In my Faculty Mama series I post content about the unique aspects of faculty life as a mother. I hope we can start a dialogue to support one another, and I welcome your comments and suggestions for topics.
Below is a post about going into the next academic year with positivity...
Starting the Fall Semester with a Positive Attitude
Yes, the Fall semester is upon us. Summer is over and despite all my best intentions to come up with a plan and be super productive, I don’t feel like I got enough work done. Now I need to quickly finalize my syllabus, attend college and department back-to-school meetings, and start responding to the emails about reference letters that have already begun to fill my inbox.
It would be easy at a time like this to become sour and start to dread the semester, especially because we know it can be intense. In some ways, semesters are like marathons, where you give more for 15 weeks than you probably ever would during a normal "run."
If the semester is like a 15-week marathon, it seems like we should be psyching ourselves up with positive thoughts, rather than pessimism and negativity. No-one starts a marathon thinking “this is going to be so awful,” right? They probably think it will be hard, they’re up for the challenge, and they’re going to do their best.
As I look ahead to my marathon of the Fall semester, I’m going to do all I can to start the race with a positive attitude. I’m not expecting that every day will be positive, or that I’ll be able to maintain my positivity through all of the challenges, but I want to at least have that as my starting point.
Below are some strategies I’m going to try that you might find helpful as well:
Intentionality - Rather than watching the semester fly by like a kite being dragged by the wind, I’m going to be a little more intentional about my planning. First, I’m going to try and stop my work early (in other words, not when I’m already 10 minutes late for the daycare pickup), and “take stock” for a second. What priority tasks have to be accomplished the next day, and in what order should I tackle them when I arrive to the office? I’m also going to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting with a colleague every few weeks because I know that type of break will help me stay energized. And if I don’t put something on the calendar in advance, it will be November before I remember to even think about doing it!
Focus on Positive Colleagues and Conversation – I love venting as much as the next person, but I realize that after a while it can bring me down. Not to mention that I can also start to spread my own negativity and bring others down. My goal for this semester is to complain a little less, and to try and get extra time with those colleagues who lift me up (see Intentionality above). I’m also going to adopt one of Dr. Christine Carter’s 19 ways to reduce workplace stress: Stop talking about how busy and stressed I am. Dr. Carter reminds us that the more we talk about being busy (even if it’s just in our head), the more we’re actually training our brains to believe we should be freaking out.
Mix Things Up for Myself – There are positive things I sometimes want to try but hold back from doing because they sound like they will be too complicated, take up too much time, or adjust the family routine in some challenging way. Ironically, it may be just those things that I need in my month or semester to stay positive. Exercising early one morning while my husband gets the kids ready, scheduling a monthly get-together for drinks with a friend, using that gift card I got three years ago for a massage, or trying a new craft or cooking class. Why not treat one of these like an experiment in my life, and see how it works? Will it be disruptive or time-consuming? Maybe. Will it help with my self-care? Maybe. I’m guessing I’ll really enjoy it and it will give me that burst of positivity I might need, but I won’t know until I try…
What will be your strategies for starting Fall with positivity?
Dear Fellow Mom,
I want you to know that being a human being will make you a better mom. You don’t have to be perfect. All it will teach your child is how to be a perfectionist. Motherhood is a physical and emotional marathon. You cannot grit your teeth through it; you need to breathe deeply and relax into it, and let it soften your heart and overwhelm you with joy and gratitude. You will have bad days and painful, tired tears. And when you watch your child finally make those steps across the WHOLE room into your arms, you won’t want your life any other way.
~A mom from the Midwest
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My children wake up early. Very early. The only time we ever use an alarm clock is if we are traveling and have to get up for a flight. Needless to say, I tend to complain about this. And when my oldest started school and we realized that she couldn’t be dropped off until 8:40am, I complained even more. What would we do for several hours each morning before school? How would I ever make it to a 9:00am meeting? Why doesn’t school start earlier for young children?
My complaining went on for about 6 months, and during that time I never adjusted to our new routine. I resisted it, whined about it, and my energy was spent completely at odds with our reality.
One day as I was venting to a friend about all the wasted time we had in the mornings, my friend gently suggested the following: “I’ve heard you say that you feel like you don’t have enough time in the evenings once you get home from work, but you also say you have too much time in the mornings before school. Why not start to use the mornings to spend time with the family and do those things you can’t do at night?”
I remember feeling stunned by my friend’s logic, and a little embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it before. At that moment I experienced the power of a reframe. It’s a tool we like to use as therapists because it provides an alternative way of viewing a situation. When someone provides a reframe, we suddenly feel a shift and new insight, and oftentimes we feel more hopeful because of this increased awareness.
In therapeutic situations, reframes can be amazing. They help clients see others people’s behavior from a new perspective (e.g., “Maybe this is her way of showing her care for you”), or they help clients see how their own behaviors are affecting their lives (e.g., “I wonder if others would interpret your actions as being hurtful”). Of course reframes are not advised for all situations, as there are times when shifting a perspective might in fact hide an important reality that shouldn’t be ignored, such as being in an abusive relationship.
After my friend’s reframe I felt like I had a new perspective about my “day” with my family, which included an understanding that morning and evening hours together made up my time with them. I felt like I could stop wallowing in the dissatisfaction about the mornings because I was empowered to change my view of the situation. For me, this was profound. I won’t say that I love getting (woken) up early or that I love mornings now, but I’ve stopped thinking of them as wasted time and instead try a little harder to have some together time (e.g., reading a book, play-doh), or even tackle minor projects (e.g., baking or birthday and thank you cards) with the kids.
The best part of reframes is that we can get them from a friend, but we can also provide them for ourselves. When you find yourself reacting negatively to a minor stressor, or stuck in a certain pattern of thinking that isn’t working, see if you can challenge the thoughts you have about the situation. Propose a different way of looking at things, a reframe, and see if it offers some hope and motivation to change.
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