Most of the time we talk about how to motivate our students. But, we rarely talk about how we can stay motivated ourselves. It’s not like as teachers we have this bottomless well of motivation. No matter how much we love what we do, everyone gets discouraged sometimes. Maybe you’re frustrated because you have students who in spite of your best efforts just aren’t buying into their own learning. They put their heads on their desks during your best lessons or choose to talk or engage in distracting and annoying behaviors when they should be learning. Or maybe you’re frustrated by the decisions that have been made by those in charge that you believe actually make no sense. Maybe you’re dealing with a difficult parent or colleague or perhaps you’re just exhausted by all the work you have before you and you have no idea how you’re going to get it all done in time. Perhaps you’re in a leadership role and you’re dealing with a particularly tough colleague who is actively or passively fighting all of your efforts to help and children are suffering in the meantime. Or, maybe you’re struggling to meet the goals you set and get everyone on board and your facing resistance at every turn. This time of year is particularly tough. Spring break is still far off and you’re facing testing pressures on top of the crazy weather we’ve been having this year. You may feel overwhelmed, or just plain tired and it takes more and more each day to generate joy in your teaching or your leadership.
We hear you. Staying motivated is one of the toughest things about being an educator, especially when our idealism clashes with the brutal facts of our reality. We’re expected to produce miracles each day and we often do, but as rewarding as our jobs are, they are also really tough. How do you maintain your enthusiasm in the face of all the challenges we face each year?
One of the things we’ve found to be true in our work with thousands of teachers and instructional leaders is that Unmotivated people can’t motivate people. So, if we want to keep our students and colleagues motivated over the long haul, we have to stay motivated ourselves. Now until recently, that meant giving ourselves pep talks or reading something inspirational or any number of temporary strategies in the hope that we could boost our own motivation and stay equipped to do this work. But, we recently discovered a secret to staying motivated that actually provides a long-term antidote to discouragement, frustration, self-doubt, and fear.
The idea is that no two things can occupy the same place at the same time. You cannot feel two things at the same time. Either you will feel discouraged or you will feel motivated. You will feel frustrated or you will feel empowered. No two emotions can dominate your heart at the same time.
What’s empowering about this truth is that it means that we can control our own motivation. Here’s how. The moment you start feeling discouraged, frustrated, afraid, or hopeless you can actively shift your focus to the present moment and DO SOMETHING POSITIVE. Don’t indulge in negative emotions; shift immediately into creation mode and do something positive. That means when you’re feeling frustrated by things you cannot control, immediately focus on doing something within your control. If you are feeling discouraged about a bad day, start planning for a better day tomorrow. If you’re deflated by a negative interaction with a student, parent, or colleague, go and immediately engage with someone positive. When you’ve made a mistake or when things don’t work out the way that you want them to, immediately focus on what is working. Whenever you are assaulted by negativity, do something positive. You’ll be surprised at how this practice can change your entire outlook.
It seems simple and maybe a little woo-woo-Oprah-we-are-the-world-namaste but trust us, it really works. We’ve seen this strategy take people who are drowning in bitterness and negativity suddenly have hope. We’ve seen it take people who are just about to give up get renewed energy, passion and joy in their work. When you use this strategy, the situation doesn’t change right away, but YOU change and when YOU change, you can change your situation. It takes practice, but the more you do it, the more motivated, creative, passionate, and ultimately successful you’ll be.
What is currently sapping your motivation? What strategies do you find most successful to staying motivated? Share with us below.