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If you looked at your to-do list right now, where would self-care sit? Right at the bottom, somewhere in the middle or, if my suspicions are correct, nowhere at all?
Hmm, thought so.
As teachers we’re experts in thinking about the needs of every child in our class. We’re encouraged to think of the ‘whole child’, taking into consideration all aspects, from academic ability to their wellbeing and family circumstances. But what about taking a view of the ‘whole teacher’?
Yes, there are so many important parts of the job, but what about that other ‘stuff’? What about self-care and wellbeing? How often do those needs become a priority?
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, life has changed dramatically. The job you knew before lockdown no longer exists. Many teachers are struggling to cope with the changes and added pressures to a job that was already stressful enough, and it’s not surprising.
It’s become more important than ever, then, to put your self-care first. But how can you do it when your time is already stretched to its limit? It all comes down to habits.
Our brains use habits as a way of operating on autopilot, allowing us to conserve energy. We have the habits of brushing our teeth before bed, putting the same leg into our trousers every morning and following the same route to school each day.
If you’ve ever arrived at work and realised you got there without really thinking about it, that’s habits and routines at work.
The good news is that you can create and adopt habits for specific purposes. It’s how meaningful change occurs. Building self-care habits into your daily routine isn’t as challenging or time-consuming as it sounds, either.
In fact, recent research from BJ Fogg, a researcher at Stanford University, shows that implementing tiny habits can be the answer you need. So, what is a tiny habit? Well, it’s just as it sounds. It’s almost inconsequential when you first think about fitting it into your day.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks about five minutes of self-care, which is essentially the same thing. Why five minutes? Because everyone can fit that into their day, right?
The theory behind tiny habits is that, by shrinking a new behaviour into something small, we avoid the feelings of overwhelm that often accompany change. A classic example is deciding to get fitter by running for 30 minutes, three times a week.
We start off well, keeping to our new habit for a few weeks, but then the novelty wears off or we struggle to fit 90 minutes consistently into our week. Sooner or later, those expensive running shoes are gathering dust in the wardrobe.
But if you changed the habit to be a five-minute run, you’d be more inclined to do it, wouldn’t you?
Now you might have scoffed a little just then. A five-minute run? How ridiculous. But five minutes of anything is better than zero minutes. Five minutes repeated each day is over half an hour of running per week. And that’s not to be scoffed at.
But it’s not just about the length of time you choose to create your new self-care habit either. It’s the fact that small habits done consistently lead to big changes.
One morning, you’re out for your five-minute run when you decide that, actually, you’re going to do ten minutes. The same thing happens the next day. A few weeks later, you suddenly try 15 minutes. It’s the ripple effect in action. Tiny habits lead to big changes.
Some mornings you might just do five minutes, but other days you might run for 20. And the crazy thing?
It’s not even about fitness levels or the amount of time you invest. It’s about putting yourself first. It’s about putting self-care at the top of your to-do list. It’s about consciously making the time to do something that will improve your wellbeing.
So, whether it’s running, yoga, gratitude journaling or dancing round the kitchen to your favourite feel-good song, putting your self-care first, even in tiny amounts, will have a big impact.
It’ll begin to ripple out into other areas of your life too. You’ll soon become more attuned to your self-care needs. You’ll start going to bed earlier and adopting improved sleeping habits. You’ll put boundaries in place for your work/life balance – all from starting with just five minutes.
Creating wellbeing habits isn’t just about physical health. It’s about looking at the three pillars of self-care: mind, body, spirit/connection.
Maybe you’re already fit and active, but you realise you need to give some attention to your mental health.
Or maybe you’re in need of some spiritual self-care, picking up connections with other people who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Whatever you need, just pick one area to focus on to start with.
Whatever your needs, adopting tiny habits can make the difference you seek. Create some action triggers to help you remember to do your new habit.
Fancy trying gratitude journaling? Leave your journal on your pillow as a visual reminder. Keen to try a lunchtime walk for five minutes? Leave your trainers by the door. Interested in mindfulness? Try taking three deep breaths in and out each time the kettle boils.
Tying an action trigger to a new habit helps to embed the new behaviour into your daily routine. It preloads your brain’s decision-making process and motivates you to go through with it. Again, you’re avoiding overwhelm and building healthy, tiny habits.
As you make your way through the coming months, your self-care must become a priority to keep stress and burnout at bay. If you’ve been putting it off, start small and pick a tiny habit to try. Because if not now, when?
Self-care habits need to be meaningful to you. Just because other people swear by meditation, it doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it too.
Your new habit must be relatively easy so that you feel motivated to keep going. Simplicity leads to consistency. Remember to choose one area to focus on first.
Steph Caswell is an educational consultant and writer. She is the author of three books for NQTs and a regular contributor to Teach Primary magazine. You can connect with Steph on Twitter at @stephcaswell_.
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