Fighting The Funk: Staying Balanced As An Educator
by Joey Feith
For the first live episode of The #PhysEd Show (which was broadcasted via Facebook Live), I decided to focus on a topic that I actually struggle with: balance.
After years of finding myself feeling overwhelmed, anxious, guilty, and, at times, depressed, I chose to make balance a focus of my life. It hasn’t been an easy journey – and I’m not quite where I want to be yet – but I’m proud of the progress I have made and wanted to share some of the tips, tools, and tactics I have implemented in order to create a better sense of balance in my life. That was the focus of this show.
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Part One: Explore
Balance, to me, is a state of wellbeing in which one can freely act with purpose and intention in ways that are aligned with their values and goals. That means that you are capable of making decisions and taking actions without the weight of anxiety, fatigue, or guilt weighing down on you as you do so.
As teachers, we tend to overextend ourselves in an attempt to serve the students we are so lucky to teach. That said, if we allow ourselves to become depleted then we are no longer in a position to serve those we care so much about.
A balanced life allows us to continue to have the time, energy, and focus we need in order to reach our goals and help others. However balance doesn’t just happen: you have to work towards it.
Part Two: Discover
In my experience, I’ve identified eight keystone habits that have helped me create balance in my life so that I can stay motivated, enthusiastic, and focused in my work as a physical educator.
Your brain wasn’t designed to juggle a thousand tasks, commitments, appointments, and ideas at once. By accepting the fact that your brain isn’t the best tool manage all of the things going on in your life, you can start building an external system that can.
This is one of the central ideas of the famous “Getting Things Done” methodology. I’m not a hardcore GTD follower, but I have read the book 2-3 times and find myself always going back to it when I’m feeling most overwhelmed. What I’ve learned is that, when it comes to getting organized/everything in life, discipline is key (as Jocko Willink would say: “Discipline Equals Freedom”). Here are the tools I use to get/stay organized in order to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, and disappointment all while creating a sense of empowerment and balance in my life:
Things 3 (which lives on my Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch) is my task management (a.k.a. to-do) app of choice. As tasks pop into my head or get brought to my attention, I throw them into Things as quickly as possible. Every Sunday (which I use as my maintenance day), I go over all of the tasks in my Things inbox and then follow the GTD workflow to decide what the next action would be. I’ll then place next actions into projects or schedule them into my calendar so that they get completed on a later date. The app’s complication lives on my main Apple Watch face, which means that I always have my tasks on hand.
In my teaching, I use this especially when it comes to assessment. For example, if a student was absent on a day I was taking videos for their digital portfolio, I’ll immediately create a task in Things to remind me at the start of our next lesson to shoot the video. If I notice something while reviewing assessment pieces that I would like to bring up with a student, I’ll use the same process to make sure I remember to have that chat with them next time they have PE.
Evernote is a cloud-based note taking app that I have been using for years to help me remember and quickly find important information. Everything from team rosters, to checklists, meeting notes, to email templates, to important documents gets added to my Evernote. Because the platform has powerful search capabilities (it even searches text in pictures), it allows me to quickly find what I’m looking for and never have to worry about losing something again.
Fantastical 2 (which I have on my Mac, iPhone, and Apple Watch) is just a great calendar app with amazing natural language capabilities (i.e. you can write things like “basketball jersey distribution tomorrow at 2 at the ES remind me at 1” and it will know how to enter that into your calendar). At any given time, I have a lot on my plate and it can be tough to keep track of my commitments. Fantastical helps with that. Also, if someone is looking to add something to my schedule, keeping a disciplined calendar makes it really easy for me to look at the layout of my week and make a decision based on how much I have going on that week.
Now these are the apps that I use, but that doesn’t mean they are the ones you have to be using. The important thing when it comes to getting organized is just to have a system to help you track, manage, and stay on top of all of the things you have going on in your life. Also, being aware of the commitments/tasks you’ve accepted into your life means that you will be in a better position to let people know if you are risking spreading yourself too thin. All of this makes it easier for you to say no to new opportunities (which I talk about later) and avoid situations in which you get overwhelmed or down on yourself for having not been more organized in the first place.
Journalling is one of those habits that you wonder how you ever lived without. Keeping a journal allows you to take time out of your day (i.e. much-needed YOU time) to refocus on your values, your goals, and your blessings. This daily refocusing can allow you to ensure that you are making decisions and taking actions throughout your day that are aligned with your values and goals.
For years now, I’ve been using Day One as my journalling app of choice. Each morning, I set up my template (which I do with a clipboard manager called Paste that is pure time-saving magic in app form) and then get to journalling. Here’s what I write down (and here is a link to my journal template):
- Three things I am grateful for.
- My three values.
- My BIG goal.
- One way I could help someone today.
- Morning pages.
If you’re unfamiliar with Morning Pages, they are a form of longhand morning writing about anything that is going on in your mind. For me, I’ll just start typing, without judgement, until I can’t really think about anything else to type. I use Morning Pages in two ways:
- To help me uncover any underlying thoughts that might be nagging in the back of my mind.
- To help me set my thinking tone to positive. For example, if I write something that sounds negative like “I have to attend a meeting after work”, I’ll edit it to ” I get to attend a meeting after work”. It may seem really simple, but it’s a powerful exercise in promoting positive self-talk that can help you look at the world through a positive lens.
Not everybody likes typing in front of a screen though, so you can always check out The 5 Minute Journal which provides the daily journalling template that I based mine off of.
Ok, so I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but let’s be honest: exercise is usually the first thing we cut out of our day when we feel that we are becoming overwhelmed or feeling the fatigue of being spread too thin.
I know I am very guilty of this. However, I also know that no other habit gives me the confidence boost, the sense of empowerment, the shot of positivity, the increase in productivity that exercise does! As fellow #pechat moderator Jo Bailey says: we all need our daily D.O.S.E.:
— Jo Bailey (@LovePhyEd) October 16, 2017
Last summer, I got back into the free Nike apps (feel free to add me, @joeyfeith, on both!) Both Nike+ Run Club and Nike Training Club offer great workouts, programs, and motivation to get you moving. That said, it isn’t a fancy app that is going to get your butt going.
The biggest barriers are all of the little obstacles that get in your way. Things like unexpected meetings, or not having workout gear, or the weather ruining your run… little hurdles that can quickly derail your exercise plans and have you thinking “I’ll just do it tomorrow” for 18 months in a row.
Knowing what we know about the benefits of exercise makes it easy to understand why we need to make it a priority if we are seeking to create a state of balance and wellness in our life. So take the time to reflect on all of those little hurdles and create yourself systems, prompts, “If This The That” plans, social contracts… whatever you need that will make sure that you are making the time to exercise on a regular basis.
At my school, my awesome teaching partner/sister-in-law has created a staff fitness initiatives that has teachers coming together once a week to workout after school in the gym or on the field. Together, Alex and I have organized “Campus vs Campus” pedometer challenges, Health Month contests, and even promoted 5K races for the faculty to sign up for, train for, and run together. Having this kind of culture at your workplace makes it so much easier to stay motivated and find opportunities to be active throughout the week.
No apps for this one: just get enough sleep. So many of us are burning the midnight oil to create awesome lesson plans, resources, and other initiatives for our students and school. This whole “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” trend is making the “I’m dead” part of that expression seem a lot sooner that desired.
Humans need to sleep in order to be able to function at the top of their game. There’s no doubt about that. Yet still so many of use develop bad sleeping habits and patterns which leave us feeling exhausted, unable to catch up, and downright cranky.
It took me a long time to recognize and value good sleep (even though I still tend to work too late). Here are some things I do to help me make sure I get the most out of each and every snooze:
- Set a sleep schedule: I try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Sleeping in or staying up too late makes me feel super groggy and tired throughout the day. Our bodies were built to follow schedules when it comes to sleeping, so set a schedule and stick to it!
- No screens before bed: The light from our screens does not follow any of the normal laws of nature. Although we might not feel it at the time, the back of our mind is screaming “WHY THE HELL IS IT SO BRIGHT OUT!?” That feeling persists for some time after you’ve turned the screens off. That said, try getting away from all screens at least an hour before going to bed. It will help signal to your body that it’s almost dodo time, which will help you fall into a dream as quickly as possible.
- Keep your phone out of your bedroom: I’ve got a secret to fill you in on: the apps on your phone are designed to train you to check them every couple of minutes. It’s true: randomized notification schedules (like Facebook likes or retweets on Twitter) create a dependance in terms of the habit of checking your phone. Every own a Blackberry? I still have hallucinations of the red notification light, which doesn’t even exist on my iPhone, blinking. Keeping your phone close to your bed is setting yourself up for failure in terms of good sleep. You’ll be tempted to check it throughout the night and, when you do, you’ll be tearing yourself off of the train to Snoozeville. If you like me and are used to using your phone as an alarm clock, then get an actual alarm clock. Trust me, after a few “I’m lonely without my phone here” nights, you’ll be sleeping better than ever.
- Read fiction: The whole point of a bedtime routine is put yourself to sleep, but that’s doesn’t always happen right away. Instead of just lying there being angry about the fact that some guy from the Internet told you to leave your phone outside of the bedroom, how about you pick up a book? If you’re like me, you’re probably into non-fiction kinds of books. However, sometimes those can get the ol’ gears spinning in that head of yours too much which can lead to a restless sleep. Instead, pick up some fiction. As kids, we were read fiction before bed to help us have awesome dreams. Why not use the same techniques as adults? This is why I always have one non-fiction book and one fiction book on the go at any time. I’ll read the non-fiction in the morning or during the day and save the fiction for at night. Don’t know what to read? “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho and “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry should be required reading for all humans (and read multiple times at different stages of life). Not your jam? I read most of Neil Gaiman’s books this summer and fell in love with them. “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane” is just perfect storytelling in my opinion.
Meditation is growing in popularity these days, but many still think that it is a practice that is reserved for monks and hippies (no offence to either group).
People don’t really understand it: “you just sit down, be still, and try to think about nothing for a couple of minutes”. Meditation is much more that that. Here’s a great animation/explanation from the good people over at Headspace:
Meditation is a practice that allows you to become comfortable with your thoughts and create some space in which you can choose your actions/reactions rather than always impulsively reacting to the different stimuli in your life.
Knowing that you have the power to choose your responses in life gives you a sense of empowerment. That empowerment can help lead you to a state of mind where decisions that are aligned with creating more balance in your life become easier to make.
So how do you get started? Well, for me, I got into meditation using Headspace‘s awesomely free Take 10 program. It’s just 10 minutes of guided meditation per day for 10 days in a row. From there, you can subscribe for additional packs or move on to another platform like Calm (which is actually free for teachers and classrooms!)
The amazing thing about meditation and mindfulness practice is how quickly it becomes a part of your everyday. Often I will take a step back while walking, eating, or teaching and brought my attention and focus to the present moment and enjoy the feeling of mindfulness in that moment. It’s a great state of mind to be in and it has helped me be a better teacher, husband, and person!
Reading is a powerful way to expose yourself to new ideas and perspectives that can help you grow and create balance in your life.
As I mentioned earlier, I try to mix it up when it comes to the type of books I read:
I love reading fiction (although my brother, who crushes books in hours, claims I’m a slow reader) as an escape and opportunity to practice mindfulness. It’s really hard to follow a story if you’re too busy chasing thoughts in your mind!
I also love reading non-fiction as a way to continue to learn and grow as a person. Books like the ones I’ve listed below have had a serious impact on the type of person that I am today and have helped me find new ways of creating balance in my life. However, my days are busy and I don’t always have a ton of time for reading non-fiction. My solution? I listen to audiobooks (via Audible) on my daily walk to work (which is about 30 minutes each way). This allows me to continue to learn all while keeping time in my schedule for other tasks (like exercising or meditating).
Here are some awesome non-fiction books I recommend you check out:
“Getting Things Done” by David Allen
“The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey
“Essentialism” by Greg McKeown
“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande
“The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday
“Ego Is The Enemy” by Ryan Holiday
“The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck” by Mark Manson
“Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach
This one might fall under the “that’s obvious” category, but it’s one that we also tend to neglect far too often.
Getting outside is an escape that gives you the time and space you need to reflect, be mindful, and enjoy this world we live in.
But there’s also more to getting outside than meets the eye:
Forest bathing (or forest therapy) is intentional time spent in the presence of trees. Since 1982, it has been part of a national public health program in Japan and for good reason: studies from the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan’s Chiba University show that forest bathing is linked to lowered heart rate and blood pressure, reduced stress hormone production, boosted immune system function, and improved feelings of wellbeing.
After reading Ryan Holiday’s “Ego Is The Enemy” this past summer, I also started to think about moments in which my ego swelled up from being hurt or feeling like I’ve been treated unfairly and how my natural instinct was to just get outside.
The world is big and vast, we’re small and puny. It’s not always a bad thing to be reminded of that.
Ok, I saved the best for last and I’m going to be blunt about it:
“No” needs to be your default.
As teachers, we tend to be “yes” people. We do it because we want to be helpful and kind. But when we become used to saying “yes” to everything, we wind up putting too much on our plates. That’s when our goals, our values, our dreams get buried underneath it all. We can become resentful towards the feeling that we are always putting ourselves on the back burner which can result in negative feelings, self-talk, and actions.
By making “no” our default, we give ourselves time to decide what it is that is truly important to us, to our teaching, to our students, to our programs, and to our goals.
You might be uncomfortable saying “no” at first. I get it: I’m still not at a place where I’m super comfortable with it. That said, a strategy I like to use when feeling guilty about having said no is to explain why:
“Sorry, but I have important projects I’m trying to complete at the moment”
“Sorry, but I need to stay focused on my current goals before taking on new ones”
“Sorry, but I’m trying hard to stay balanced in my life and I’m worried this will put too much strain on my time, attention, and focus”
Letting others know that you are saying “no” from a place of balance and priorities rather than a place of laziness or spite helps all parties involved feel better about it. Yeah, sometimes you’ll meet that person who will still get PO’ed about your decision, but guess what: it’s your life. You’re not responsible for other people’s happiness, you’re responsible for your own.
Part Three: Observe
Be sure the check out the recording of the live broadcast to hear about my personal experience with implementing these habits, refocusing on my values, and creating balance in my life.
Part Four: Act
So now that you have all of this information, where do you go from here? Here’s a simple strategy that can help get you started:
Here is more information on each step:
- Select Habit: Start small by selecting just one habit to start with. Reflect on which habit could potentially have the biggest impact on your life and go with that one.
- Set Goal: Use the SMART principle to set yourself a goal that will be achievable in your current lifestyle.
- Set Schedule: Decide how many times you would like to work on this habit per week (if you followed the SMART principle, this should already be done)
- Track Progress: Use a tool like a calendar or an app like Streaks, Today, or Coach.me to help you track your habit over time (I recommend three weeks).
- Reflect On Process: At the end of your scheduled timeline, reflect on how your life has changed over the past few weeks. Has it improved? If so, you know this habit is a great one for you! Did nothing change? Reflect on why that could be and, if it’s just that the habit isn’t a good fit for your personality (and not that you didn’t fully commit yourself to it), then pick another habit to try out and test!
Additionally, here are some more tips that I would like to leave you with:
- Don’t try to be perfect. Life is hard enough with the pressure of being perfect. Accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes, have to deal with the consequences, and, through it all, grow as a person. Don’t let your failures be your downfall: stumble, fall, crash, and trip but always get right back up again.
- Find what works for you. In the show, I shared a lot of tips/tools/tactics but all of them were things that I have tried in my life. You and I are different people: what works for me might not work for you. Find what works for you and do that. Don’t try to be someone else just because they seem to have it all together. This is the Internet: everyone is embellishing everything. As I mentioned in the Observe part of the show, I still struggle to maintain a lot of these habits on a regular basis. That’s ok. What matters is that, at the end of the day, I have the tools I need to reflect, identify when I’m losing balance, and regain/maintain that balance without completely falling off the rails. The same goes for you!
- Do your best, but don’t feel like you need to do it alone. There is one thing that I omitted from my list which is probably the most important thing you need to stay balanced: people. Surround yourself with good, kind, and caring people in your life and be sure to treasure and take care of your relationships with them. Those people will help you in your times of need and be there for you when things get tough. And if things get really bad, seek out help. Don’t be hardheaded or afraid to seek out professional help. Trained professionals are there to help you when things get tough. They aren’t voodoo doctors and going to a psychologist doesn’t automatically mean you’re crazy (well, we’re all crazy but that’s besides the point). Take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of others. As the saying goes: you can’t pour from an empty cup.
I hope you enjoyed this live broadcast of The #PhysEd Show and its show notes!
As always, thank you for reading and happy teaching!
February 22, 2021
November 17, 2020
February 20, 2020