• Wellbeing for Educators and Leaders in Learning

Thinking positively when it's hard

I was often told growing up that I was a very positive person; I'm sure it helped that I generally had a very happy childhood, and even when we faced adversity I always knew I was loved and safe. As sad as it is to say, though, it became much harder to be so positive when I became a teacher: feeling overwhelmed by the volume of marking and planning consuming my evenings and weekends, getting “inadequate” in more than one observation in a row, and being unable to see how things could possibly change for the better, it became easy to get caught in negative thought patterns. And the more often we think like this, the more entrenched those neural pathways become, and you have to work harder to re-route these thoughts onto positive paths. There may be lots of different reasons why it’s hard to stay positive in your life right now, but there are some things we can still do to help form helpful neural pathways and think positive thoughts. These are some things I have tried over the years, please do add your own in the comments!

  1. Redirect the thought down a positive track. Instead of “I can’t mark 30 books!”, try “I can do just one more”. And you do get through it, one small step at a time, instead of being stuck at square one because the whole thing just feels too much. Or, “things can never get better!” could become “right now I feel like things can’t get better, but I’ve thought this in the past and things improved then, so things should get better here too”.

  2. Surround yourself with the right people who can build you up and encourage you. It’s ok to see the glass as half-empty sometimes: there's a plethora of complex emotions that come with being a human being that can be triggered by all sorts of different things. When that happens, it’s healthy to express the reality of your situation instead of putting on a mask and pretending everything’s fine. Often, sharing with someone helps you feel more positive afterwards. Sometimes just knowing that you’re understood and heard is what you need, and is enough to help you start feeling more positive again with that weight lifted once the emotions have been expressed. And sometimes those people can help you see the problem from a different perspective as well (perhaps drawing out humour within your situation that you never would have seen - laughter is so great!), or they could even suggest some practical solutions.

  3. Try not to worry about what you can’t control, just do what you can to change what you can control. This is definitely easier said than done, but it can take some of the pressure off when we realise we can't actually fix everything (thank goodness we have limits!).

  4. Know what you believe, deep down at your core, and remind yourself of it; this helps the negatives to not stick to you so much. For instance, when I was getting nervous about an observation coming up, I would sometimes say something to myself along the lines of “I’m a child of God and He loves me. Who I am is not dependent on the grade I get.” Yes I was still gutted if I got a low grade and was told I had lots to improve, but anchoring myself in something bigger that didn’t change when my circumstances shifted helped me see from a different perspective and bounce back quicker.

  5. Know that tomorrow is a new day. We all have tough days where we’re just not feeling right and our problems seem insurmountable. Thank goodness each day is a new day; it’s ok if today’s a bad day, but there’s always hope that tomorrow will be different.

  6. Count your blessings. It might sound like an old fashioned one; instead, think of it as a really good one that’s stood the test of time! Thinking about things in your life that you’re thankful for, even things that are good about the specific situation that’s on your mind, or thinking about things you’re looking forward to that are coming up, can really help. And if nothing else, the tough situation you’re going through could be teaching you something or helping you grow in a particular area in a way that you couldn’t have done if everything was fine.

So there you have it! I wonder if you’ve used some of these ideas already, or if you have any other strategies that you’ve found helpful? Please do share them below! It would be great to hear from you. Please also remember to seek help if you are struggling, from a professional or from someone you know and trust.

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