The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 71 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
As a whole, teachers aren’t great about taking care of themselves. You work too many hours, don’t get enough sleep or exercise, eat too many unhealthy foods, and don’t spend enough time doing things that refresh and energize you. Too many teachers have reached the conclusion that this lifestyle is just part of the job; there simply isn’t enough time to be a good teacher and take care of yourself. Self-care is something you’ll get to over breaks or in the summer, right?
Unfortunately, this is kind of a recipe for disaster. Teaching is consistently named as one of the most high-stress careers, which is only compounded by the fact that many of you are not doing things that would help you manage that stress.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
My guest today is Angela Watson, who has spent the last few years really focusing in on how teachers use their time and finding solutions to help them find work/life balance. About a year and a half ago she started the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year-long program that provides resources, support, and community to teachers who are committed to getting out of survival mode and living a balanced life. Over 10,000 teachers have already joined the club and are seeing incredible results in their own lives.
In Episode 33, Angela and I talked about five powerful ways to save time as a teacher. If you haven’t heard that episode, I strongly suggest you go there next. Today I’m having Angela back to talk more specifically about how teachers can build habits of self-care into their lives.
Before we get started, I’d like to thank Kiddom for sponsoring this episode. Kiddom is a collaborative learning platform that enables teachers to plan, assess, and analyze learning all in one place. With Kiddom’s new student dashboard, teachers can empower students to take ownership of their learning. Students have the ability to track their own progress on skills, access and submit work, and communicate with teachers on assignments. Kiddom is 100% free for teachers and students. To learn more, visit cultofpedagogy.com/kiddom.
I also want to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for this podcast on iTunes. Every new review helps to get this podcast in front of more listeners, and that means the information I share here gets into more classrooms. If you think more teachers need to be listening to this podcast, head over to iTunes and leave a quick review. Thanks so much.
Okay, let’s listen now to my interview with Angela Watson. Later on, if you want to learn more about the club and Angela’s free webinar on teacher self-care, come to Cult of Pedagogy, click on Podcast, and go to episode 71. I’ll have all the links there.
Here we go.
GONZALEZ: Let’s get into… Why is it that teachers feel that they put everybody else’s needs before their own? Why is it so hard for them to take time to take care of themselves?
WATSON: Well, we know that a lack of time is sort of the obvious problem. There’s just too many other demands. So, I mean, that’s just sort of a given. I’m more interested in looking at the root causes. How come there’s not enough time for the person who’s holding everything together in the household and the classroom? Why is it that self-care feels selfish? If everything falls back on you, if you’re the most critical element to keeping everything running smoothly, then how come your needs aren’t prioritized in the schedule? That can be somewhat of a mystery, right? We all know that taking care of ourselves is important, so how come it always seems to come last?
So I think one of the reasons is because we think that busy is normal. So, being busy is kind of a prized attribute in our culture. John Spencer talks a lot about wearing “busy” like a badge of honor, and I think in many ways we have confused accomplishment with being busy. So, I’ll have people say to me all the time, “Oh, you’ve been so busy,” or, “I don’t want to trouble you. I’m sure you’re so busy.” And what they mean by that is they feel like I’m accomplishing a lot of things and getting a lot of things done. They see I’ve traveled somewhere and released some new podcast episodes, I’ve been to a conference, and so they just assume that that means that I must be really busy. But I hate to think of myself as being busy. There’s a couple times a year where my workload or my personal life demands more of me, but normally, if I feel like I’m busy, that’s a signal that there’s something wrong, because I like to be fruitful, I like to be productive, I like to be accomplished, but I do make time for self-care and rest. And if I’m not, that’s when I start to feel busy. And to me, that’s a signal that I’m doing too much and I need to cut back.
So if we’re going to make time for ourselves as educators, we have to decide to reject that notion that being busy is just the way life has to be. Busy is normal, but normal is not the same thing as healthy, and we can accomplish a lot of things without feeling busy when we build in that time for self-care.
GONZALEZ: Okay. I think that’s an excellent point, because it is like people brag about how busy they are and they can compete sometimes in conversation how one is busier than the other, and yeah, it does seem to be kind of a chronic condition for some people.
WATSON: Yes. It’s just the default. It’s just normal. It’s what it is. So, it’s not something that we even think we can improve, that there’s anything wrong with it. It is what it is.
I think another reason why it’s so hard to prioritize self-care is we don’t realize how dire that situation that really is. There’s no time to stop and reflect on what we’re really doing to our physical and mental health by not prioritizing self-care. And I think a lot of times we just have no idea how little time we dedicate to ourselves. It’s hard to track your time and to know where it’s going, and I think if we really understood how little time we spent making sure that we were exercising, sleeping, eating well, I think it would be a shock for a lot of people, because we just don’t realize.
And when it comes to things like getting sleep and eating well, we don’t usually realize until it’s too late that we’ve damaged our bodies. So, we think that we can get away with it. We think all these other people are in front of us, we can’t get away with saying no to our principals. We can’t get away with saying no to your three-year-old who’s hungry and needs a snack. But we think we can get away with saying no to ourselves all the time. And what we don’t realize is that the things that we’re doing today are creating the quality of life that we have in the future, and the business of our lives today is not going to magically improve a year from now. So, we tell ourselves, “Oh, next year, I’ll know the curriculum better. Next year, my child will be older and more independent. Next year, we’ll be all moved into the new house, and I won’t be distracted by that.” But next year some new demand on our time always pops up. So, we won’t be moving next year, but it’ll be something else. It could be maybe a sick family member to care for, or maybe there’s some new committee that you’re forced to join. There’s always going to be something new. So, we have to learn to assume that whatever it is we’re doing today is what we’re going to be doing tomorrow, and what we’re going to be doing next year, and what we’re going to be doing five years from now. So, don’t assume that your future self is going to be better at balance when none of your past selves have gotten it figured out.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. There’s a quote that I think of every once in awhile, and it says, “If you want to know what your life is going to look like in the future, take a look at your life right now.” And that’s one of those things that’ll stop you in your tracks, because it’s like, “Oh, dang.” It stops you from trying to put off making those important changes.
WATSON: Yes, exactly. We can’t wait until our body is physically manifesting these symptoms of stress to decide that we’re going to take care of ourselves.
GONZALEZ: What’s the third reason that we have trouble taking time for self-care?
WATSON: I think another reason is that it’s just really hard to say no to people and things we care about. I think there’s a lot of teacher guilt and a lot of mom guilt going on, where you just feel like you’ve never done enough, you should always be doing more, and it’s really hard to say no to someone that you love, particularly kids. I mean, it’s hard to say no to students even when they need something, because you love them; you care about them like they’re your own kids. It’s hard to say no to them, to put your own needs first. And we’ve all heard that analogy of putting your own oxygen mask before you can assist others. But actually, living that out is really, really challenging. And it takes a lot of practice to get ourselves to truly believe that self-care is not selfish, and people around us are actually going to be happier when we’re happier, when we’re well-rested. And when we’re feeling in balance, we do a lot better job meeting the needs of the people that we love.
GONZALEZ: You know, I think, too, with this whole idea of not saying no, there is also another type of person—and you and I have both admitted to being this type of person—just sort of the achievement addict, and the perfectionist, where it’s just, “Give me another challenge. I can take it on.” So when a principal or somebody offers this new opportunity, it’s hard to just say, “No, I’m doing enough right now. I can’t. I can’t keep being excellent in so many ways if I take so much on.” And that’s a big problem.
WATSON: Yeah, it feels like admitting defeat, right? Like, “I can’t take it on, so there must be something wrong with me. I should be able to handle it.”
GONZALEZ: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about this idea of self-care before we talk about how we can solve this, because I’m sure people listening are like, “Yeah, that all sounds familiar, however I don’t know how to change any of those things.” But let’s just quickly define what you mean by self-care, because I know when I hear that, I picture somebody sitting, getting a pedicure at the spa. What do we mean exactly by that?
WATSON: So, it could be. I think self-care means different things to different people. For me, self-care is having time to be creative and to lose myself in the creative process. And also having time to just clear my head so that I have space for new ideas. So, being able to be creative, that’s what drives me. I love to think of new solutions and create solutions for problems. And if I don’t have the mental headspace to do that, then I just don’t feel like myself. So, having that space for creativity is really important. And one of the most important things that I do for self-care every day is I get fresh air. Even if it’s just a five-minute walk around the block, even if it’s just stepping outside, just to be in the yard for a couple of minutes, just anything to get fresh air and clear my head.
But it won’t be the same for everyone. And one of the things that I’m going to go really in-depth with in the self-care webinar that I’m offering at the end of the month is how to choose a self-care habit that really fits your personality and your needs. So, the right self-care habit for you is going to be something that fits these two criteria: the first is it needs to be something that you want to maintain permanently. So, we’re not looking for quick fixes here, and that can be the thing with going to the spa. Doing that once every six months is not going to fix the problem for most people. Or just doing it one time. So, it has to be something that we can maintain. And you can tweak the habit for your needs over time, but it needs to be something you can stick with and something that you can make a regular part of your life, because otherwise it just won’t happen.
So, choose a self-care habit that you want to maintain permanently, and choose something that has a really meaningful impact on your well-being. So, pick something that’s going to make you happier or more rested or more productive. Don’t just pick whatever sounds easiest, or whatever sounds fun. We would all love our self-care habit to be going shopping and buying something new for ourselves. But is that really going to be the thing that moves the needle for you? You want it to be something that’s going to take a weight off your shoulders and give you this real sense of satisfaction. So, it doesn’t have to be something big, but it needs to be something that’s really meaningful to you. So, for example, if you’re a person who always feels rushed in the morning, if you feel like people are making all these demands on you and you’re not even awake yet, then your self-care might be some sort of morning ritual that allows you to have a couple minutes to yourself so that you can mentally prepare for the day. I did not used to be a morning person at all, but I started getting up 15 minutes earlier in 2008, and I am telling you, Jennifer, it changed my entire life. If I sit outside, especially if I can sit outside—sometimes the weather doesn’t permit—but if I can just have that cup of coffee and just breathe or read or just mentally gear up for the day and get my head right, it makes a huge difference for me.
GONZALEZ: And for somebody else that may not be the thing at all.
WATSON: Exactly. It depends on what your needs are. Maybe for someone else, it might be a midday break. So, something that you do for yourself so you don’t feel like going, going, going non-stop, from sunup to sundown. So, for someone else, it could be a three-minute dance break after lunch with your students, or one minute of deep breathing and relaxation exercises after the kids are dismissed. Or maybe you want to listen to just some relaxing music on the car on the way home, or sit for five minutes and have a cappuccino in the afternoons. So, none of these midday break examples take longer than a couple minutes, but they can completely re-energize you for hours afterwards if you pick something that works for your personality and needs.
So, it could be something in the morning, it could be midday. Maybe it could be some sort of a nighttime ritual. So, that’s good for people who feel like they never get any time for themselves until the whole family’s in bed, and by that point they’re too exhausted to do anything. So, maybe they might want to shift around their tasks so they can head to bed earlier and have 30 minutes to just lay there and read, or watch their shows without cutting into bedtime. So, that’s just a couple of examples. I mean, it could be physical self-care, or creative outlets, or hobbies or passions, but I would just encourage teachers to pick one thing to start. Pick one thing that you really want to maintain for the long-term and that you think is really going to move the needle for you, and focus on creating that habit, because habits are really powerful. You can tap into the power of the habit and make it work for you. If you want self-care to be something that you do even when you’re really busy, or even when you’re really tired, all you have to do is make it part of a routine and a regular habit.
GONZALEZ: Got it. Okay, and we’re going to get into some of those how-tos. So, we understand what the problem is now, and hopefully people listening are kind of starting to fiddle around with some thoughts like, “What could my thing be that I start to build into my life?” So, how do they actually make the time for it?
WATSON: So, I thought a lot about how to answer this in a way that’s digestible in just one podcast episode. This is going to be the focus of the whole webinar, so I’ll be able to go more in-depth with it. But when I really sat back and thought, “Okay, what’s at the heart of this? What are the things that I really want people who are listening to this to know?” There were four things that I think are really important here.
And the first one is to build in rest as the catalyst for productivity, and not a break from it. So, I wanted to start by talking about rest, because I think that’s an area of self-care that is really important to our physical and mental and emotional health. And almost everyone I know is sleep-deprived and tired all the time. So, I think those times of rest are really one of the most important self-care habits that we can start, and it’s also a habit where if you can pick this one to focus on, it can have the biggest impact. I think a lot of times we’re walking around in this sort of fog, where we’re not feeling like we’re at our fullest mental capacity, and we don’t even know why. And it’s because of lack of sleep. So, if you feel like if you just don’t have the ability to do everything you need to do and you can’t problem-solve, you’re having trouble thinking of solutions for things, a lot of times it’s lack of sleep.
And one of the reasons for that is a lot of women in particular, a lot of moms feel like the only time they have to themselves is at night. So, when the whole family’s gone to bed. And if the whole house isn’t quiet and the task for the day isn’t done until 10 or 11 pm, and then they go to bed right then at 10 or 11, then they literally did not have a second for themselves through the whole day. So, they decide, “Okay, I’ll just spend a couple minutes scrolling through Facebook,” or, “I’ll just watch a show on Netflix,” and that’s fun, that’s rewarding. “Finally, it’s some me time,” right? And then the next thing you know, it’s 1 in the morning and you’re exhausted the next day. I’ve fallen into this trap all the time myself.
GONZALEZ: So do I. It sounds so familiar.
WATSON: I mean, I’m totally describing myself. Sometimes people wonder, like, “I think you’re psychic. I feel like you’re inside my head.” I’m like, “No, I’m inside my own head. I’m dealing with all the same things.” So, we realize that we’re doing this to ourselves, right? But because it’s the only time we feel like we have, then we’re willing to sacrifice sleep in order to get it. So, it’s really important to find time for yourself earlier in the day, or to go to bed earlier so that you’re not sacrificing sleep for the me-time. And I’m going to talk a little bit more later about how to steal that time for yourself. But for some people it’s not even really sleep, it’s just rest. So, they feel like they’re going non-stop, morning till night, and in those situations the solution may be training yourself to believe that rest is the catalyst for productivity. So, really shifting your mindset to understand that you are not a machine. You can’t just program yourself to perform at optimal levels 24 hours a day. You have to have rest in there, and it doesn’t necessarily mean this hour-long nap in the afternoon. It could just be turning off the lights in your classroom for a few minutes after dismissal. Or for many people, they find themselves checking their phones all day long, checking social media, checking email. If you can substitute one or two of those checking times with just silence and stillness, that can make a huge difference in your energy levels and your ability to focus and concentrate.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, there’s such a tendency to say, “Oh, I’ve got five minutes. Let me squeeze one more thing in,” and recognize how important it could be to build rest into that time, too. Yeah, huge.
WATSON: Yeah. Sometimes you may even have to schedule it in. That was something that I had to do for a while, because I felt like if I wasn’t doing something, then I was wasting time. So, my husband will be like, “Just sit on the couch with me and watch TV.” I couldn’t do it. I had to also be folding laundry or filing my nails. Something. Anything. I could not just sit there and relax. And it took me a long time to really internalize this idea that time you enjoy wasting is not really wasted. And I started actually setting aside chunks of time in which I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything. It was actually on my schedule. “From 8 to 9, you’re supposed to do nothing. Just rest.” And that really gave me permission to do that.
And framing rest is a critical part of my being productive; made it not feel like a waste. So, all of these strategies are going to be different depending on your personality type, but the idea here is to just build in rest as a catalyst for productivity. Rest is a thing that allows you to get everything else done. So, time for recharging isn’t optional, it’s mandatory. You have to schedule in rest, just like anything else that’s important to you.
GONZALEZ: So, the next tip, the next way to make this time? We’re building in some rest, and then what’s next?
WATSON: So, the next thing is to streamline your schedule by looking at how you do fewer things better. Self-care can’t just be one more thing that you add to your plate. You have to eliminate things that aren’t the best and highest use of your time. So, people who struggle with productivity tend to add new tasks and new responsibilities to what they’re already doing. And they ask themselves, “How can I possibly fit all this in? How can I have time for all of this?” But truly productive people take a look at a new responsibility and they ask themselves, “Is this the best and highest use of my time? And if so, then what can I eliminate today? What isn’t the best and highest use of my time that I can get rid of I order to make time for this other thing?”
Productive people are always analyzing whether something is really necessary, and whether it’s really necessary right now. They’re always re-evaluating their priorities and shifting tasks around, because there’s just no way you’re ever going to have enough hours in the day to do everything that you want and you need to do. And you can’t just keep cramming more and hoping, “Oh, if I can just multitask a little bit better,” or “If I can just manage my time better, if I was just a little bit more efficient I think I can get it all done.”
Most people are trying to do entirely too much, and we just don’t have time to step back and reflect on what actually needs to be done, and what we’re just doing out of habit or obligation. We’re just sort of going through the motions, adding more and more to our plates, and we’re never taking anything off. We complain about, you know, schools doing that to us, always adding more things to the plate and never removing anything, but we do it to ourselves too in our own lives. If we know that self-care is a priority, then the goal shifts from, “How can I squeeze that in?” to, “What can I get rid of, so that self-care takes its rightful place as this higher priority”. The goal is to do fewer things, and that way you can do things that remain even better.
GONZALEZ: Let’s suppose you’re in a school situation, where that stuff is getting piled on and nothing’s getting removed. Would it make sense for a teacher to bring this up to an administrator and say, “You know, if I’m going to be adding this, can I drop this over here or do this in a different way?” You know, sort of pointing out that we can’t squeeze more items into the same space.
WATSON: Absolutely, and I like that idea of bringing that to an administrator with a suggestion. I think if you just kind of say, “You know, this is too much, we can’t do all of this,” it’s hard to make that into an actionable item. But if you actually go to your school leadership, and say, “You know, I was thinking, this sort of feels like it can take the place of this, or maybe this is something that really hasn’t been giving us the results that we wanted, it really hasn’t been moving the needle for students. Could we maybe eliminate that, and then make room for this instead?” I think if you frame it that way, and have this suggestion of something specific, that has not produced the results that you want and something that you think would be more efficient and more productive, then I think that’s a great way to do it. What are you thinking right now? You’re doing a lot of sighing and deep breathing here.
GONZALEZ: I guess I’m thinking about my own stuff, and I’m thinking what can I drop, what can I drop? And a lot of times I’m thinking choosing to do fewer things happens at the moment of contact with some this is about the same “no” again. And I think about like at my daughter’s school, I get an e-mail from somebody a couple of weeks ago, “Can you just contribute 200 yellow cups for this reception?” And I thought, “You know, they need parents to help, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I just have to go to the party store, and then drop this off.” So, of course I thought well, I want to be a chip-in parent, I want to be a help, this lady’s running this whole thing, and all she’s asking is for – so, of course, I signed up, and then that’s just one more thing I have to do. It’s like that one thing by itself is nothing, but you add that to all the other things, and it really there is a lot of psychology to it, because I don’t want to be that parent who doesn’t help, you know? But that’s where sometimes the cutting down happens, it’s right when you first contact something, when it’s just like, “No, this time I just going to have to say I can’t do it.”
WATSON: Right, because your default reaction is you want to say “yes”. You want to help people, you want to be a team player, you want to be useful. I mean, we see someone in need, and you want to help them, and it really takes a lot of practice to sort of make that default reaction “no”. Like I’m only going to say yes to this if it really is the best and highest use of my time. Maybe if I was planning to go to the store that day anyways, or maybe if there’s like a couple of days, if it’s not needed till Friday, and I was going to the store on Thursday, okay, maybe I can fit that in there. But if not, and it’s not the best and highest use of my time, then it’s okay for me to say “no”. It doesn’t make me a bad parent, it doesn’t make me a bad teacher, it doesn’t reflect on my integrity and my character to feel like I can say “no” to things.
GONZALEZ: Right. Somebody else, who I sort of follow on social media, she talks a lot about this, about saying no elegantly, nicely and without being a jerk, and she recommends that people use the phrase, “My schedule just won’t allow it.” That’s kind of a blanket statement, and it’s true, and it almost shifts the blame to this phantom schedule, that’s just out there. But I mean, it really is true, you’re not saying that you don’t want to, “I wish I could, but my schedule won’t allow it”. People tend to respect that.
WATSON: I think that’s really good. “I wish I could, but my schedule won’t allow it”. That’s great.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, it’s just getting yourself to say it.
WATSON: It is, and like none of this stuff, I make it sound easy, because it’s simple, but simple and easy aren’t the same thing. This is all really simple stuff that I’m saying here, but it’s incredibly hard to do. It really just takes practice. I think even just being mindful of it, just being aware of it, because so many people just say “yes” and aren’t even aware of saying “yes”, you know, it’s just sort of what they do. Just being aware that you have a choice in this moment, I think it’s sort of the first step. And then practicing saying, “My schedule won’t allow it.” maybe one time out of ten might be an improvement for some people.
GONZALEZ: Yes, because it’s a good feeling when you say it, and the request just goes away. It’s like, “Oh. That’s just not there now.”
WATSON: Yes, and you know what, people know— I mean, we know that 20% of people do 80% of the work, in just about any kind of community. So, if you say no once, you’ll find that people will stop asking you so many times. They realize, “Oh, okay, this is a person who really protects boundaries around our time, and doesn’t just say yes to be a people pleaser, and isn’t just going to bend over backwards any time I need anything,” and they will stop asking you so much. Then you can actually say yes more often, because they’re not asking you as often. They’ll come to you just with the most important things, when there’s no one else who can do it. It’s really vital, or you have like a special skill that would lend itself to this particular situation, and then it feels good to say yes, because you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to totally shine in this area, I can really add value here, this is like right in my wheelhouse, I definitely want to say yes to this.” Versus just like, “Okay, sure, I can be the person who can pick up the cups”.
GONZALEZ: Yes. You now, actually I’m remembering something. I think this is Pernille, our mutual friend Pernille Ripp, who is another education blogger, for people listening, but I think I remember she posted something one time that says “You shouldn’t say yes to anything, unless it’s a ‘Hell, yes!’” That’s how you should feel about everything you say yes. If it’s not a, “Hell, yes!” then you should probably say no to it. So that you can leave room in your schedule for those things that you’re really excited about participating in.
WATSON: Yes, and that does not make you selfish, it’s not a selfish thing to do. We’ve been so programmed to believe that, especially as women, you know, that we need to say yes to people, and that it will reflect poorly on us if we say no, and we have to really practice believing that’s not true. Our own needs, and our preferences, and the things that we bring value to, that we can like contribute to, are important. You don’t just have to say yes to everything, because you can’t say yes to everything.
GONZALEZ: Right. Okay, so we’ve talked about building in rest, as a catalyst for productivity. We’ve talked about streamlining your schedule by doing fewer things better, and then you’ve got two other suggestions for how people can prioritize self-care and make time for it. What are they?
WATSON: Yes. So, you can pair a self-care habit with your regular routines, so that the self-care habit becomes automatic. This is a really powerful principle that is based heavily on neuroscience, this idea that you can pair a new habit with an existing habit to make it easier to lock that new habit into place. The idea is that you should look for something that you already do automatically, and integrate self-care into that. See if you can think about “when this”-kind of cue for self-care. When X happens, you would do Y.
So, when you get in the car in the morning, you put on your favorite song that uplifts and inspires you. Or, when you brush your teeth, that’s something that hardly anyone has to think about, right? You just do that automatically. When you brush your teeth, you will think of words of affirmation and repeat positive thoughts about your day. Whatever it is, do the same thing, time after time, and it will create this almost Pavlovian kind of response, where as soon as you finish cleaning up dinner, you crave that nice hot bath, or as soon as the kids leave the classroom at the end of the day, you’re craving that 60 seconds of deep breathing to just clear your head and to energize yourself for the rest of the day’s tasks. Pairing up habits in this kind of way is really powerful, because you’re relying on the strength of an existing habit to make that new habit automatic, and it’s a lot easier than relying on willpower or trying to make a decision, should I do, or should I not do it? When am I going to take care of myself, when will I have time for this today? You’ll follow through a lot more easily with your self-care goals if it’s part of a habit.
The idea is that instead of using up all your willpower and forcing yourself to do everything that you need to each day, you’re investing your willpower strategically into creating these new habits. And they will serve you for years to come. Think of these habits as a turn of your investment of willpower. You only have to put up the willpower in the beginning, to create the habit, and then you can sort of go on auto-pilot all the time. In that way, you’re not relying on willpower, especially in the evenings, when you’re just— A lot of people in the evening they’re just done. Like, that’s it, you’re exhausted from trying to keep all those plates spinning in your classroom for seven hours, and doing everything at home. Trying to have the willpower to follow through with some kind of self-care can be really hard. If you change your habits, and you look for ways to make your default reaction this healthy, productive choice, you gravitate toward it naturally. Put in that willpower toward creation of habits lets you automate your self-care, so you don’t have to think about it, it just is something that you do.
GONZALEZ: Right. Okay, and that’s actually your fourth suggestion. It’s the continuation of this idea of building habits. Talk more about that.
WATSON: Yes. This last principle is about focusing on the habit of the habit, so that you learn how to value the actions over right results. And this is a really important mindset shift. It might be the most important element really when it comes to making this new habit of self-care stick.
Every time you’re tempted to go back to your old way of doing things, or to skip your self-care habit, remind yourself it’s not about eating healthier, it’s not about getting more sleep, it’s not about how you manage your time, this is about creating self-care habits. And each time you go back to the old habit, you’re strengthening those neural pathways in the brain and the muscle memory in your body, that’s going to make you want to default to that habit again in the future.
So, breaking the habit just this once, that’s how we tell ourselves, right? “Yeah, just this once doesn’t matter.” That’s not going to hurt you in the sense that it’s going to wreak havoc on that area of your life. If you are trying to give up sugar, and you have dessert just this once, that’s not going to really ruin anything. But breaking the habit just this once wreaks havoc on the habit itself, and that’s what you really want to protect at all cost, is your habits. New habits in particular are really easy to skip, because they’re not really established. It’s important to prepare in advance to those kinds of challenges that you might come across. Try to minimize the amount of exceptions that you allow yourself, the amount of times that you’re going to say, “Just this once”. Plan them out in advance. You’ve already decided, “Okay, while I’m going to the party on Saturday, so I will allow myself to have something then.” But don’t wait and decide in the moment, because then it feels like skipping your habit. You want to really plan out those kinds of exceptions.
I find it helpful to focus on not skipping the habit twice in a row. Once you’ve done that, it’s really hard to get back on track, and you’ve sort of lost your momentum. Just remember that the habit of the habit is more important than the habit itself, and it’s okay to do something poorly, or sloppily, or to do it barely at all, as long as you’re doing it. So, it’s really about the right actions.
GONZALEZ: This is so much more deliberate than I think most people approach self-care. I think most people are just, they go and go and go, until they can’t stand it anymore, and then it’s time for a bath, or it’s time for a nap, or they go to the spa, and they go six more months. And it really has so much more to do with like choosing something that’s a good fit, and then really focusing on where you’re going to fit it in, how are you going to implement it, and then really prioritizing, sticking to it, so it becomes a part of your life.
WATSON: Yes, exactly. So, we’re not just looking for this quick fix that we do one time. We’re not worrying too much about really even the end results. We’re just looking at the right actions. Because, again, we have to assume that whatever it is we’re doing today, is what we’re going to do tomorrow, or next week, or next month. It’s not going to get better on its own. If we’re only waiting until we can’t take it any longer and do something nice to ourselves every six months, it’s going to keep being like that, unless there’s a habit. When you start being more deliberate about it this way, and you start looking at the habit of it, you become really focused on the choices that you’re making now, instead of just assuming that your future self is going to be more disciplined, or that you’re going to have more free time later. Because when we think about who we’re going to be in the future, we assume we’re going to be more productive and more balanced. And just because the 2018 calendar year isn’t booked yet, that our busy season now is going to end and we’re going to have more time for ourselves later. But the truth is that these future schedules are probably going to be really similar to what we’re doing currently. All you have to do is look at your habits, and ask yourself, “Will I have better work-life balance and more time for myself in the future if I keep doing what it is what I’m doing today?” And then if the answer is no, then just take that first step and create one self-care habit, and you can sort of build from there.
GONZALEZ: My mind is already spinning now, I’m trying to figure out what mine is going to be. Think it through. Because I’m looking around my office right now at all the piles around me, and I know that my self-care habit – I’m really impacted by my surroundings, when they get cluttered, and so I think my self-care habit would actually have something to do with tidying things up, because I feel so much better when my surroundings are in some kind of order, and I just let them go all the time. That’s got nothing to do with the spa, but I think it would make me feel so great, to have things just—like get the bed made, and my desk clear, and just something like that simple.
WATSON: No, I think that’s good, it’s something that you want to maintain permanently. You would like to have a tidy office area, or tidy home permanently, and it’s something that would have a big impact on your well-being. You feel more productive, and you feel like you head is clear when your surroundings are organized. So, I think that’s a great place to start.
GONZALEZ: Let’s talk about your webinar now. You’re helping teachers, sort of taking what we just did just here in a mini-version, and you’re really walking teachers through the steps of how to set these habits for themselves. Talk about that a little bit.
WATSON: Yes, exactly. So, this is a free webinar, and it’s called “Teachers, you are a priority too. How to create simple habits of rest and self-care that would change your life.” The idea is, if you’re a teacher who is always putting everybody else’s needs before your own, and the only time you get for yourself is late at night, when you’re supposed to be sleeping. And if you know that you’re supposed to prioritize self-care, but you just haven’t been able to find time, then this training is going to teach you how to create the habits. Because the problem really isn’t about a lack of time. I think it has become more clear as we talked today, it really is about not yet having found the habit that’s going to fit your lifestyle. And really that’s good news, because creating better habits is a lot easier than finding more time. The webinar is going to really sort of walk you through how to choose a self-care habit that is right for you, something that’s going to be significant enough to make a difference, but also easy enough to stick with when you’re super-busy. And we’re going to talk about how to understand your temperament, so the way you establish your habits works for your preferences. Are you a person who likes familiarity better, or spontaneity? Are you a person who wants to take baby steps, or should your habit produce dramatic results? So, I’ll sort of walk you through this whole idea of just understanding what kind of system is going to work for you. And then I’ll give you five keys to any habit, to ensure that it creates permanent change, and set up a temporary fix. Once you understand what your personality is, you’re ready to sort of listen to those five principles through the lens of what’s going to work for you. These are sort of five keys, and you can just sort of filter them through what is going to fit your personality. Then I talk about how to get ongoing support with your habits, and just create more time for yourself, even when school is back in session.
GONZALEZ: Great. I’m going to go to this webinar, because you’re talking about some stuff that you and I have not talked about. I want to see you present it. Now that sounds really cool. Okay. I’m going to provide links to that, and anybody listening to this, it’s going to be right in the podcast episode 71, and I’ll provide all the links to that, so that people can find it. And then, also if anybody is interested in the “Forty-hour work week club”, I will also be sending links to that. That is something that right now only opens twice a year, although there’s been some talk of maybe only opening it once a year. But right now, it’s still open in the summer and in winter time. If somebody’s listening to this live, the next open dates for the “Forty-hour work week club” are when?
WATSON: The next chance to join is for the July cohort. That’s June 28th to July 7th.
GONZALEZ: Okay. I can provide links to places where people can learn more about that club that it’s been such a transformation for over 10 000 teachers now. If somebody’s really ready to take their productivity and time to a completely different level, that would really benefit them a lot to check that out.
WATSON: Yeah, I think that club is really helpful with these sorts of mindset issues that we’ve talked about today. It’s not necessarily about – a lot of them too are looking for a quick time-saving tips and hacks and stuff—and the club includes those too—but I think the real power is in the type of things that we talked about today, which is learning how to shift your mindset, and to think about your obligations and your work and your time in a new light. And that’s where I think the club really shines, because this isn’t something you can just hear once, or read about once and have mastered. It’s sort of like a lifelong thing, like you and I talk on Voxer around these kinds of issues all the time, because it’s something that we’re continually having to work on, and as our life demands change, you have to keep adjusting. That’s why the club is structured the way it is, that’s why it’s a whole year-long program, so that you have support all throughout the year, and it’s not just something that you expected to read once, master, and then have it all done perfectly. Because you should just going to slid back into the old habits. It’s really designed to help you think about different habits at different times of year. What kind of habits do you need to create back to school, to make sure that you’re setting yourself up to success? What kind of habits do you need to have around greeting, lesson planning, that sort of thing? It sort of walks you through those different areas, and just helps you to think about your work in a new light. What is the best and highest use of my time? How can I do fewer things better? Just a lot of practical suggestions, and then also the community too, I think it’s really important. Just knowing you’re not alone, you’re not the only person struggling with this, there’s other teachers who are working through these issues too, and you have a community of support that you can go to, to talk about these things.
GONZALEZ: I know, that’s huge. That’s a huge help. So often we think everybody else has it all together, and we’re the only ones that are screwing everything up.
WATSON: That’s right.
GONZALEZ: Well, thank you so much. This is going to be so helpful I think to a lot of people, just in the short term. I’m excited to get this out.
WATSON: Yes, I’m really excited about this too. I think this is just an issue that it’s just fun to talk about. It’s something that we’re all sort of struggling with, and we are all sort of looking for a better way, like how can we establish better self-care habits? How can we find ways to prioritize ourselves? It’s a challenge, it’s a fun one, I think, to tackle. It’s fun to experiment with different methods and find things that work for you, and talk about it with other people. I’m really glad that you gave me a chance to come on here and talk to your listeners about it. I know a lot of people who listen to my podcast listen to yours too, and so that sync the two of us together, sure. I have never had you on my podcast, why is that? Why have you never been on “Truth for Teachers”?
GONZALEZ: We keep talking about it and we just can’t figure out what to talk about. But if people are listening right now, and they listen to both of us, we are figuring that out. We should also mention that you and I tried and failed to set up our own little – like tried to record our own little Voxer chats, because we literally talk to each other almost every single day. And we thought, maybe we should just turn these into a podcast, and what we tried to do is just kind of forced, so—
WATSON: Yeah, it didn’t work. The magic of our Voxer chats is that they are private. As soon as we knew that we might actually be broadcasting it, it was like, “Ew!” But we are always talking about these same kinds of issues it’s fun to sort of solidify some of the conclusions that we’ve come to, and with the last few months we sort of put them out there, so we got to think about more ways to do that, because—
GONZALEZ: To share it, yeah. Definitely. Our podcast that never was.
WATSON: And now you’re going to get a ton of emails from people like “Oh my Gosh, you have to make this podcast happen. What is this, then the actual podcast? I need this in my life.”
GONZALEZ: We both have too much crap to do right now to do one more thing.
WATSON: That’s exactly it, right? Like we both decided, this isn’t the best and highest use of my time right now. It would be lovely to do, it would be so much fun, I would enjoy it so much, but what amount of effort would it take to make it happen, and to make it good?
WATSON: That’s a whole other level, and neither one of us like to put things out if we don’t feel like it’s really excellent.
GONZALEZ: That’s the problem!
WATSON: Choosing to say no to that, in order to say yes to our own podcast, and do a really good job with those, I think was the right decision.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, that’s it. See, leading by example.
WATSON: See? We’re role models! That’s what this was, right? It wasn’t just not having enough time for it, sure, we were trying to be role models. It was all intentional.
GONZALEZ: Okay, all right, so let’s call this done, and I will just officially say thank you for being on the podcast.
WATSON: Thank you for having me. This was so much fun. We really do have to do this more often.
For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, including links to Angela’s webinar, visit cultofpedagogy.com/pod and click on Episode 71. To get weekly updates on all my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.
This podcast is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network, podcasts for educators, podcasts by educators. To learn more, visit edupodcastnetwork.com.