In education we’re taught to reflect on our teaching practices to improve instruction and student learning outcomes. To quote the New Jersey Professional Standards for Teachers, we are expected to “understand and know how to use a variety of self-assessment and problem-solving strategies to analyze and reflect on [our] practice and to plan for adaptations/adjustments.” Reflection and self-assessment resulting in adaptation and adjustments are not only great ways to improve our teaching practices, but also a formula to create more fulfilling lives– both personal and professional.
Reflection, Another Name for Mindfulness
If you’re feeling burnt out, stressed out, or generally uncomfortable with aspects of your life or career, I encourage you to take time and become aware of your thoughts and gut feelings. As we become more mindful of our inner voice/self-talk we can take inventory of what is causing our unhappiness and discomfort. If you’re like me, there is a constant voice telling you what you “should” be doing. “You should be feeding your family more nutritious meals.” “You should be providing your students with more detailed and timely feedback.” “You should be exercising.” “You should be working toward an advanced degree.” By paying attention to these thoughts and complaints, we will be able to identify the areas in our lives that are out of alignment with our core values. We have a vision for the kind of person we want to be and the lifestyle we want to live. When our inner voice is telling us we’re not living up to our own expectations for ourselves, it’s identifying an opportunity for growth.
Get Clear on the Source
When listening to your inner self-talk, it is important to identify whose voice it truly is. Is the voice revealing what’s important to you, or is it expressing the values and expectations of others? If running a half-marathon is something you really want to achieve, then you should listen to your voice when it says, “You should be training.” But if you feel like you should run a half-marathon because some friends are doing it, you may need to step back and consider whether this goal is a priority for you or simply something causing fear of rejection by your peers if you don’t do. It takes brutal honesty to determine whose voice is creating your inner dialogue.
Refine Means Take Action
Once you’ve determined what is truly important to you, it’s time to take action. Making adjustments to our routines and habits can be uncomfortable and can sometimes take a long time. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project recommends committing to one change per month. If your gut is telling you that incorporating yoga into your routine is the key to improving your satisfaction, then commit to practicing yoga twice a week for an entire month. Make it your priority. This probably will require saying no to other activities in order to make room for something new in your routine. That’s okay. Try doing the new thing for one month. At the end of the month reflect on how it made you feel. Are you feeling happier and more satisfied? If so, continue doing it. If not, then at least you can quiet the voice telling you that you “should” be doing it.
Action is the key to refining. Making adjustments that are in line with your core values and your vision of your life is the key to fulfillment. It’s not enough to think about changes, it’s not enough to talk about changes, one foot in front of the other is the only way to create a life you love.