Habits, happiness

Performance management – but not as we know it

I love sport. I always have. Watching it, talking about it, taking part in it and writing about it. My particular favourite sport is football (cliché I know). I could go on about how it is known as the beautiful game and become all poetic and flowery. But for me, I believe it is the ultimate performance sport.

Take the very best players who play for the very best teams in the world. Their performance has to peak week in, week out, all year long. If a player isn’t quite feeling it or isn’t on top of their game, then they won’t play. This is different to so many other sports.

Take athletics. The very best athletes do train all year long but they are building towards a specific event. For somebody like Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter of all time, he would train all year round in order to peak around every two years, usually when the World Championships or Olympics were being staged. It almost didn’t matter outside of these championships if he was performing at the peak of his powers or not.

It is the same for marathon running. The greatest marathon runner of all time is arguably the Kenyan athlete, Eluid Kipchoge. He is changing everything we know about marathon running and leaving the competition in his wake. He will probably never run more than 20 marathons in his career, and he averages around two races a year.

Everything that athletes like Bolt and Kipchoge do is geared towards peaking at a specific time of the year. They take a gradual journey towards a particular moment in time when they are required to perform at their best.

To put this into teaching terms, it would be like building towards delivering your best lessons in a specific week at the end of the summer term. Whilst every lesson that came before was to build up to that particular moment of peak performance. With the agenda in schools very firmly fixed to believing ‘every minute counts’, this just wouldn’t be possible or effective.

The way football teams approach their sport is geared towards ensuring their players perform at their very best in every game, week after week. Take any team in any division in England and you will see by their league position that two or three wins in a row could be the difference between breaking into the promotion spaces or falling into the relegation zone.

Like in teaching, every lesson counts, in football, every match counts. Football teams would not make anywhere near the progress they make if they forced their players to push themselves to their limits every single day. They would end up suffering burnout. This is why rest and recuperation has become such an important aspect of modern football. Transferring this into teaching, we can see that if leaders push their teachers every single day without any focus on recuperation, then our teachers will ultimately fall foul of burnout.

We should think of ourselves like footballers. Teachers are elite athletes in a regular high performance sport.

You will never be able to get any more time. Time runs out. The sun will rise and fall with the same regularity every day. So wishing for more of it will not help at all. However, we can get more energy. The amazing thing about energy is that it is clean, green and renewable.

When your energy levels are low there are small steps you can take to replenish it. And they’re relatively simple steps.

Take your holidays. You have a half term every seven weeks for a reason. To renew and replenish yourself. It is too easy to spend your whole half term working and being in and around the school mentality. It doesn’t mean you should spend all half term lying down. But it is great to be able to do something different that can take your mind off of your school commitments.

Take your lunch. How many times in the last month have you actually entered the staff room and taken the time to have your lunch? I know what it is like in schools and how the lunch hour can vanish in the blink of an eye. But challenge yourself to take 20 minutes in your lunch break to simply sit, eat and enjoy your food whilst being away from your computer or phone.

Get some sunlight. I remember as both a class teacher and a senior leader that there were days when everything came and hit me at once. Because of this it meant I never left the boundary of my classroom or office. Once I even had an office that didn’t have any windows! Being outside in the sunlight and fresh air has excellent renewable qualities that should not be ignored by teachers (or anyone for that matter!).

Get a hobby. What a brilliant way to turn off than to dedicate yourself to something else. You can set goals, collaborate with others, make a personal change, and really support yourself in switching off.

Delete the email app. I remember one Saturday morning where I checked my work emails on my phone because it was just too easy having the app right there. I read an email and it spoilt my entire weekend with my family because I just couldn’t get it out of my head. The world is busy enough without us contributing to it by making ourselves available 24/7. Delete your email app now. You’ll thank me for it in a week.

Rest and recuperation should be as important to teachers as it is to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. If you are tired, exhausted and unenthusiastic – what chance do the children in your class have?


What Kenya taught me about happiness in a bottle

A few years ago I went on holiday to Kenya. We flew into Mombasa, went on a bizarre ferry ride, and then drove for hours to our hotel in what I can only describe as a broken van. It is a different world. The living standards are so far removed from what is considered standard in the UK. The funny thing is, whilst we were there we kept seeing adverts for a well-known soft drink.

Everywhere we went there was another poster with families enjoying the drink. I kept thinking it was strange that in a country where poverty is quite widespread, where families struggle to provide food, shelter and clothing – that a huge billion pound company were trying to sell bottles of their drink. Why would they possibly want this drink so badly? But that was just it, everywhere I looked I saw people drinking it. Clearly there was supply and demand.

It wasn’t until I really looked at the posters that I realised what was at play here. The slogan on the poster said something along the lines of “Choose happiness, choose our brand”. On the surface, yes, we should be choosing happiness. But there was an underlying current of capitalism that when you really think about it appears to be loaded with exploitation.

What the advert was really saying was “You won’t be happy unless you buy our drink”. The Kenyan people believed it. That they could buy ready-made bottled happiness. Many of them lived in poverty, with a low life expectancy, and little chance of making it out of their situation. Drinking a branded soft drink which in the adverts appeared as though it made people happy seemed to be the perfect way to escape their life situation.

That’s the moment it hit me. The modern world has tried to flat pack happiness into a product that you can buy and keep in your house. Just look at any advert of television. A huge electronics company has devised a new smartphone with a massive screen, clever voice assistant and a camera with ten trillion pixels. In the advert the users are smiling, laughing, hugging, they’re on holiday, they’re windsurfing, they’re in the mountains, they are the living the life you think you want.

The advert is not saying “Look how efficient and practical our phone is”. Instead it is saying “If you get this phone you can be happy”.

Unless it is a magic phone, you can’t and you won’t.

On the other side you have the newspapers telling you “Look at all these terrible things that are happening – because of this you will never be happy.” People are cold, hungry and poor. Crime is up, employment rates are down, and don’t even look out the window at the weather. Brexit is everywhere, petrol is too expensive, and why are Jaffa Cakes in packs of 10 instead of 12 nowadays?

You can help children to see that deciding to be happy is the answer. Not waiting for the latest modern gadget, or growing up to hopefully win a reality TV show. Help them see that being happy means loving your family, being enthusiastic to learn, enjoying a dance in the rain, and genuinely caring for others.

There are two simple truths which are common sense, but not common behaviour. The first is we have a choice and there is another way. The second is even though it’s simple, it doesn’t mean it will be easy.

For some children, you as their teacher, might be the only positive person in their life. If we can build a generation of young people who grow up choosing to be happy then maybe we can ensure that tomorrow’s children have more than one positive person in their life.


How desire lines can help you be happier

There’s a moment in a popular blockbuster TV show where Kit Harrington looks up, broods down the camera and says “The dead are coming.”

Well, you know what, Jon? I think they might already be here.

Have you ever really looked at people commuting to work? There’s a whole load of ‘the dead’ dragging themselves out of bed and into work in the morning wishing it were the weekend. And you could be one of them.

It is time to engage or exist. If you choose the latter, you are simply living your life in body only. You get one shot at living, so my thinking is that you might as well look like you want to be here. And by ‘here’, I mean alive!

Previously we examined internal habits and that as we accidentally accumulate them over time they can sabotage our lives. Ever heard of desire paths? Chances are you have walked on one. A desire path is a path caused by erosion from humans walking over it. The paths are often the shortest or easiest routes between two destinations. We often see them in forest or woodland areas, between gaps in hedges or trees, on the corners of fields linking together footpath routes, and along the edge of fields where paths never existed.

They can sometimes be known as desire lines. Human beings have an incredible hardwired ability to create desire lines in their minds. We take a route one time and leave the start of a feint trail behind us. When we reach the same point again we often go over the same trail over and over until it becomes habitual and we forget there is any other way.

It doesn’t become impossible to avoid the desire lines or take a different route, but it becomes so engrained that it is the only way of thinking that we never try anything else again.

Sometimes following the desire lines and forming habits can be really beneficial. But other times it means we accidentally learn there is only one way to think, act or feel in a situation that we lose sight of any alternatives. It is how we form bad habits like giving up or complaining.

Running is one of the most simple and accessible of all sports. Lots of people try it and only a few stick with it. If you have ever been new to running you will know that it can feel quite difficult quite quickly. That is why a lot of people give up. This forms the start of a desire line. When they consider trying to start running again, they remember how they thought, acted and felt the last time – and generally they repeat it. They accidentally learn the habit of giving up.

It is the same for complaining. At some point you may have been irritated by how your neighbours park their car. I’ll admit it, I have. It forms the start of a desire line. Every time I look out the window I start to expect to see bad parking and when I do, I get cross. If I don’t see bad parking on this occasion, I just assume I’ll see it later on. My desire line has formed and I forget that somebody might have parked badly a couple of times, but on the whole, their parking is probably fine.

This is the same reason that people learn to be helpless in their lives. It is why some people are very quick to blame others. And it is why some people think they are always a victim.

 So reflect, what desire lines have you formed? Could there be another way?

happiness, Uncategorized

The A to Z of Wellbeing

A is for Attitude
You can choose to your attitude and it impacts on everyone around you.

B is for Botheredness
Be bothered to care about your life and everyone in it.

C is for Contagion
People can catch your positive vibes and spread them to others.

D is for Determination
Be committed and determined to achieving something in the long term.

E is for Ease
Peace and wellbeing can be achieved when you are at ease with yourself and your circumstances.

F is for Flow
Find something you enjoy. Commit to doing it everyday. Even if it’s just for five minutes.

G is for Gratitude
Be grateful for what is in your life rather than what isn’t. Gratitude is the fertiliser for…

H is for Happiness
We all want more of it. So look for it and let it into your life.

I is for Input
Read great books, listen to interesting podcasts and talk to supportive people.

J is for Junk
Remove your connection to junk communities where people moan, complain and spread negativity.

K is for Kindness
Being kind can lift your mood and the mood of the person you help. Do it more often.

L is for Love
Love yourself first. It’s the building block for flourishing relationships.

M is Mindset
The skill set without the mindset will leave you upset.

N is for Neuroplasticity
Practice and repetition can require your brain for the positive.

O is for Outside
Being outside and offline will reduce stress and increase happiness.

P is for Perspective
Are you having a bad day – or a bad few minutes you can’t move on from?

Q is for Quiet
A quiet mind is free of stress and worry.

R is for Relationships
They recharge you with clean, green and renewable energy.

S is for Slower
Slow down and be present. You are only where you are right now. The present. So lap it up.

T is for Thinking
Thoughts come and go like the wind. Try to hold on to as many positive ones as possible.

U is for Understanding
Be compassionate and free of judgement for others.

V is for Values
Know what you stand for and stand against. Make sure your actions match.

W is for Words
Words shape worlds. Choose and use yours carefully.

X is for X factor
You are the best version of you. No one is better at being you than you. You have the X factor already.

Y is for You
You matter. You always have and you always will.

Z is for Zip
Having zip and spring in your step motivates you to be your best self every day.