I learned more in 2011 than I have in any other year. When stress is greatest, and we are not at our best because of it, we are presented with a big opportunity for change. The economy has created for many of us the loss of our livelihood, our homes, our relationships or our loved ones. Though this has called for reflection, recovery and repair, great change from these losses can come when we welcome change rather than resist it – when we allow for a new way to emerge from the ashes, and we choose to recognize the opportunity presented. The following 3 tips are how I found my power after losses in 2011 that felt beyond my control.
1. ACCEPT WHAT IS: In both my professional and personal life, I have noticed that most of us are waiting for a more ideal situation than the one we have. When we have more support, when we have more time, when we feel less overwhelmed, we will live, love and work better. As educators, for example, we too often wait for the system to change, for administration to be more supportive, or for parents to become more involved before we believe we can do our best work. However, as an educator myself, I find it much more empowering and productive – and I enjoy my work more! – when I wait for nothing. When I accept the reality that is in education today, and work within my own parameters BEING the change I want to see. The only thing stopping us from living, loving, and working better is our own self. We can decide that given the circumstances we are in, we will take care of ourselves better so we can give to others what we want them to experience from us. Sometimes this requires that we take a step back, breathe deeper, and re-commit to doing the things that contribute to our wellness. From that place, we will create the change we want to see without needing anything outside of us to change.
2. PRACTICE SELF-DISCIPLINE: This doesn’t sound like a fun tip, does it? I promise it can be! And the pay-off is huge. Right now, in response to our stress, and the powerlessness we feel over it, we are drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much, or watching too much television. Whatever our coping mechanism – used to distract us from our uncomfortable feelings – there’s a better way. Coping, as I am sure you have noticed, is just a band-aid that does little to transform our experience, to reduce the effects of stress in a lasting way. Self-discipline comes into play when we begin to notice that we are feeling the physical discomfort of stress – a racy feeling, agitation, even anger – and in that moment of noticing we ask ourselves what healthy thing we could do instead. Sit in nature, be with an animal, take a bath, go for a walk, call a good friend (not a negative friend!), or take a nap. Practice noticing how you experience your feelings of discomfort, what it feels like in your body, what story or judgments your mind begins making, and gently guide yourself to a healthier response. Focusing on the good feelings that come from making that better choice is what the neuroscience tells us is key to ensuring that we will make it.
3. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT: I never thought I would be able to meditate. Never! Sitting quietly for any length of time seemed an impossible task, and the last thing I like to do when stressed is give myself another impossible task! However, the losses I experienced in 2011 were so painful I became determined to create different and better results for myself. Sometimes what we have always done, though helpful, is not enough. For different results, something different is called for, and I knew from the neuroscience meditation was the best “new-for-me” tool I could try. I did not attempt to do this seemingly impossible task on my own (ask for help when you need it!). Rather I found a meditation group and dragged myself there, skeptical of my capacity but determined nonetheless. With the help provided me there, my life began to change quickly. New neural pathways in my brain were being forged and solidified – and continue to be – that allow me now to sit in stillness and hear my own voice and my own way, to block out the “noise” that we all hear around us feeding us ideas, beliefs, standards, and judgments that don’t fit for us or serve us well. Only in the quiet can we hear this “voice” and listen to it. The biggest different and better result I now have from meditation is peace. And when we have peace, and we are peace, we bring peace with us everywhere we go, including our classrooms full of students who need that probably more than anything else we could give them.