As caregivers, teachers are hard-wired to put others first. I’m not going to try to convince you to put yourself first. What I am going to do is explain why prioritizing your self-care is not about you, but is actually about being of benefit to others.
As the name Teaching Balance suggests, one of the primary themes of my work is to support educators in finding balance in their lives. Part of this is the idea of work-life balance, but I’ve increasingly observed that more and more people alternatively use terms like work-life integration.
The idea of work-life integration suggests that the work we do blurs into the other parts of our lives, and often by choice. This is certainly true for educators.
Many educators, particularly those focused on having culturally responsive and inclusive classrooms, understand the value of being a “warm demander” for their students.
This article is not focused on our students, however. It is focused on you, the educator. The purpose of this article is to invite YOU to extend the same level of unconditional positive regard to yourself.
A STRATEGY FOR ELICITING SELF-COMPASSION
Life can be challenging. Sometimes these challenges arise when things don’t work out the way we’d prefer. Sometimes we create our own struggles without realizing it. Sometimes bad things just happen.
Many of us, when we’re in the midst of a personal challenge or struggle, put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. We lament our circumstances and beat ourselves up for not making the right choice or behaving in a way that could have (theoretically) helped to avoid this problem. Some of us even self-flagellate about how we suck in general, and that our personal crappiness is why these life struggles arise.
Beating ourselves up like this doesn’t help, and I would like to offer a strategy that may, at the very least, help us be gentler with ourselves in order to deal with our struggles more skillfully.
Half-asleep, still in bed, sitting up in the very dim light of my smartphone timer and trying to stay warm with my robe wrapped around me. That is what my meditation practice looks like.
I have a perfectly nice meditation cushion. It’s on the floor next to my bed. I can literally roll out of bed and land right on it. But I don’t use it for my daily practice in the morning. One reason is because my bed is warm and the cushion is not. The other is that I’m already here in this comfy bed and getting out of it requires an extra step. Extra steps and cold are my personal kryptonite, and when they’re involved, I’m much less motivated.
It may seem rather counter-intuitive to propose that we all make an effort to slow down this month because, of course, it is December.
Assuming you’re reading this the first week or so of the month, take a moment to think about all the events you’re scheduled to attend, the holiday preparations you need to make, and the extra errands you’ll need to run.
Add to that the unique challenges we as teachers face at this time of year: preparing end of semester assessments, grading cumulative projects, having one more administrative observation squeezed in, and the last-minute calls of parents hoping their child can submit makeup work.
Maybe you’re feeling like you’ve got a handle on all of it, which is fantastic. If you’re like me though, thinking about this makes me feel a bit anxious and overwhelmed before even getting started.
How Self-Awareness Can Help You Overcome the One Thing that is Holding You Back
You know how it is when you’re so excited about something you can’t stop talking about it? That’s how it’s been for me these past few weeks after reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.
If someone mentions a worry, BOOM – I bring up how worrying is a strategy employed by our upper limit problem. If I notice someone deflecting a compliment, ZIP – I swoop in and explain how our inability to maintain positive emotions is tied to our perceived self-worth.
It feels particularly serendipitous that I stumbled across this book and its description of the upper limit problem this month, because it perfectly aligns with our current theme of letting things go.
“It’s time to stop beating yourself up.”
When I speak to groups of students or educators, I make sure to touch on self-compassion as an important part of mindfulness practice. Typically, I begin with the statement above, shortly followed by, “…it’s not working, nor is it doing what you think it is.”
I start my overview of self-compassion with this because the experience of mentally beating oneself up is rather universal in our culture. Just about everyone does it, and I would guess that you do, too.
Negative self-talk and the inner critic are so pervasive because many people see it as useful. Some people even resist being gentler with themselves because they think self-flagellation is how they “hold themselves accountable” or “stay in line” or “teach themselves a lesson” when they mess up.