without the energizing power of HOPE. Without it, we can be tempted to throw up our hands, walk away, and give up on a lost cause.

 The folks at Google have cleverly named this the “hope gap,” and they are taking steps to close it using Google Assistant. Just ask your Android phone to tell you something good, and it will reply with a story of positive change happening in the world right now. You can read more about it here, but in the meantime, reflect on what you can do to close “hope gaps” in your neck of the woods.

Spotlight: Organizing for Change Podcast


Amanda Decker works in Avon, Massachusetts, building partnerships to reduce youth substance abuse and promote positive, healthy decisions by young people. She is also the host of her own podcast, Organizing for Change, which shines a spotlight on individuals who are making a difference in their communities. Amanda attended our Summer Institute and came away inspired to feature a leader who works with the Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms. So she reached out to Nick Adams, a community coordinator and positive change leader who works on our statewide underage drinking project in Minnesota. Nick does an amazing job of explaining the complex, important ways we can improve health and reduce harm using Positive Community Norms. 

Follow the links below to listen to their conversation, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more great insights from people who are changing their communities and the world. 

Listen on iTunes
Listen on Stitcher

Guest Post: PCN, Cultural Resource Management and Archaeology

Map drawn by Samuel de Champlain of Plymouth Harbor in 1605 showing native habitations (PD-US)

Map drawn by Samuel de Champlain of Plymouth Harbor in 1605 showing native habitations (PD-US)

by Jon Patton, Archaeologist

In the fall of 2017, I attended a two-day Science of the Positive Leadership Institute in Easton, Massachusetts. After hearing Dr. Jeff Linkenbach explore the Science of the Positive Framework -- including the Spirit, Science, Action Return model, the role of misperceptions, and the importance of integrating Hope and Concern -- these concepts have become a permanent part my professional tool kit. This may seem seem like a no-brainer for individuals working in public health and safety, but I am an archaeologist.

I now regularly apply the Science of the Positive in the “non-traditional” settings of archaeology, cultural resource management and environmental review and compliance. Even though I am primarily concerned with the material culture of past peoples, I work with living descendant communities and many other individuals, groups and communities. These folks have varying perspectives and perceptions on what the past is, and what interpretations of history and materials culture should be in the present.

The Science of the Positive is about individuals and their communities effecting positive change. Bringing the Science of the Positive framework to the often adversarial realm of construction management, engineering and environmental permitting has allowed me to re-frame my approach to protecting and preserving the cultural resources of Massachusetts. 

I now find myself intentionally using Hope and Concern in day-to-day personal interactions, especially during difficult conversations and meetings. I try to start from a positive place, grounded in shared goals or values, and then spend time unpacking any (mis)perceptions that might be getting in the way. 

The Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation (Spirit, Science, Action, and Return) is critical to explaining my work. As an archaeologist, I am a social scientist who works primarily with Native American tribal nations and various local, state and federal historic preservation communities in New England and Massachusetts. The goal of cultural resource management and archaeology is to balance cultural resource preservation and protection with modern development. When science comes before spirit, as often happens in construction and engineering, it can result in a negative space where spirit and shared intentions are marginalized. Putting spirit first can help build common ground and understanding in challenging situations that may require compromise. Polarization of the spirit/science distinction sometimes becomes an impediment to the true purpose of the work. The positive spirit must come first and be acknowledged before science can take the lead.

I plan to implement the Seven Core Principles in a more structured way going forward, and to continue to apply the Science of the Positive in new places and spaces in archaeology and environmental planning.


Guest Post: The Stoughton Conversations Project -- Discussions That Matter

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by Stephanie Patton, MPH, Prevention Coordinator, OASIS Coalition

In October 2017, the town of  Stoughton, Massachusetts hosted Dr. Jeff Linkenbach for a 2-day Science of the Positive Leadership Institute for 35 local leaders from the government and non-profit worlds. Together we explored the balance between Hope with Concern, the differences between Change and Transformation, and the Transformational Cycle of  Spirit, Science, Action and Return. Our group was one of the first to take the Science of the Positive Transformational Leadership Assessment, and we dove into spirited conversations about our leadership strengths and challenges as we build Stoughton into a healther, stronger community. Participants "graduated" from this Institute with renewed energy, new connections and ideas, and a commitment to continue to work together using the Science of the Positive.

And thus the Stoughton Conversations Project was born! We decided to create regular opportunities for town employees, members of local boards & commissions, and passionate community members to come together and discuss topics of local importance using the Science of the Positive Framework as a guide. Hosted by the OASIS Coalition, the topics are developed by the group and the discussions structured around the Spirit, Science, Action, Return Cycle. We start each meeting by sharing a part of Dr. Linkenbach's Science of the Positive Framework; this serves as a review for those who attended the leadership institute and as an introduction to the framework for new participants.

Through these conversations, the OASIS Coalition hopes to build strong community leaders who are able to have productive, difficult discussions. Leaders -- and conversations -- like these are necessary to create a community in which youth and families feel more connected. These conversations also support some of our other goals, including fostering and strengthening community connections, developing local leaders' ability to hear and steer conversations, and supporting the development of personal leadership styles.

Our first Stoughton Conversation was held on November 8, 2017 at the Stoughton Youth Commission. Thirty-one individuals attended. The topic for our first discussion was Hopes and Concerns about the role of social media in Stoughton -- a response to a series of local issues that had "blown up" on Facebook. The conversations were rich and varied. Participants talked about their hopes and concerns, misperceptions that are fueled by Facebook and, finally, how they can hear and steer conversations that unfold on social media.  We’ve since hosted conversation on  "Moving Forward After Community Conflict" and "Stoughton Ideas and Innovations". We believe that these conversations will help our coalition meet our goals and foster community change.  We are grateful to our ongoing work with Dr. Linkenbach to support the development of positive leaders who will grow and support a culture of health in our community.



Guest Post: Creating Communities that Balance Hope and Concern

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Dr. Barbara J. Green is a psychologist, clinical researcher, and community prevention educator. She serves as the Medical Director of the Youth Health Connection program at the South Shore Health System in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Green last month at a two-day Science of the Positive Institute in Easton, Mass. Dr. Green was inspired to write about some of what she learned at the event for the Youth Health Connection newsletter, and was generous enough to let me share her thoughts here. Enjoy! 

Science of the Positive: Creating Communities that balance Hope and Concern

by Barbara J Green PhD | Nov 2, 2017

Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, Director and Chief Research Scientist at the Montana Institute and author, has developed a theoretical systemic approach to assisting communities to positively harness their focus, effort, attention, energy and initiatives. The end goal is to reduce risk and increase protective factors that are environmentally based and sustainable community by community. Dr. Linkenbach has created a cyclical perspective of change: Spirit, Science, Action and Return. At the core is the understanding that Positive guides us, and and that it is concrete and distinct, that it can dramatically impact community culture and behavior. Fundamental to the process is inspired, passionate leadership that is ready to challenge core assumptions, and to steadily lead the community to move forward in a transformative way.

He begins with a thorough science based foundation which includes the importance of need to have the courage to challenge, to value data and assessments as essential to having a place from which change gets shaped. By changing perceptions, language, messages we can enable communities to have more robust and lasting positive outcomes. Key to this process is the balance between hope and concern. If we engage our communities with messages of hope, while not denying concern, we create momentum for communities to trust that the solutions are within the community and its people. By focusing on positive community norms we allow for pathways that cultivate cultural transformation. We know that fear and negative can actually cause a retreat in community engagement, the opposite of our goal.

To quote Dr. Linkenbach, “ It is time to move beyond health terrorism. If we want health, we must promote health”.

We must help communities write stories that communicate positive messages, that include hope, without excluding concern. Insuring correct perceptions are clearly communicated helps increase willingness to develop healthier, safer behaviors.

Stay tuned for more information on Dr. Linkenbach and his ground breaking work. The combination of science, spirit and positive are incredibly powerful.

I often speak of the goal of “Cultural Sea Change”. Dr. Linkenbach has defined a systemic process for moving toward that goal.

You can read more of Dr. Green's writing on her website




Balancing Concern and HOPE: Applying the Science of the Positive to Help Children Thrive

For years, researchers have been discussing the negative health outcomes correlated with ACEs -- Adverse Childhood Experiences. The ACEs study opened up a whole new way to look at the long-term impacts of childhood challenges. However, the Science of the Positive directs us to look for the hope that always exists alongside risk, danger, and concern. I am pleased to announce the release of a report on the evidence for HOPE (Health Outcomes of Positive Experience); HOPE may be the most significant application of the Science of the Positive in research and action to date. The goal of HOPE is to measure how positive experiences might correlate with strengths, protections, resilience and health. The data in the just-released report – including data collected by The Montana Institute on behalf of Prevent Child Abuse America – reinforce the need to promote positive experiences for children and families that foster healthy childhood development. Put in the context of the Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation, these data:

  1. Establish a spirit of hope and optimism that balances the concern of ACEs;
  2. Demonstrate, through science, the powerful contribution of positive relationships and experiences to the development of healthy children and adults;
  3. Describe actions related to social norms regarding positive parenting practices;.
  4. Reflect upon the positive returns we as a society can expect to see if we support positive childhood environments.

HOPE is a terrific example of how the Science of the Positive can be applied to research and policy planning – and I look forward to sharing the next steps in its development with all of you. You can read the entire article online or join us at the Montana Summer Institute where my friend, fellow scientist, and lead author Dr. Bob Sege will present on this important work. 

The H.O.P.E. Logic Model

The H.O.P.E. Logic Model

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

We road ahead leads to continued success with a new cohort of Minnesota communities. 

We road ahead leads to continued success with a new cohort of Minnesota communities. 

This is the view from my temporary office. This week I kicked off a 21-day tour of the ten new Minnesota communities that have joined the statewide effort to reduce underage drinking using the Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms. Together with Phyllis Bengtson and Al Frederickson of the Minnesota Department of Human Services – Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, we are meeting with coalition members, educators, law enforcement officers, and community movers and shakers who want to learn more about this effort and how to become a part of it. This is truly one of my favorite parts of this work: introducing people to a new spirit and science of prevention, and watching in awe as they dive in and take action to transform their communities for the better.  

Four Ways to Use "Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope" in Your Life and Work

A guest post by Lilly Irvin-Vitela

…For Personal and Professional Discovery

I first read Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope: Seven Principles of Inspiration for the Courageous Leader in 2012, when Jeff Linkenbach and his team came to Wisconsin to hold an Institute on the Science of the Positive by Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Trust Fund. During the event, participants were given an opportunity to dive into the book, reflect, and discuss the Seven Core Principles of the Science of the Positive.

At the time, I was involved in efforts to improve the quality of early care and education. The truth and positivity I found in Dr. Linkenbach’s book was a dose of medicine to my spirit. People I worked with closely were suffering from the fear, negativity, and mistrust that can accompany change that comes by way of legislative mandate.  I knew I needed to share Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope with them, too. 

Since then, I’ve been weaving the book into my work building community and supporting leaders.  Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope has become a staple in staff meetings, the foundation for a book club, a driver for values-centered strategic planning, a core feature of leadership development efforts, and a go-to gift for social-justice leaders who are dealing with challenges and need a boost.

…As a Staff Meeting Staple

When I was the Executive Director of a statewide early childhood organization in Wisconsin, I started the practice of opening each all-staff meeting with Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. I chose a different principle as the focal point for each meeting.

Each staff member was given their own copy of the (very affordable) book. They were encouraged to read the chapter on the selected principle beforehand and to respond to the prompts at the end of each chapter. We even included reminders on agendas.

Aware that the staff was working at – and sometimes beyond – capacity, we made it clear that it was okay to read it the chapter with the staff during the meeting and jot down responses then. There was no wrong way to participate. Staff shared their favorite quotes and described why particular statements resonated with them. We then reflected on how each principle related to our individual and collective work, and how these principles were showing up in our efforts to achieve our mission.

When I decided that I was ready to leave the organization, the book became a touchstone during six months of transition planning.  I believe the process was greatly improved because we were so intentionally connecting around shared values. Seeds of Fire created space for us to intentionally connect around shared values and choose a positive approach during a time of significant change.

…As the Focus of a Book Club

Later, while I served as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Head Start Association, members expressed interest in staying connected, learning together, and supporting each other outside of our regular meetings. They were hungry for more frequent opportunities to connect in meaningful ways about shared work. We decided to start a statewide book club, and the first book we chose was Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. It’s honest, strength-based approach and readability made it a great fit for local leaders who were working hard to deliver family and child development services to vulnerable families. Parents, staff, and directors from Head Start and Early Head Start agencies took part. Participants routinely commented about how valuable they found the book and the conversations it started. Many regularly reminded each other of the lessons they learned from the book in their daily work outside of book club. One person even asked if I could share the Seven Core Principles with their entire staff during a difficult time when funding and service delivery were in question. Knowing from my own experiences how powerful the messages in Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope are during challenging times, I readily volunteered to share the principles in strategic conversations with the staff in the besieged organization. I received overwhelmingly positive about the value of focusing on the positive during hard times.

…As a Leadership Development Tool

I had the pleasure of being the lead trainer and co-mentor for two years for an intensive year-long leadership and community development program. Parent leaders were recruited from diverse local early childhood organizations to build their leadership skills and work on a local community development effort of their choosing. Each leadership institute I organized included time to dive into Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. Parent leaders engaged in powerful personal and professional leadership work as we reflected together on the Seven Core Principles. There was laughter, tears, and even prayers during our powerful conversations about how to be ethical, impactful leaders. Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope became an invitation for each of us to be the best version of ourselves at our leadership institutes, within our own families, and during our community work.

…As a gift that Inspires

Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope sparks meaningful conversations about the hard and joyful work of transforming communities and ourselves – and can be the catalyst for inspired action. I always have a few extra copies on hand to give to other social justice leaders working when they are feeling stuck or down. It taught me to think differently about the challenges I face in my work, and I know it can do the same for you.

Lilly Irvin-Vitela was born and raised in New Mexico and is the owner and principal consultant at Common Worth, LLC.  Her work gives her the honor and joy of working with people who are committed to accomplishing social justice goals in a relationship-based way.

PCN: Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

This just in! The Minnesota Department of Human Services has released a report on its 10 year implementation of the Positive Community Norms Framework in 25 school districts around the state. Their conclusion? The title says it all: Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works.

Between 2004 to 2013, in the first cohort of schools, 9th grade aclohol use in the previous 30 days went from 28.6 percent above the state average to 4.8 percent below average.
— Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

The data shows that the "Positive Community Norms framework, combined with the larget prevention planning and implementation grant programs and community engagement, is making a real, positive impact in the rates of alcohol use." 

From 2010 to 2016, in what was the second group of grantee school districts, the percentage of both middle school and high school students who had ever used alcohol went down significantly.
— Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

Kudos to the foresight and passion of the leaders at the Minnesota Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, and to the incredible work of community coordinators, teachers, and parents around the state who championed this powerful, positive approach. Read the full report here

81 Reasons Why Teens Choose NOT to Drink Alcohol

Posters from Deer River's "reasons why" campaign.

Posters from Deer River's "reasons why" campaign.

Today’s post comes from friend, colleague, and Positive Community Norms expert Heather Schjenken in Deer River, Minnesota: “Teens today have many reasons why they choose not to drink alcohol. Our youth group decided to highlight them with a “Reasons Why” campaign. The group came up with 81 reasons why they choose not to drink – and shared them with the entire school. What a wonderful way to celebrate positive youth voices!"

The CDC Promotes Positive Norms for Violence Reduction

Ten years ago the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) first invited me to present on The Science of the Positive process and the Positive Community Norms (PCN) framework.  Since then, I have had the honor of serving the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention as a think-tank member, trainer, author, and consultant supporting their emerging work with social norms.  Our aim has been to expand use of the normative strategies to reduce violence and prevent child abuse. 

The CDC’s new resource on social norms and violence prevention builds on this momentum and promotes norms change as a key strategy for cultivating healthier, safer communities. Here at The Montana Institute we are currently working on projects related to child abuse prevention and the reduction of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses, and will continue to innovate ways of using the PCN Framework and the PCN Communications Strategy to prevent violence and reduce harm. 

What (Fish) Schools Can Teach Us About Safe Driving

CREATIVE COMMONS: NOAA Photo Library by Dr. Dwayne Meadows

CREATIVE COMMONS: NOAA Photo Library by Dr. Dwayne Meadows

The children’s riddle, “Why are fish so smart?  Because they swim in schools!” may prove true for improving driving safety.

We have been applying the Science of the Positive to impact traffic safety culture and norms for over two decades. Now, in addition to focusing on reducing impaired driving, increasing seatbelt use, and engaging bystanders to intervene – maybe we need to go fishing!

According to TechCrunch, "Honda is looking to nature to improve the safety of driving, using bio-mimicry of the behavior of a school of fish to inform a new technical concept it’s unveiling at CES called Safe Swarm....Safe Swarm essentially means that cues picked up by one vehicle equipped with connective communication tech can pass along information to others in proximity, far before a driver would be aware of anything. Cars can shuttle their collected knowledge down the line, propagating info about a pile-up potentially miles ahead in near real-time to help make it easier for human drivers to take action to avoid problems before they happen."

This fascinating new technology may require us to rewrite one of the touchstones of the Science of the Positive to say, "The Solutions are in the Community...of Fish!" 

Read more at techcrunch.com