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74. Avoid teacher burnout: How to Create Good Habits that will last Throughout the School Year (Part 1 of 5)

You know when you’re mid way through your summer break and you think to yourself “if only I could feel this relaxed all year long!”.

Unfortunately, feeling calm and balanced during the school year is a struggle for most teachers. This is because our profession comes with a unique set of challenges. Jessica R. Danilewitz hit the nail on the head when she stated in her research thesis titled Quality of Life and Sources of Stress in Teachers: A Canadian Perspective that 

“Most professions allow workers to leave their tasks at the office. However, teachers are expected to care for their students by providing them emotional support similar to a family, in addition to meeting their educational objectives. This unique responsibility embedded within the role of a teacher, highlights the unique work-life balance stressors that teachers experience.”

So, let’s talk about teacher burnout.

Teacher Burnout:

According to Mariam Webster dictionary, burnout is defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Now, get this… when they give examples of burnout in a sentence, this is what they use:

  • Teaching can be very stressful, and many teachers eventually suffer burnout.
  • the burnout rate among teachers

Even the dictionary seems to know that teacher burnout is far too common!

The stats show it too, 30% of Canadian teachers (Allen, 2015) and more than 41% of U.S teachers leave the profession within five years of starting, and teacher attrition has risen significantly over the last two decades (Rankin, 2016). 

In addition, The U.K.’s 2014 Education Staff Health Survey indicated 91% of school teachers suffered from stress in the past two years and 74% experienced anxiety (Stanley, 2014).

It’s no secret that teaching is a challenging profession. But, we went into this career KNOWING it would be hard. Because we CARE about making the future even brighter!

According to Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, when asked why they became teachers, 85% of teachers said it was because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. 

We love making a difference in our student’s lives, but we can’t be as effective as we’d like if we’re exhausted physically and emotionally.

How to avoid teacher burnout:

To avoid teacher burnout, it is important that we create solid habits of self-care so that we can fill our cups and continue to be our best selves in the classroom.

We’re committed to helping you learn concrete ways to avoid teacher burnout! So, we’re sharing a (free) 5 part training series on The Balanced Educator Podcast and Blog to teach you how to avoid teacher burnout through habit creation, thoughts, emotions, perspective and self-care.

Be sure to get on our mailing list because we will be giving you exclusive freebies to help you implement what we’ll be sharing in our training series! 

So make sure you follow along over the next 5 posts to set yourself up for success so you can feel more calm, balanced and joyful all year long. (Yes, even during report card season!)

To start our series, we’re getting right down to the foundation: How habits are created in our brain. 

How to create good habits that will last throughout the school year

Once we know how our brain creates habits, we can follow its natural steps to successfully create new, positive habits that help us to feel more calm, balanced and joyful!

Listen to this week’s episode of The Balanced Educator Podcast below or keep reading to learn how to implement the 4 laws of habit creation to create positive habits that will support you all year long.

But first, download our free Habit Formation Worksheet so you can follow along.

In order to avoid teacher burnout, it’s important to have positive habits that help you to feel more calm, balanced and joyful. However, creating a new self-care routine is hard if you don’t understand how the brain creates habits.

The books The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear taught us how to create good habits that last. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through creating a new habit by following James Clear’s framework from his book Atomic Habits so that you can avoid teacher burnout and feel more calm, balanced a joyful all year long.

How the Brain Forms Habits

The first thing you should know about habits is that when you’re forming new ones, you’re actually creating a new connection, a new neural pathway in your brain. This means that naturally, it’s going to be hard! Your brain is always trying to conserve energy, so when you ask it to do a huge task like learning something brand new or create a new routine, it will fight back and try to convince you to stick to your old habits. Don’t judge yourself when you slip up or start to lose motivation, you aren’t lazy, your brain is just trying to conserve energy!

Which leads us to the next thing you should know about how habits are formed: The brain is always trying to be efficient. Your brain is always looking for actions that you repeat. If you do something repetitively, it isn’t a great use of your brain’s energy to pay close attention to each step every time you do that action.

Take driving to work for example. The first few times you drove to work, you had to pay close attention to road signs, traffic lights, stop signs and speed limits. You had to consciously think about where to turn, where to slow down or speed up and where to stop. All this conscious thinking is a lot of work for your brain. 

After you took the same route to work several times, your brain noticed a pattern, created a solid neural pathway and recognized that it could free up brain energy by making the actions of driving to work unconscious. Meaning that your body goes through the motions of getting you safely to work without having to pay close attention. This frees up space for you to think about what you’ll be doing that day, who you’ll sit with at lunch and daydream about that yummy tea you’ll make yourself during your break.

The things you repeat become an automatic program.

This means that when we’re creating a new habit, our goal is to consciously repeat the steps of the habit in the same way, at the same time, over and over until our brain makes it an unconscious program.  

According to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, there are four stages to habit formation: cue, craving, response reward. When we break a new habit down into these four stages, we’re setting ourselves up for success by working with our brain instead of against it. Even further, Clear gives four laws of habit formation which helps us to make habits stick.

Let’s break down these four stages and laws of habit formation and use an example of a new habit we want to create – starting a daily mindfulness practice.

Click here to download our free Habit Formation Worksheet so you can plan your new habit with the four steps we will cover.

The four stages and laws of habit formation according to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits

Stage 1: Cue

Law 1: Make it obvious

The cue is a situation or feeling that triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour. It notices something in your inner or outer environment and leads to a craving for a specific reward. If you feel stressed, that’s a cue that makes you crave a behaviour that will make you feel better. The feeling of stress sets your habit of sitting on the couch and watching Netflix in order to relieve that stress in motion. 

Example of creating the habit of a daily mindfulness practice:

Cue : My morning alarm clock goes off.

Law: I always practice mindfulness meditation in the same place, in my chair in my living room. The location I have to go to after my alarm is obvious and always stays the same.

Stage 2: Craving

Law 2: Make it attractive

The craving is the motivational force behind the habit. It’s the change in state you want to achieve. So you don’t actually want the habit, you want the change in state it will deliver. If you’re stressed, you want to watch TV because it will distract you and make you feel better. You want the feeling watching TV will bring, not the TV itself (which explains why we’ll watch a show we don’t even really like).

Example of creating the habit of a daily mindfulness practice:

Craving: I want to feel calm and peaceful before I start my day.

Law: I create a peaceful space that I love meditating in with a cozy blanket, an essential oil diffuser and I use a guided mindfulness meditation audio that I love following along with.

Stage 3: Response

Law 3: Make it easy

The response is the actual habit you perform. This can be a thought or an action. You taking action requires that you are motivated enough to expend the energy it will take. So if the craving isn’t intense enough or if your motivation for the reward you’ll feel from having completed the action isn’t high enough, you won’t do it. Which is why your new habit should feel easy, so that your brain and body are willing to actually do it.

Example of creating the habit of a daily mindfulness practice:

Response: I will sit down in my meditation spot, close my eyes and listen to the entire guided mindfulness audio.

Law: My brain tries to fight against spending more than 5 minutes meditating, so I will keep my mindfulness meditations under 5 minutes until it becomes a habit.

Stage 4: Reward

Law 4: Make it satisfying

The reward is the end goal of every habit, it satisfies your craving and/or teaches you something. If the response satisfies your craving, you will learn that the response was worth doing again in the future and it can become a habit. However, if the response took too much energy or wasn’t satisfying enough then your brain will learn that it isn’t worth doing again in the future and will resist making it a habit.

Example of creating the habit of a daily mindfulness practice:

Reward: The peaceful feeling that I get after doing the practice. Plus, I only allow myself to continue my morning routine of making tea once I’ve completed my mindfulness meditation practice.

Law: The cozy space I sit in amplifies the peaceful feeling I get from the guided mindfulness practice, it makes it more special and luxurious. Plus, the reward of making my morning tea after my practice helps to solidify this habit into my morning routine. 

In summary:

How your brain works

Your brain is always trying to be efficient and conserve energy. A habit will only stick if the action is repeated enough that your brain notices a pattern and if the action is beneficial to you and therefore worth repeating.

The four stages and laws of habit formation

  1. Cue – make it obvious
  2. Craving – make it attractive
  3. Response – make it easy
  4. Reward – make it satisfying

If you haven’t already, make sure to download our free Habit Formation Worksheet.

When you get the steps for creating your new habit down on paper, you are much more likely to stick to it and reap the benefits of habitually caring for yourself so you can avoid teacher burnout.

To go even deeper on this topic, listen to our episode on The Balanced Educator Podcast below.

Be sure to subscribe to the Balanced Educator Podcast on do you don’t miss our upcoming episodes and we continue to teach how to avoid teacher burnout. iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play

Share this post on Pinterest so other educators can also learn concrete strategies to form healthy habits this school year.

Let us know in the comments, what healthy habit will you form this year to help you avoid teacher burnout?

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One thought on “74. Avoid teacher burnout: How to Create Good Habits that will last Throughout the School Year (Part 1 of 5)

  1. 79. How to Instil Habits in our Students - Educalme October 9, 2019 at 12:28 am

    […] Avoid teacher burnout: How to Create Good Habits that will last Throughout the School Year (Part 1 o… […]

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