The new half term is on the horizon and for seven weeks I will be the interim Head of English Faculty, caretaking the role until our new boss starts in September. I must admit, I’m looking forward to it; it’ll be good to get experience at this level, just in case I fancy going for this type of role in the future.
I love this final half term, with the long summer days and the (hopefully) warmer weather and the hazy preparation for the new school year which seems just that little far out of reach to be biting us on the bum. I’m also starting to think about the summer holidays and the promise of soft sand and sangria for a week or two. I've also been thinking about onions this week.
Now, I am very aware that this blog is a teacher wellbeing blog. My aim is, overtime, to start addressing some of the issues within schools that cause so many of us stress; this list is endless (see my first blog). However, I am also aware that this is the time of year when, for many of us, the stresses that weigh us down in November are not so dark a force in the final half term (see my second blog). June is not the same as January and I’m taking this opportunity to use the light mornings and more clement weather (I don’t like being cold) to kick start a new morning habit. Well, to be more precise, to go back to a habit I had 3 years ago but drifted away from, like so many well-intentioned habits I’ve attempted before.
This time, however, I am armed with ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, as well as an onion.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve been here before
The key message I have taken away from the many self-help books, guides, podcasts and videos I have consumed on health and wellbeing is that we MUST look after our physical and mental health if we want to become the teacher, writer, doctor, parent or friend (insert whatever role you fancy. No judgement) we want to be. We know the drill – sleep 7-8 hours, exercise more, eat a balanced diet, cut down on the booze and make sure you have time to unwind and relax at the end of each day. Oh, and don’t smoke and avoid caffeine after midday and write down what we are grateful for in our privileged lives. Meditate, be mindful, take breaks. Smile.
The things is, we know all of this and I’ve often tried to implement a new health regime to kick start the ‘new me’ that is trim and toned and less tired and on the educational ball. I’ve done 30 day no booze challenges (which have failed around day 14), Joe Wicks (just protein and more protein and more protein. Yuk), Slimming World (too restrictive), Noom app (too preachy), waking up at 5am to mark books (helps get rid of backlog, worn-out come 3pm), waking up at 5 am to exercise, meditate, write (good to begin with but worn-out come 3pm), not bringing work home (bit hit and miss this one), trackers (in apps, in bullet journal, on spreadsheets). You name it, I’ve given it a go.
This is the problem though. I start a new regime or routine and give it my all for 4-5 days like an evangelical health minister and then, after all the zeal and fury, I just don’t stick to it. I fall back into the comfortable, seductive arms of old habits such as pressing the snooze button three times and loving my comfy, warm bed, and having two cups of tea in a morning to wake me up at a sloth’s pace and drinking a couple of glasses of Rioja on an evening as it has been a ‘rough day’.
What is to be done? I give you an onion...
My partner recommended a YouTube video the other day about writers and forming healthy habits. It was a good conversation and the interviewee used a great analogy to showcase how to tackle health and wellbeing. Using an onion (hence the rather forced references to onions in the previous paragraphs), she compared tackling our health issues with peeling the layers of an onion, preferably one that hasn’t been in the bottom tray of your fridge for a month and become speckled. You concentrate on the most pressing ‘outer layer’, aka your most pressing health concern first, (you know the one that is all flaky and falling to pieces) and then start to peel away the layers to develop a healthier lifestyle in a holistic sense. Admittedly, the analogy does stop short. All I can picture is a very small onion at the end of the process, like a tiny shallot or a silver skinned pickle. But we get the gist.
My first layer
What is my flaky, disintegrating outer layer that needs shedding first? Charles Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habit’, discusses ‘keystone habits’ or habits that, once established, tend to have a ripple effect across our whole lives, or the peeling back of the dodgy skin of the bottom of the fridge onion if we continue to speak metaphorically.
An example would be food journaling. It has been proven (the study is quoted in the book) that people who write down their daily food intake tend to become more successful in losing weight as they are aware of what they are eating and can make informed decisions on future meals based on the insights they have gained. They can also see patterns forming over days and weeks, becoming mindful of cues that spark cravings for certain food and drink. Another keystone habit is getting the recommended 7-8 hours sleep per night that most of us need to function effectively day to day. Again, it is easy to see the ripple effect this would have on other areas of wellbeing – being less prone to grabbing caffeine or a sugar fix or having the energy to stay at work until five pm to finish marking or preparing the next day.
Creating a GOOD Keystone habit
I think we can all agree that my wine habit is probably not a great keystone habit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my weekly ritual; I do look forward to my Thursday night settee fest where I don’t have to take my son to footie training, I can order my Asda shopping online whilst scrolling though Facebook and Instagram, while watching The One Show and then some other random BBC TV and sip a nice Rioja.
However, this habit becomes problematic, and a thickening to my forty-year-old waist, unless I have keystone habits that help me feel energised and give me a boost when I need it the most. For me, this is first thing in the morning (groan and boo). Hopefully, the ripple effect and the shedding of my outer, flaky layer, will galvanise a more mindful approach to my eating and drinking habits. However, one layer at a time: let’s got the exercise sorted first.
My experiment this week:
Ok. I went out for a run at 7am this morning. Well, to be more accurate, run/jog/walk. I’ve had a shower, hash browns are in the oven and I’m finishing this blog post. I am very aware that this has been made easier by the fact it is a Friday in half term and I’ve had a week of doing pretty much nothing, apart from watch Friends from the beginning to the end for the fifth time.
I am aiming to kickstart my keystone habit over the next week. Wake up at 6am, gain some form on consciousness and then … I shall report my findings next Friday!
I will also be delving further into the wonderful world of habit formation and discussing the habit loop: cue, action, reward.
So, enjoy your week. Please let me know if you have a habit you would like to focus on in the next few weeks – only one though. That onion is a slow peeler!
A colleague quipped this gem in a meeting on Tuesday when my department and I were making a five minute task last fifty, ‘You do know the sun is shining outside, don’t you?’
This was very funny. It was also very profound.
Time is all we have. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, two weeks, months, half terms, terms, holidays, years, decades, retirement... As teachers, we are constantly thinking about the clock. Getting to work involves the alarm, snoozing, watching the tick tock of time to ensure we get out the door promptly, go to school and live by the bell. Lessons are chunked down into time, 'ten minutes left!', 'ten seconds left!', 'for the twelfth time this lesson Tommy, stop eating your tie!'. We wait for break, lunchtime, home time, the start of meetings, the never ending of meetings, the countdown to the Friday, the next half term (1 more get up!), the BIG holidays...
Now, I’m not making a judgement call on this or proclaiming some grand sweeping philosophical statement on life and how we should be heading for the hills to be at one with nature (I don’t like camping). It is what it is and, realistically, it is helpful to have alarms, clocks and watches telling us to get up, get to lessons, watch Line of Duty on Netflix or start wine o’clock.
However, if you are anything like me, so much of my time slips by and I don't really know where it has gone or what I have been doing. I don’t always notice when the sun is shining outside.
This is where my experiment with time tracking comes in.
Where the Dickens does my time go? I've been tracking my time on and off (hey, I’m not perfect by ANY stretch of the imagination) and, I must admit, a few things have stood out to me.
1. I make A LOT of cups of tea and coffee.
2. Food is mentioned A LOT
3. So is wine (although I’ve cut back on that recently. That’s a discussion for another post)
4. I did play Words With Friends A LOT, but that has died down a little due to number 5
5. I watched A LOT of 'Line of Duty'
6. I snooze and nap A LOT
7. During this snapshot of my life, football featured A LOT
Oh yeah, and work is in there too…
Time Tracking My Teacher Day
The thing is, this is still a bit of a blur… I need to get granular (great word and one frequently used in our CPD sessions).
If I want to see where my time goes at work, I have to track it in detail. As Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert, says, 'you might have to drill down' into a time of the day that seems to be a vortex of nothingness and caffeine. Unless I become aware of what I am doing and how I am choosing to my time, I am not in a position to change anything or have the peace of mind to leave it as it is.
What I do know, is if I have a free period, the first thing I do is head down to staff room to make a cuppa. The reasons for this are threefold: I like a cuppa, I like chatting to people along the way and I'm procrastinating. The latter, a resistance mechanism to marking those set of books or completing the latest data task, is one of my areas I need to ‘deep dive’ into. However, this will be the subject for a later post. November is a very different month to May and the pressures of a full timetable, learning walks and scrutiny are far greater in this dark month.
At this time of year, the glorious term 3b, the sun is shining more often than not outside. Maybe that’s where we should be heading to spend our time while it is here and make a few cuppas for colleagues along the way.
I'm aiming to post weekly, if not more, from now on. Time to stop procrastinating perhaps?
Have a great week!