I’ve spent the last three years researching and writing my forthcoming book, Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators (out May 1, 2018) and here’s something I learned that’s relevant right now: If you want to cultivate resilience, you need to fully shut down your brain for a good chunk of time.
If you’re anything like the majority of educators, then you’ve been working really hard since July or August. Maybe you’ve got solid self-care routines (exercise, sleep, and so on), but the research says that’s not enough for deep resilience. We all know that just because work stops (let’s say at 6:00 p.m.), it doesn’t mean that you are recovering. You may continue to think about work that evening, it might even wake you up in the middle of the night, and similarly on the weekends, it’s always close by—and I know few educators who take the whole weekend off anyway.
Little bursts of rest and self-care are important—incorporating them into your day will help you sustain your energy—but alone they won’t help you build deep and foundational resilience. Rest and recovery are not the same thing. Recovery happens when your brain gets a break from high mental arousal states. And for me, I need at least 10 days to accomplish that.
To be honest, I’m struggling with this research right now. I’m writing this on a plane, as I head to Costa Rica to see family. There’s a battle waging in my mind between one part that says, It’s time to shut down, read fiction, hike and swim and watch birds and monkeys, and the other part that says, But I could get so much done in this time! I could read that new report on teacher turnover and I could write a dozen blogs and I could organize my Google Docs and get down to inbox zero….
I need to heed the research, because I’m a bit worn out from the last year. I have big plans for 2018. And I want (and need) to start the year with a firm foundation of resilience. So I may need to direct my mind toward those aspirations as a way to get myself to relax and shut my brain down for a couple of weeks. It’s time (I tell myself) to honor the parts of myself that don’t get attention or expression during my intense bursts of work—to honor my body that needs rest and sun; to honor my social self that needs connection with my family; to honor my creativity through photography; and to honor my spirit that is fueled when watching sunrise over the ocean.
Wherever you are, I hope you will find ways to turn off your mind from deep and hard work and to recover from this fall. I hope you will have space to acknowledge all that you did and gave and learned in 2017. And I hope you can tend to your body, heart, creativity, and spirit and begin 2018 with a deeper sense of resilience.
And with that, I’m shutting down until January 2!
For more on the research behind recovery, rest and resilience see, “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure,” by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan. Harvard Business Review, June 24, 2016.