Have you noticed that sometimes there are too many things to fit into a day? Too many thoughts to fit into your head? Too many expectations to fit into your abilities?
When it feels like too much, sometimes I don’t want to do anything at all. It feels like since I can’t possibly get everything done, I should just give up. I don’t know where to begin or how to feel productive. There’s no room for anything except for that little bit of panic that starts to leak in around the edges.
These feelings particularly crop up for me when I don’t get enough sleep. I’ll sit down to do something (like write this blog) and feel like all of my ideas are hollow, empty and meaningless. Imposter syndrome will start to rattle around in my guts and my words will refuse to be witty or profound. I’ll start to wonder why I am doing this at all.
Then, I’ll take a breath.
Sometimes it takes more than one.
It takes me a little time to ground myself in something outside of my own busy mind. I need to remind myself that I am not really hard done by at all. I need to find a new perspective.
My new favourite way of trying to reset my own mind is by savouring something.
This is a strategy from the online course I am doing called the Science of Wellbeing and it is not just simple and effective, it’s actually quite fun. It involves taking something you enjoy and then actively enjoying it.
You could take a piece of chocolate and let it melt on your tongue while concentrating on the flavours that fill your mouth. You could sit back and watch the clouds scuttle across the sky and really take in the startling blue and the amazing artistry of each wisp of vapour. You could listen to a song you love and let the music sink into your body and fill your soul.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you focus on enjoying doing it.
I’m always trying to find new ways of being happier, partly because I would rather feel good and partly because if I’m going to teach the little people in my world how to enjoy their lives, it’s probably going to be more effective if I have some idea of how to enjoy my own.
In my experience, do as I say, not as I do, is not an effective way to teach. Kids learn the most through modeling. Well, probably not just kids, I think we probably all learn the most that way.
I’m in the midst of reading a book about the single most important thing we should be teaching kids. Guess what? It isn’t flexible number sense, inferring skills or phonological awareness.
There are lots of important tools in the world of academics that will help kids achieve in school. But, this skill isn’t just about achieving in school, it’s about navigating the pitfalls of life. It is the ability to emotionally regulate.
Emotional regulation isn’t a term you hear everyday, but maybe it should be. Maybe if we were talking more about how important it is for children to learn to emotionally regulate (calm down when they are upset, regroup when they are hurt, stay sane when they are excited, refocus when they are overwhelmed…) then we would have less adults suffering road rage, shooting people because they think they are entitled to a better life and just generally fucking up the world.
If I let it, my mind will make me miserable. If I model being miserable for my kids, their minds will make them miserable too. It’s an actual fact that our minds constantly lean towards the negative (on the lookout for saber toothed tigers), but we can learn to be happier.
Emotional regulation is a good place to start. How do you regulate yourself? When you are trying to get out the door and your kids are fighting and you can’t find your keys and you realise too late that you forgot to put the lid on the cup of hot coffee that you just grabbed off the counter and is now dripping down your arm and all over the floor and you just want to scream and give up and go back to bed. How do you make it through?
The thing is, I think a lot of us don’t really know. We scream at our kids, we swear and slam things and then we fester in feeling crappy. Angry and guilty or frustrated and sad, it doesn’t really matter, it all looks the same. It all feels like a mess.
In the book Kids These Days, Jody Carrington helps to deconstruct this mess. More importantly, she helps break down this mess so that it isn’t the only way of coping. She can help us to learn other strategies and pass them on to our kids.
This book isn’t just for teachers, or parents or daycare workers or pediatricians, it’s good for humans in general. I think most of us didn’t learn all the secrets of emotional regulation when we were children. I know I didn’t. I learned yelling in one house and silence in the other, sharp words and isolation. I learned how to take care of myself, but not how to reach out for others, not how to mend, heal and say sorry.
The more I learn the skills of emotional regulation, the more I can teach them to my children and my students. I won’t be perfect, thankfully, the research says that I don’t need to be. I need to be able to get it right about 30% of the time. I don’t really understand how they calculate that number, but I do feel glad that it’s manageable!
The most important message that I have so far found in Jody Carrington’s words is that it’s never too late. You aren’t broken, you haven’t broken your children, there’s still time to learn, to heal and to keep working at regulating ourselves together. It’s that simple.
OK, it’s not really simple at all, or it’s simple in words and a lot harder in action, but what’s important is that it isn’t impossible. Whether it’s the science of wellbeing or the practice of emotional regulation, we all have room to grow and ultimately to bloom.
Afterall being human isn’t a science, it’s an art, and each of us is going to express it with our own mosaic of colours. The more we can find room to appreciate our own colours and let each other shine, the more there is room for joy in each of our lives.