"Back to school" symbolizes new beginnings for most educators to a degree unmatched by Jan. 1.
If, in the New Year's spirit, you were to create a list of resolutions focused on making this school year better than last, would having more balance between work and personal time be on your list? If so, take advantage of the beginning of a new cycle to anchor yourself in an activity just for you.
Regardless of your position in the field of education or how much you love your work, scheduling in time to revitalize yourself is key in preventing burnout and promoting a positive attitude.
When the scales weigh too heavily on the side of work, it can manifest in things like a short temper with loved ones or feeling shortchanged when Sunday night rolls around. While seemingly minor, if left unchecked such incidents can escalate, resulting in family problems, major illness or the like.
However, making the decision to take more quality time for oneself doesn't need to stem from fear of losing one's marriage, job or health. Instead, it can be seen as a quest to bring a higher level of joy and harmony to each day.
Reflect on what you need to achieve balance right now. If the answers don't come with introspection, talking with a close friend or using other resources can help you gain clarity. Be realistic about what fits into your schedule — for example, maybe you'll choose to eliminate time wasters along with (or instead of) adding new activities.
Something as simple as taking 10 minutes to read and reflect on an inspirational passage in a daily affirmations book could radically shift your perspective. Once you've decided what adjustments to make in your routine this school year, set them in motion now, before the workload gets heavier.
Despite the best of intentions, promises to ourselves are usually the first to be broken so it's best to take another step to solidify your commitment. Prepaying for classes or a massage series may function for people who refuse to waste money.
Being accountable to someone else is another strategy especially useful when the desired activity is solitary like taking walks in nature, meditating or gardening. The buddy system — popular in camps or on field trips — pairs off children, each responsible for looking after the other so nobody gets lost. Similarly, having a friend or family member with whom we check in periodically can keep us on track and prevent us from getting lost in our work.
Another key to success lies in where we place our attention while engaged in our activity. It's classic that co-workers meet for drinks to relax after work and end up spending the whole time talking about the office. The same thing can happen mentally.
Imagine a teacher taking a morning run while ruminating over a problem at school. His body got exercise, but does he feel mentally refreshed and eager to face his class? Probably not.
To reap the most benefit from your efforts to balance your life, it's necessary to get some psychological distance from your responsibilities by directing your full attention to the activity at hand and bringing your focus back when it inevitable drifts to your "to do" list.
Surprisingly, I have noticed my thoughts are more likely to run wild when I'm engaged in an activity meant for me, not when I'm grading papers. Writing about mindfulness, Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D., the author of "The Courage to Be Present," says we often have a hard time staying simply present with happiness.
Such meditation practices as mindfulness and anapana have helped me develop the ability to observe my thinking and to shift my awareness to my breath or body. As a result, stress-producing thoughts no longer seem to stick around long enough to distract me from what I'm experiencing whether at work or play.
Practicing your hobbies or self-nurturing activities regularly and consciously is a powerful step toward connecting deeply with yourself. So, as you strive to make this school year your best ever, you may experience a subtle shift of attitude, renewed enthusiasm and a feeling of lightness you don't recall noticing before.