Convincing myself for so many years that I was tough was counter-productive, counter-intuitive. Now I realize, being tough did not mean what I thought it meant. Life continues to show me how wrong I’ve been and how wrong I sometimes continue to be. Being mentally tough does not mean being mentally stubborn, dismissive, or arrogant. Being mentally tough is all about being present, letting go of my junk, living in the moment, and relying on God. Gordon writes of 20 ways to get mentally tough; I applied this to my teaching life.
20 Ways to be a Mentally Tough Teacher
- USE SETBACKS TO REDEFINE YOURSELF. When you encounter a setback in teaching, think of it as a defining moment and seek the takeaway that will lead to future growth and success.
- EMBRACE ADVERSITY–WALK THROUGH IT AND KNOW IT WILL LEAD TO SOMETHING GREATER. When you encounter adversity (behavior, motivation, management, conflict, whatever else), remember, the best don’t just face adversity; they embrace it, knowing it’s not a dead end but a detour to something greater and better.
- STAY POSITIVE WHEN YOU FACE NEGATIVE PEOPLE. When you face negative people (students, parents, coworkers), know that the key to life is to stay positive in the face of negativity, not in the absence of it. After all, everyone will have to overcome negativity to define themselves and create their success.
- WHEN YOU FACE THE NAYSAYERS, REMEMBER THE YES SAYERS. When you face the naysayers (both young and old), remember the people who believed in you and spoke positive words to you.
- WHEN YOU FACE CRITICS, TUNE OUT THE CRITICISM AND TUNE INTO FOCUSING ON BECOMING YOUR BEST. When you face critics (those who only see your weaknesses or who just don’t get you), remember to tune them out and focus only on being the best you can be.
- FROM YOUR HOUSE TO YOUR CLASS–WALK IN GRATITUDE AND PRAYER. When you wake up in the morning, take a morning walk of gratitude and prayer (from your doorstop, to your drive, to the parking lot, to your classroom). It will create a fertile mind ready for success.
- FAITH IS GREATER THAN DOUBT. When you fear, trust. Let your faith be greater than your doubt. Like Martin, recognize those fears, name them, cast them out, trust in God, and shed the doubt.
- FIND THE LESSON IN FAILURE. When you fail (a lesson is unsuccessful, the test scores are not what they should be, an evaluation is less than satisfactory), find the lesson in it, and then recall a time when you have succeeded.
- ENTER THE BATTLE VISUALIZING SUCCESS. When you head into battle (that class, that student, that parent), visualize success.
- PUT YOUR ENERGY IN THE NOW. When you are thinking about the class or lesson or test that did not go well or worrying about the next class or lesson or test, instead focus your energy on the present moment. The now is where your power is the greatest.
- DON’T COMPLAIN–SEEK SOLUTIONS. When you want to complain about a student or teacher or parent or principal or standard or assessment, instead identify a solution.
- WEED OUT DOUBT. CULTIVATE POSITIVITY. When your own self-doubt crowds your mind and the tasks at hand seem too great, weed them out and replace them with positive thoughts and positive self-talk.
- WHEN DISTRACTED, CLEAR YOUR MIND & SEEK THE ZONE. When you feel distracted (when you are tired, sick, struggling or being evaluated), focus on your breathing, observe your surroundings, clear your mind, and get into The Zone. The Zone is not a random event. It can be created.
- WHEN ALL SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE, LOOK TO GOT AND REALIZE ALL IS POSSIBLE. When you feel all is impossible (that the bar is too high, the summit is unreachable), know that with God all things are possible.
- WHEN YOU FEEL ALONE, REMEMBER YOU’RE LOVED AND SUPPORTED. When you feel alone (just you and that daunting task of meeting each kid where he/she is and meeting all his/her needs and moving each forward), think of all the people (including the kids, parents, coworkers, family) who have helped you along the way and who love and support you now and realize you are NOT alone.
- WHEN YOU’RE LOST, PRAY FOR GUIDANCE. When you feel lost in your own school/content/class (in a lesson, a day, or a year), pray for guidance.
- WHEN YOU’RE TIRED, DON’T GIVE UP–ALWAYS FINISH STRONG. When you are tired and drained and the next break seems miles away, remember to never, never, never give up. Finish strong in each lesson, each day and each year.
- WHEN YOU FEEL DEFEATED, SEEK THE STRENGTH OF GOD. When you feel like you can’t make it through the class (much less the school day, the quarter or the year), know that you can do all things through God who gives you strength.
- WHEN YOUR SITUATION IS OUT OF CONTROL, PRAY, SURRENDER–THEN, FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.When you feel like your situation (the class, a student’s motivation/ability/behavior/work ethic, the standards, your resources, the evaluation measure), is beyond your control, pray and surrender. Focus on what you can control–let go of what you can’t.
- WHEN YOU FEEL PRESSURED, DON’T LET STRESS DEFINE YOU. INSTEAD REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE A TEACHER AND SMILE, HAVE FUN AND SIEZE THE MOMENT. When you’re in a high-pressure/high-stakes situation (when the next test ominously looms around the corner, and the daunting task of preparing the kids for this ominous task is haunting you), remember to not let that stress define who you are. Instead, remember why you became a teacher, and then, smile, have fun, and still enjoy each moment of teaching. Life is short; you only live once. In spite of all that is thrown at you, quit counting the school days, and quit counting the days until that test. Be present to your students and to what they need. SIEZE THE MOMENT!
At first when I encountered Jon Gordon, his positivity was too much for me, and I was critical of his writing, but now I see the difference that positivity makes, so as I read his blog, Tweets, and books, I try to reserve my cynicism. I enjoy the narrative, at times shaking my head at the naïveté of the protagonist, until I see how I am like a bit like the protagonist and in need of a lesson. Then, I try to embrace my part in the story.
Like Martin, I feed the wrong wolf at times letting what others think about my teacher identity define who I am and/or get me down. When I see a negative comment about a moment in my classroom as a commentary on who I am anything but mentally tough. I do not want to feed the combative snarling, growling, and whimpering canine; that’s for sure.
This is not who I am, who I want to be, or who I’m destined to be. Seeing the wall as unscalable, I let myself be defined by what I think of myself and what others thing of me. When I try to climb the wall focusing on the obstacle without seeking God’s help, the wall is insurmountable.
Other writing about Gordon deals with falls and setbacks/cha chas. Also, related to Gordon: Driving the Bus (9/9/14), My Greatest Asset will NO Longer be My Biggest Obstacle (9/15/14), Obligation or Opportunity (6/9/15), and From a Fizzle to a Finale (7/6/15).
The original list about being mentally tough: