A Ripple Story…

Tom Slowinski

Tom Slowinski

Senior Consultant Physiotherapist and Ergonomist (Pinnacle Workplace Consultants)

Alumni: Adelaide 2017

Mr Gwokomo’s Food Secrets – purchasable through www.gwokomo.com.au

A fun, rhyming, illustrated children’s book which will help encourage your kids to eat real, unprocessed and natural whole foods.

The story of Mr Gwokomo, a 100-year-old man, and his ‘food secrets’ for living a long and healthy life. He teaches about the ‘powers’ of eating real, natural, ‘wholefoods’, where these foods come from, how to ‘pick’ them and the reasons for ‘eating the whole rainbow.’

Mr Gwokomo’s one goal is to inspire and encourage children (and parents alike) to simply eat food that is real, natural and unprocessed.

In our 10653NAT Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing we always talk about the ripple effect; starting with self and creating a ripple out there in the world - whatever that may mean for each person.

In this interview, one of our Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing graduate explains how the course helped him live a life true to his values, and launch a book!

What drew you to complete the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing?

The story of what drew me to the Diploma starts back in 2012 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer (at the age of 28). Whilst being an incredibly challenging time in my life, it was also one I learnt and grew so much from (I hadn’t yet heard of the concept of post-traumatic growth). It was during this time that I stumbled across meditation after it was suggested by my general practitioner. It’s fair to say that if I hadn’t been in such a predicament I never would have been open to the idea, yet I gave it a go and it quickly became a daily practice. The benefits were huge – I actually believe I was more calm and relaxed during my cancer treatment than I was for the years preceding my diagnosis. This experience really taught me to be open-minded, and it perhaps laid the foundations for my interest in the link between physical health and the mind.

Fast forward a few years after my treatment and I was cancer free, and back to living a ‘normal life.’ What that meant though was that my meditation practice had eased off and I was living with the anxiety of the cancer possibly returning, plus also dealing with the day to day stresses of life. So I decided enough was enough and I went to see a Psychologist.

My psychologist lent me the book ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck. The concept of growth mindset (which I’d later learn more about through the Diploma) was such a help to me. After returning for my follow up appointment, my Psychologist suggested there wasn’t much more she could do for me (I was apparently ‘normal’). And so I asked her, “how do I get from ‘normal’ to ‘above normal’?” She said, “just google Seligman.” And so I left the appointment that day with the word ‘Seligman’ written down on a folded up piece of paper.

I looked into this person called ‘Seligman’ and uncovered this fascinating new world of positive psychology. My interest in this subject bubbled along in the background until in 2016 a friend and colleague of mine said he had enrolled in a Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing. This reignited my curiosity and made me realise it was something I really wanted to pursue further.

What was your experience during the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing?

Studying the Diploma was a hugely worthwhile experience. The six days of face-to-face learning were really amazing and provided me with an excellent understanding of the key elements that contribute to psychological wellbeing.

Coming from a Physiotherapy/Ergonomics background, I really appreciated that the information presented was evidence-based, which added strength and credibility to the course content. The great thing also was that these were all actions, practices or strategies that I could incorporate into my life. The fact that they had scientific evidence to show their effect really increased my motivation to give them all a go.

I appreciated that so much of the course was about actually practicing the relevant positive psychology principles and experiencing/evaluating the effects for myself (which was unlike any other course/study I have done).

There were practices such as the ‘mood meter’ which didn’t initially jump out at me, yet I found immense benefit from. The practices also led me back to meditation and the realisation that yes, I really need to meditate daily (which I now do).

Perhaps the most challenging (yet rewarding) aspect of the course was writing a gratitude letter to both of my parents, which I read to each of them on Christmas day. It was quite an emotional and daunting process, both writing and reading the letters to them. Yet afterwards I had this amazing feeling, and a newfound appreciation (which I had never considered before) for the things they did that helped me become the person I am today.

Perhaps the greatest ‘Ah ha’ moment for me during the course was the process of identifying my core values. Uncovering what these were made me realise that I actually was living my life in accordance with my values (I just hadn’t realised it up until that point!). This really helped me reframe my perception of what ‘success in life’ actually is, and furthermore helped me in determining my future goals and life direction.

How are you spreading your positive ripples, and how has the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing helped you achieve this?

The Diploma has made me consider how I can implement positive psychology principles in multiple areas of my life. There is a lot that I have done, yet still so much more to do!

From a personal perspective, the course has led me to recommence regular meditation practice. I now exercise regularly. It’s also made me more proactive in organising social activities (such as a weekly badminton hit-out I now have with a few mates).

I’ve also followed my values surrounding health, and written and self-published a children’s book promoting the benefits of eating ‘real food’ (called ‘Mr Gwokomo’s Food Secrets’ www.gwokomo.com.au). As any author would likely experience, there are many ups and down in the writing, publishing and marketing process, and my newfound knowledge relating to values, strengths, growth mindset and learned optimism strategies really helped me keep on track (particularly considering my GRIT score was somewhat average).

All of this has led me to a book launch, being interviewed on radio, and attending school visits to talk to children about my story and the health benefits of eating ‘real food.’ This required a lot of effort, time and financial outlay, yet the rewards have really added a further sense of meaning and purpose to my life. I’ve heard many stories from parents who now talk about Mr Gwokomo with their kids around their dinner table, or when they go shopping. A few weeks ago a child even came up to me in the local library and said they were inspired by my school visit to write their own book.

‘Mr Gwokomo’ has also led me to assist a young family in our neighbourhood set up their own edible verge garden, something which continues to bring me happiness every time the kids tell me about the food they are regularly harvesting. And in terms of ripples, it’s amazing how such a relatively small thing as a verge garden not only creates new enthusiasm, pride and positivity in individuals, yet how it can also lead to wider community effects (such as connecting community members through discussions about what is growing in the verge). It seems there a quite a few people who now want to develop their own verge… so maybe we’ll transform the whole neighbourhood one day…. who knows?

As a father of two young daughters (aged 1 and 3) I feel very grateful for already having a knowledge of positive psychology principles. It had led my wife and I to consume many books in this field and grow as parents, with a solid framework to guide our parenting approach. It no doubt has had a positive impact on our kids and on our family as a whole.

From a work perspective, I have also been helping to integrate positive psychology into our organisation. I am regularly sharing the information I learnt through the course to my colleagues. Every team member now has completed a Strengths Profile which was used as a basis for a re-worked annual performance review process. We’re organising more regular social events. We’ve made smaller changes too such as making time to celebrate our wins. We now start our staff meetings with a walk around the block before getting to our first agenda, “what is going well”, which has helped to build positive communication within the team.

Overall, the Diploma opened my eyes to a wide new world of positive psychology. It laid a solid foundation for me to go and explore positive psychology concepts in more detail.

It gave me the tools and theoretical understanding to make many positive changes to my life and those around me, in all aspects of life.

At the start of the course, my happiness levels were at about the population average. I was curious though what my happiness might be if I really did do all the things that the evidence suggests works. And now, 1 year on, I am living a life that is aligned with my values, one that has purpose and meaning and one that brings me more positive emotion and a greater feeling of contentment. And all of this (thanks to the Diploma) has made me happier, excited and optimistic about what the future might bring.