Teaching seems to always be synonymous with Busy. And Busy’s crazy cousins Stressed and Overwhelmed seem to never be too far behind either.
Enter Survival Mode where Busy, Stress, and Overwhelmed climb into the driver’s seat of life and we’re left hanging on to the bumper for dear life.
So – how do you get OUT of survival mode? Better yet – how do you stay out of survival mode by never going into survival mode?
2016 Resolution: Stay Out Of Survival Mode
It’s early January as I write this post, and for me, the new year is full of hope and possibilities. I am refreshed from time with family and friends, and I have new goals and dreams for the coming year that I’m clinging to.
This is the usual pattern, but inevitably, a few weeks into the new year, busy-ness creeps in, my intentions get buried by my to-do list, and suddenly it’s June – summer break – and I realize that I’ve been in survival mode to finish out the school year.
I set my intention again, start the next school year, and – BOOM – that survival mode creeps in again in the fall.
So – this year, my resolution is to stay out of survival mode.
How is this possible? Here are some tips from work with my clients that can help you to stay out of survival mode this year:
Stay in the Present Moment
Sometimes Survival Mode can creep in without us even knowing it. It’s like when you pull in your driveway and suddenly panic wondering if you even stopped at the red lights on your way home. We are on autopilot most of the time – it’s how our brain is wired to work. We pay attention to the thing that is most pressing at the time. But even though breathing is our most important thing we do all day (it keeps us alive – hello!), we don’t even have to think about it. Our body does it automatically.
That’s how our day to day life can go. We are so focused on the immediate things in our day (a student acting up, a parent complaint, meetings, deadlines etc.) that our day can fly by without us even realizing that we have unmet needs (like our bladders are full, or that we haven’t eaten lunch!). We can also get distracted by the latest problem instead of dealing with our biggest need at the time.
This is what sets Survival Mode into action.
So the first step with staying out of survival mode is to stay in the present moment.
Remember my ‘car of life’ analogy from above where Busy is in the driver’s seat and we’re clinging to the bumper? Well, let’s stick with that analogy for a moment:
If you are clinging to the bumper, you cannot even hope to look out the windshield. Truth is – you can’t even see it! First thing you have to do is gain enough control to get back in the driver’s seat and that means you have to do some hard work to get back in the present moment.
In the present moment, you have choice. You can make decisions. And you have control and power over those decisions.
To tune back to the present moment, try these things:
- ROCK your to-do list: Oftentimes we cannot focus on the present moment because we have so much on our minds. Write it down! Get those to-do’s down on a list – no matter how long. When they are out of your mind and down on paper, you can worry less, and focus on the present moment.
- BREATHE: Breathing is one of the most important things we can do to move our body back into the present moment. Taking a few deep “belly breaths” where you breathe in through your nose so that you belly protrudes, and then slowly out through your mouth, will help you to calm down and will fuel your brain to get out of “fight or flight” and into a better mode for decision-making.
- Let it go: In the immortal words of Elsa, we just have to let some things go. This takes practice and work – it’s not easy – but it’s just the name of the game for getting back in the driver’s seat.
- Cultivate Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a great technique for staying in the present moment and “solid scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness interventions improve attention, self-control, emotional resilience, recovery from addiction, memory and immune response” according to MindfulSchools.org which offers amazing resources for teachers (and students) wishing to have more presence.
Prioritize the HECK Out of Your Day
As teachers, we have to be ninja-level prioritizers because there is just literally not enough hours in the day!
There are a lot of ways to prioritize your to do list – a quick google search brings up almost 4 million sites on the topic.
Here is my flavor:
At the end of each day, I like to look at my to do list for the next day and prioritize my top 3 things I need to get done. I even try to schedule time into my day with smaller to-do lists for that block of time on a sticky note. For example, you may want to write down the things you will do before school, during prep, and after school on separate to-do lists so you are organized and it’s not so overwhelming.
By the way, nothing I think of today will go on today’s to-do list – it’s already full!! So when I think of something, I put it on the next day’s to do list in my calendar.
(Don’t have a good to-do list system? I use a Day Designer and LOVE IT!!!)
Practice the Power of “No”
“No” is the most powerful word in the english language (especially for my 3-year-old!). But so is “yes” IF we make our “No”s really “No”s and our “Yes”s really “Yes”s. The key is the intention behind the decision.
If you say “yes” to something, but really mean “no” or “not now”, then you’ve disempowered your “Yes”. These little broken and disempowered decisions add up psychologically and actually wear down your integrity.
When you authentically practice the power of “No” (and “Yes” and whatever other decision you need to make), you practice powerful decision-making that honors yourself and your needs.
Example scenario: You are asked to join a new committee being formed. You are a leader at your grade-level, so they would love your input as the grade-level representative.
You are flattered and want to please the person asking – maybe you even feel a little bit of pride in being asked. You don’t want to disappoint anyone – and you do agree that you’d probably be the best fit.
But…you are already on a couple of other committees and you are already feeling pangs of resentment just at the thought of one more thing on your plate.
Stay in the moment – You are conflicted. Honor those feelings and give yourself the space to sort through them before committing. Say “Thank you so much for asking and for thinking I would be the best person for this role. I am completely flattered. Can I think it over tonight and get back to you via email tomorrow?”
Prioritize – Once out of the situation, you can think about and weight the pros and cons of the decision. Look at your schedule and honestly get real about what you want to do. Remember – it’s not just “Can I do this?” “Does my schedule allow this?” Rather, consider this question, “If I say yes to this, what will I be saying ‘no’ to that is already in my schedule?” The important question to consider is “What is my priority here?”
Practice the power of No – If you decide to say ‘no’ to this commitment – then respond to the person politely and clearly. You don’t have to justify your answer or explain it. A simple response like this will suffice: “Thanks again for asking me to be on this committee. I take it as a huge compliment that you would request my input and presence. However, I am not able to take on another committee at this time. Again, thank you very much for the opportunity.”
Know What You Need & Get It!
Remember how I said above that saying ‘yes’ to something is also a ‘no’ to something else? Let me expand on that thought here a little more.
When we say ‘yes’ to all of our various commitments and expectations (either imposed on us, or self-imposed), we leave no time for ourselves. Usually, we suffer. Our self-care suffers. Our hobbies suffer. Our friends suffer. We don’t have any energy left to give to those other areas of life.
Our career as teachers are just one aspect of what makes us who we are. Exercising the other parts of our selves is something we need.
We also have other things we need:
- Extraverts need time with friends/others
- Introverts need time alone
- We need sleep
- We need adequate nutrition
- We need adequate exercise
- We need quality time with those we love and whom love us
- We need relaxation
Only YOU know what you need to be satisfied with your life. And here’s the shocker – only YOU are responsible for taking care of your needs.
Your students are not responsible for your sleep deprivation. Sorry. #notsorry
Your spouse is not responsible for your lack of exercise.
Your schedule is not responsible for your lack of nutrition.
It’s so much easier to blame the chaos of life for our unmet needs rather than to put on our big girl pants and actually find a way to meet them!
This is why we all benefit from coaching. Coaching can offer us some much-needed accountability and creative solution-finding to help us meet our own needs.
So that’s it. You can stay out of survival mode by:
- Staying in the present moment (and staying in touch with your thoughts and emotions)
- Prioritizing your day/week/LIFE based on what YOU think is most important
- Practicing the power of “no” and intentional decision-making
- Knowing what you need and being responsible to yourself to get it!
I’m telling you right now – your 2016 will be transformed if you can do this!
I can’t wait to see what this year holds for you when you are powerful enough to do these things for yourself. Go get it! You deserve it!
No more hanging on the rear bumper. Let’s get back in the driver’s seat and do this 2016 right!!
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend