Each year seems to have a unique rhythm and personality. This year is not an exception. It has asked more of our energy, flexibility, patience, and persistence than most of us would have imagined. Meanwhile, even though we have turned the midyear corner, the end seems a long way off.
Yet, our students and colleagues need us to stay focused, energized, and motivated. Spring will be here soon, but some of the most important learning our students will build and most impactful work we will do needs to happen in the next several weeks.
How can we reorient and reground ourselves and build momentum to accomplish the important work that lies ahead? Here are four strategies we can employ to center our attention and build the energy we need.
First, focus on small wins. Small victories can be easily overlooked when we feel tired and stressed. A struggling student masters a key skill. We finally feel competent with a new technology tool. Or we notice that a routine with which students previously struggled is now automatic. Independently, these events may bring relief and free up energy for other challenges. They may not seem momentous, but they are reasons to celebrate. When we notice and appreciate small wins, especially as they accumulate, they can lift our spirits and give us joy. When we connect these experiences, we can build momentum in our work and more fully appreciate the impact we are having.
Second, pursue short-term goals. When pursuing a long-term effort, such as a full school year, preoccupation with the end can become overwhelming. So much work must be done, so much has yet to be accomplished, and the outcome is not yet certain. These are times when a focus on progress, informed by short-term goals, can be a powerful motivator. Basketball coaches remind their players in the context of a full game to “win the next four minutes.” Long distance runners focus on maintaining pace for the next mile. Focusing on winning the next few minutes or staying strong for the next mile helps to maintain a high level of energy and mental intensity and provide the momentum necessary to finish strong.
Third, ease up on expectations of others. During times when our emotional momentum is flagging and frustrations are building, it can be tempting to turn our anxiety and uncertainty outward in the form of expectations for others. We can tell ourselves that if only others would “step up,” “pitch in,” and “carry more of the load,” everything would better. When these things do not happen, feelings of being let down can add to our struggle. It is good to remember that others may also be struggling, have limited energy to share, and may be unable to anticipate our needs. This is a good time to give ourselves and others a break and limit what we expect. When we do, we reduce the likelihood of feeling let down. Of course, when others reach out, follow-though, and share “the load” we can appreciate them even more. Further, when we lessen our emotional dependence on others, we feel more in control, and confident in our ability to carry on.
Fourth, sort what matters most. The impact of interruptions, irritations, and inconsistency can become exaggerated when we are already off balance. Yet, the impact of these occurrences is usually determined more by how we respond than by the incidents themselves. It can be helpful to pause briefly and ask ourselves whether the situation really is a “big deal,” or just something that has hooked our emotions. We can take the measure of what really matters by considering whether it will continue to matter next week, next month, or next year. If not, maybe the best option is to let it go. We can remind ourselves not to “sweat the small stuff.” Now is not the time to give in to unwarranted worry and frustration about things that do not matter beyond the moment. There is little benefit in allowing passing frustrations and conflicts to jeopardize our momentum and disrupt our relationships.
These can be some of the most productive and determinative weeks of the year. We are past the holidays and spring celebrations and distractions are still several weeks off. We need to leverage the opportunities that this time of the year offers to focus, build momentum, and tap the learning and teaching opportunities before us.