Sustaining through a Personal Appreciative Approach

Over the last few posts, we have looked at research indicating the importance of detaching from demanding jobs on a daily basis in order to sustain well-being and commitment, energy

Photo Credit: SeveStJude via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SeveStJude via Compfight cc

and engagement with the work. Teaching is such a demanding job. The question, however, is not “How  can teachers detach?” The question is how can you, as an individual, detach? (Actually, there’s an organizational question to ask here also, but let’s hold it for another post.)

(Our newsletter this week has a story about how the personal appreciative approach described below might look. Sign up and we will send you a copy!)

One of the core dynamics of positive psychology involves focusing on what’s going right. Right Spotting and a focus on strengths are both examples of this dynamic. In the world of organizational change, this dynamic is exemplified by Appreciative Inquiry (AI) developed by David Coopperrider of Case Western University, and expanded by individuals around the world. AI focuses an organization on its positive core, invites exploration of how those positive qualities and experiences might develop in the future, and then moves forward to designing and delivering that future.

In our very first post on this topic, we suggested a personal appreciative approach:

Action Step: Keep a log of what pulls your mind off work and let’s you unwind. Try out different evening routines and see what works best. Perhaps getting some exercise right after work will help, or maybe that is better for you later the evening. Reading may be good for you, but perhaps you need to stop a while before bedtime to let your mind disengage from the story, also. Try things. Keep a record. Do more of what works.

In other words, no matter how much you may think you are unable to detach, you are already detaching successfully! Some. Some of the time. And, whatever you are doing successfully now, even if only a little and only occasionally, it fits in your life, with your values, and with your current deeply held beliefs about yourself and the world. That’s big! If you make a plan to start a brand new practice or two that will radically increase your ability to detach daily,what will happen? Say your goal is to go to the gym and exercise every afternoon for 30 minutes, or to spend time playing the guitar, or to read a book, or whatever your “big idea” is, what will happen? What usually happens when you try to make a big change in your daily routine? Short-term deviation then a return to the long-term pattern. Right?  That pattern exists for reasons. Reasons involving who you are,what roles and responsibilities you carry, and your deep beliefs about yourself and the world around you. None of those are going to change just because you “decide” to be different. And, over time, they will reassert their influence and you will return to your long-term pattern.

So, hopeless, isn’t it? Not at all! Work with that pattern, not against it, and you will be able to gradually change elements within it – roles, responsibilities, beliefs, habits – until you achieve a pattern that supports and sustains you in ways you can live with long-term. Let’s break down the process a bit:

  • Discover: What’s the positive core of your current detachment practices?
    • What did I do today at school that helped me be able to detach this evening? What thoughts and feelings helped me take those actions?
    • What did others do today at school that helped me detach after leaving school?
    • What did I do this evening that really took my mind off of school and let me detach? What thoughts and feelings helped me take those actions?
    • What created a positive emotional balance for me this evening?
    • What did others do this evening that helped me achieve positive emotional tone and a complete detachment from school?
  •  Dream: After you have identified some of the positive core of your current approach to teaching and to the rest of your life that is helping you detach, dream a little:
    • What if my current best practices flowered fully in my life this year, what would that look like?
    • Imagine you woke up next year and much of what you would like to see in your life in terms of being able to regularly detach in a positive emotional way had come true, what would you see looking back that had enabled those changes?
  • Design: Start moving your dreams toward reality.
    • What is a very small step can you in the next week do to take a step toward your vision of a life where you regularly achieve full, positive emotional detachment on a daily basis?
    • When could you take this step? Where would you be when you did it?
    • What obstacles will get in your way? Consider outside circumstances, the actions of others, and your own feelings.
    • What is your plan for navigating around each of those obstacles so that, next week, you will take the action you have identified.
  • Deliver: Act on your plan. Do it.
    • Notice the effect. Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions as you put your plan into effect.
    • In your log, note any unexpected aid you get in doing the action you have selected.
    • Note which obstacles you ran into that you had prepared for, and how your contingency plan worked.
    • Note any obstacle that cropped up that you had not expected, and how well your response worked. Record ideas for how to respond to that obstacle in the future.

Keep working on the very small step you have selected until it is firmly established, then repeat the Design and Deliver steps for a new very small step. After a while, a series of very small steps will have substantially changed your detachment approach and success. If you are then achieving adequate detachment, great! Focus in another area. If not, you may go back and Discover and Dream again based on your new, more successful but not yet complete set of detachment practices.

Now, if you are thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of work. It’s not worth it. I can’t do that. I don’t have the time. I have to have relief now,” or any similar set of thoughts, remember: THOSE ARE JUST THOUGHTS! They are your beliefs. Your brain will tend to make you believe they are reality by filtering what you observe in the world to fit those beliefs (confirmation bias), but those are still only your beliefs. They are likely not as true as you think they are. If your beliefs are limiting your ability to achieve a better approach to teaching and living, why not test them, rather than just assuming you cannot achieve more of what you want? You might re-read this post: Detachment: “It shouldn’t be this hard!”

One final world: Other people matter. Who do you need to bring in to your effort? Who do you want to bring in? Your spouse? Other family members? Friends at work? Other friends? Remember, living, teaching, and doing better – they are ALL team sports!


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