What is Your Unwanted Identity?

I recently read about something called the Stockdale Paradox when I was doing research for an upcoming workshop on building resilience in the early childhood education profession. The Stockdale Paradox first mentioned in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, cautions readers to acknowledge your current difficulties intermixed with a positive belief that you will triumph in the end.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
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In a discussion between Jim Collins and James Stockdale (a former vice-presidential candidate, who, during the Vietnam War, was held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years), Stockdale speaks about how the optimists fared in camp. The dialogue goes:

“Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.” “The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.”The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘ We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

James Stockdale

Now it might be how I was feeling about the resurgence of Covid-19 in our New Zealand community, however, I must admit that reading this really triggered me. I have learnt over the years that when I am triggered this is when I need to probe a bit deeper with curiosity.

My curiosity was prompting me to ask “why?” It is my “why” I would like to discuss in this article today.

Why did my reading this cause a triggered emotional response in me?

Well to answer this question I first have a confession to make. I am an optimist. I am a naturally positive person. You may even say that I am a glass-half-full kind of gal.

I must also confess that this latest move in Alert Levels for New Zealand has thrown me. Just like the optimists in James Stockdale’s account, I, like so many Kiwis, I had firmly put Covid-19 in my rear-view mirror. I optimistically told myself with every ounce of my positivity, rose-tinted glasses firmly in place, that Covid-19 was something we had won the battle over. That it was no longer something to worry about. “Covid-19 is something that is happening in other countries, not in New Zealand,”

I allowed myself to plan, hope and embrace the future. Making plans (all be it local plans) for the next months… And then it all came crashing down around me. When I received the news about the latest community transmitted cases in Auckland, I must admit, I was shocked. Feelings like sadness, fear, anger, frustration, disappointment and even shame swirled around inside of me. Was I heading for death from a broken heart?

The other reason that I realised that I was feeling this way was that this account had awakened my unwanted identities.

What is an unwanted identity?

We all have our ideal identity, a way that we want the world and others to perceive us. Our ideal identity is nurtured in us from a very young age. When we are young children and we rely on others to feed us, clothe us, love us and accept us in order to secure our survival. During this time we are constantly asking ourselves “Who do I need to be in order for them to treat me this way?” (Weaver, 2019). Unbeknown to us this is who we become. This is our ideal identity. We set about proving, by behaving in alignment with our ideal identity, that we are good enough and worth loving.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
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We also receive from those around us, information about what loses us acceptance, love and approval and this becomes our unwanted identities. These are the traits that you would rather die than let others perceive you as.

Every choice that we make stems from us wanted to win approval (AKA love) of the significant adults and later peers. This is also a powerful motivator for us to avoid behaviours where approval is lost.

What is your ideal identity?

Think back to your childhood.

How did you want your parents and other important adults to see you? What kinds of praise set you aglow inside?

What meaning did you make up about this or yourself by the way you were praised or treated?

How did this praise prompt you to behave?

How did you want your school peers to see you? Were you the “kind one”, the “clever one”, the “sporty one”, the “funny one” the “hard-working one?”

Where did your work ethic come from?

Your dispositions?

Your desire to do things perfectly or to not let others down?

In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown, recounts how she comes across her unwanted identities of sick, unreliable, and undependable when she has to take time off after sustaining a concussion. How her German Texan upbringing leads her to have the unconscious belief that illness was a weakness. She talks about the shame and fear she felt when she perceived that others saw her in this way.

Which leads me back to my original “why?”. Why was I so triggered? On reflection, I realised that although I see myself as an optimist, and I want to be perceived as such, I do not want to be seen as weak or as a victim. These are two significant unwanted identities for me.

Why you should be aware of your unwanted identities?

Left unconscious our unwanted identities can dictate our thoughts and behaviours. These identities appear in all the areas of our life that matter to us. Left unchecked these identities can cause us to inflict hurt and shame on ourselves and others.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services
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Once we make the unconscious, conscious we can get real about them. As Joseph Campbell famously said,

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell

When you get curious about your unwanted identities, you’ll see that the perceptions you are working so hard to have and want to avoid are
totally unrealistic and can cause you unnecessary fear and shame.

The exercise below will help you to figure out how you want to be perceived around a specific identity.

For example, with regards to being a good leader, you might want to be perceived as organised, calm, knowledgeable and educated and not perceived as overwhelmed, stressed out, unreliable, lazy and disorganised.

When we reflect on our unwanted identities and get curious about them, we begin to understand the perceptions that lead to self-doubt, stress and shame. In doing this we can examine the hold that this has over us and create compassion and flexibility in how we see ourselves and allow others to see us.

Over to you…

Pick an area of your life where you know that you have ideal and unwanted identities. (Examples of this might be motherhood, work, body image etc)

List 3 ways that you would like to be perceived in this area of your life.

List 3 unwanted identities in this area of your life.

Looking at each of the unwanted identities on your list, ask yourself the following questions:

What does this perception mean to me?

Why is this identity so unwanted?

What experiences or messages are the source of this unwanted identity?

Is this showing me something that I’m frightened of?

Can you look at yourself with the kindness and compassion your reserve for someone whom you love?

Now ask yourself,

How is this serving me now?

What do gain from holding onto this unwanted identity?

What is it costing me?

Is there a way that I can create some flexiblity around how others see me?

Can you let this go and be happy knowing that you know you are a good human? That another’s perception of you is based on how they see themselves and world, based on their life experiences, not who you actually are?

Dr Libby Weaver

Was this exercise challenging for you?

Do you feel that this is something that you would like some support with identifying and working through?

Why not book a free discovery call with me where we can discuss how a coaching partnership could help you to relieve stress, and restore confidence, energy and balance to your life.

References:

https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/stockdale-paradox-confronting-reality-vital-success?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

Brown, B, (2018) Dare to Lead – Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Penguin Random House UK.

Weaver, L, (2019) The Invisible Load – A Guide to Overcoming Stress & Overwhelm, Little Green Frog Publishing Ltd.

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How To Help Yourself To Settle Back Into “Normal Life”

How are you doing? How has Alert Level 2 been for you?

Did you start out excited and joyful to see friends and family again, but now you feel a bit tired, overwhelmed or even just a bit off-kilter?

You are not alone in this. Alert Level 2 started with great excitement for most of us. Free from our homes and our bubbles, excited to see family and friends again. to go out to eat at a cafe, to go shopping and to reconnect with the children and people in our centres.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

For me the first few days felt great, I was buzzing with excitement. I was going to be so productive. I made lists of everything I would accomplish for work now that I was no longer homeschooling…

And then Tuesday came along and it was as if I had hit a wall.

I found myself feeling shaky, on the verge of tears, nauseous and unable to eat. I had so much that I wanted to do but found that I just couldn’t. After spending six weeks in my bubble, I could literally feel the stress, the hurry, the expectations and the busyness coming back into my life. It felt like a heavy weight on my heart. As you might already know, I am usually a pretty positive, motivated person, so I knew that something was up.

Have felt some of these feelings too? There is nothing wrong with you. You are 100% normal. You might just be experiencing a phenomenon known as reintegration anxiety.

What is reintegration anxiety?

Reintegration anxiety is sometimes called reverse culture shock or re-entry syndrome.

The concept of reverse culture shock dates back to the early 1960s. US psychologists John and Jeanne Gullahorn observed that after travel and culture shock and homecoming, there’s more ups and downs: readjusting to what was once familiar.

James Purtill – Hack

In the past, you may have experienced similar feelings after been away on holiday or overseas for a period of time when adjusting to coming back home or to work. This is especially severe amongst explorers coming back from an Antarctic expedition or soldiers coming home from deployment.

After the joy of reuniting with friends, family and workmates come the reality of adapting and “fitting back in” to our pre-COVID lives. This can be challenging. It is unrealistic to assume that we can just snap our fingers and pick up where we left off.

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Some of the symptoms that you or others may experience are:

  • Frustration
  • Restlessness
  • Physical symptoms such as an upset stomach, sweaty palms or a racing heart.
  • A shift in values, goals, priorities and attitudes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation or depression
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Overwhelm
  • Underwhelm

Changes, changes, changes…

If we think about it, it makes sense that we should be feeling this way to some degree. We have been through a lot of change during the last few weeks.

First, there was the shock of COVID 19 in our country and all the panic and anxiety that went with that.

Then there was self-isolation and the adjustment to being at home and doing everything online or remotely. Added to this all the language and messaging about how it wasn’t safe to be in our communities, to be around people (even friends and whanau) and that we needed to act like we all had COVID 19.

Then there was the shifting through the levels and the rules and restrictions, worries and anxieties that went with this.

And then it was decided that we were safe to go to level 2 and that we could go back to life as “normal” with the restrictions around this.

We have been constantly adjusting, adapting and going through various stages of shock and grief. If we think about it our nervous systems have been on alert over the last 4 months.

During Alert level 4 and 3 the majority of us spent our time in our bubbles, living at a much slower pace, shielded by noise pollution of life. However, we have suddenly switched realities. We are also adjusting to the new messaging about how it is safe to be at work, school and with other people (but don’t get too complacent, don’t stand too close to someone, use hand-sanitizer, wash your hands!) It is a lot to take in. This can feel confusing, frustrating and counter-intuitive. It is going to take a wee while for our brain’s, nervous systems and hearts to catch up to this change.

It is going to take time for us to get used to the hustle and bustle of life. To be able to trust being out in our communities – to be around people again without fear. Many of us will be grieving the simple joys of life in our bubbles.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Strategies to help yourself manage reintegration anxiety

  • Be patient and kind with yourself and those around you. Your feelings are normal. It is going to take 2-3 weeks to adjust and will involve a rollercoaster of emotions.
  • Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like being around others or catching up with family and friends let them know – your loved ones will understand.
  • Keep your expectations off yourself and others small and realistic. Don’t overschedule yourself for the next couple of weeks. It is normal to feel tired, demotivated or to need a little extra rest.
  • Notice when feelings come up for you and name them. It is okay to feel frustration, worry, anger and anxiety. The power in naming your emotions is that it helps your body to process the feeling and know what to do with it.
  • Remember, you are not your emotions. Just because you are feeling anger or anxiety this does not define you. Allow yourself to experience the emotion and tell yourself, “this too shall pass!”
  • Talk to a friend or someone you trust about how you are feeling. Chances are that they are feeling this too.
  • Give your relationships with others outside of your bubble time to “gel” again. Relationships are built through mundane everyday happenings and shared experiences. Our experience with “lockdown” might have been different from other people. These experiences will have changed us. It might take a bit of time to get in sync again.
  • Remember that how you are feeling will influence how you perceive others actions or situations, try to not take things too personally or make hasty decisions during the next few weeks.
  • Limit your screen time and time on social media. Give yourself some time to just “Be”.
  • If possible find time to intentionally move your body. Our emotions are stored in our bodies and when we move this helps us to release them.
  • Spend time outdoors. There is amazing healing in connecting with nature. Sunshine helps our bodies to produce vitamin D which is great for keeping bones strong, but also for boosting your mood.
  • Journal how you are feeling. We often give ourselves permission to be more honest or open about our thoughts and feelings on paper when we feel that no-one else will read it. This can be very helpful for working through your thoughts and feelings. (You can always rip up the page or burn it afterwards.)
  • If these feelings continue to persist past a few weeks reach out to your doctor for help.

Further Support

If you are feeling like life is just a wee bit stressful for you at the moment join me for a FREE WEBINAR: Coaching Yourself Through Stress

Or reach out for a FREE Health and Wellbeing Discovery Call where we can discuss how I can help you to make your health and wellbeing a priority.

Call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text “Help” to 4357.

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How to Create Positive Change To Your Health And Wellbeing Using Small Steps

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Today is day 38 of being in COVID 19 self-isolation for New Zealanders and what an emotional roller coaster it has been for many of us.

Being in Alert Level 3 is also a bit of a weird place emotionally speaking. What we have been doing collectively as a country has paid off (Yay!) and there is light at the end of the tunnel… However, after five weeks of everything being on hold, it is normal to feel a bit stir-crazy, frustrated, depressed, overwhelmed or demotivated (or all of the above).

We know that there is change on the horizon, our brains and bodies are trying to prepare us for change – but we don’t know when this change will occur and what it will look like.

Our brains are doing their jobs as nature intended, but are wired to prepare us for the worst-case scenario. This can mean that they are firing on alert, trying to keep us safe as we try to make sense of everything.

Overcoming Guilt and Shame About Feeling Lazy and Unproductive

You might also be feeling guilt and shame in yourself for wasting this time. Or for not being as productive as you feel that you should have been. Most of us went into this period of lock-down armed with a list of things that we wanted to achieve. You might not have achieved all or any of these things. Well-meaning social media posts could have fuelled these feelings of guilt by informing us that this was the perfect time to learn a new musical instrument, a new language or to write a book.

Now if you are feeling guilt and disgust in yourself for being lazy and unproductive at this time let me stop you right there! If you don’t emerge from lockdown more enlightened, more knowledgable or with a new skill or new side-hustle you are 100% normal. We have just been through a collectively traumatic event. Your body is still processing what has happened to it at a sub-conscious level. When you look at the diagram below (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) You might think that you should be at the level of self-actualisation (living out your full potential), but in reality, your body is crying out to have its basic needs of food, sleep, shelter, safety and security met. So give yourself a break.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

Shifting Gears

If you find that you are still at this level, notice this without judgement and accept it. This doesn’t mean anything about you, nor does this mean that you will stay stuck here forever. You can choose to stay here if this feels right for you but realise that you have the power to move yourself out of this place if you so choose.

If you feel that you are ready to start shifting gears but not sure how here are some things that you can do to start creating a positive change in your life.

Acknowledge the feelings

Take the time to notice the feelings that are coming up for you, the fear, the anger, the disgust and thank them for such an amazing job of keeping you safe. Then gently tell your feelings that although you acknowledge how helpful they have been in the past at protecting you, you are in fact safe and ready to move on. You might need to release them through journaling (you could try this FREE downloadable reframing exercise), talking about them to a loved one or through exercise and movement.

Start Small

You might be tempted to move into “fix-it” mode and set yourself all kinds of goals, but start small. Choose just one new positive habit that you would like to embrace.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear, highlights how making just a 1% change can have a huge impact. For instance, an aeroplane that makes just 1% course deviation could end up in a different country compared to it’s intended destination.

Another reason I suggest that you start small, with just one thing is that you want the change to be sustainable. Starting too big can lead to self-sabotage, failure and a reinforce negative thought loops or a fixed mindset that you have about yourself and your abilities. Ultimately you want to reinforce an identity as a capable, competent person. You want to be able to trust yourself and your ability to succeed. Most sustainable changes start small which gives us the foundation on which to stack future successes upon. Good habits are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle. When we automate something as a habit it allows our brain space to engage in higher function thinking such as learning a new skill.

Just Start

What you choose to focus on is up to you. It might be the smallest thing that will give you runs on the board so that you can get a taste for success. Or it might be the thing that is causing you the most pain. It is not important where you start as much as that you start.

You can easily get stuck in preparation or planning because this feels like you are taking action. However, this is motion and a form of procrastination triggered by the fear that you will fail.

Don’t wait for perfect – Just start!

Set Yourself up for Success

In the book, Atomic Habits mentioned above, James Clear identifies four things that we need to do in order to successfully adopt a new habit. Make it Obvious, Make it Attractive, Make it Easy and Make it Satisfying.

When we make a habit obvious we first need to identify the habit that we would like to adopt and why, and then we need to create an environment for success. Say for instance you would like to adopt the habit of drinking 8 glasses of water a day you can make it both obvious and easy by ensuring that you place a glass next to each tap in your house as a reminder about your intention to drink more water. And so every time you wash your hands you are reminded to pour yourself a glass of water and to drink it.

You can make the habit of drinking water more attractive and satisfying by adding slices of fruit, cold brew herbal teas or infusions to your water. Another way of making the habit of drinking more water attractive and satisfying might be to track your progress on a habit tracker and reward yourself at the end of the week after completing your new ritual seven days in a row. (I have a FREE tool that you can download here.) You can also make this easier, more attractive and satisfying by implementing this change as a member of a group as nothing keeps us motivated like being part of a tribe.

How could you use these four principles to create success for yourself when embracing a new healthy habit?

Keep Going

We have all been there. You start implementing a new habit and for a couple of days or even weeks, you are doing really well… And then for some reason, you stop and all your good work is lost. You then use this as evidence that you can’t make the change, or even as a self-torture device to prove how useless you really are.

You are not alone in this. Keeping the momentum going on a new habit can be challenging especially if you don’t see immediate benefits. Most of us get stuck in the “Plateau of Latent Potential”. This is often what happens during the “in-between”. This is the time between starting a new healthy habit and seeing physical results or benefits.

What to do if you need an Extra Bit of Motivation?

It is important to be prepared for setbacks happen. We often have the hardest time sticking to commitments to ourselves. However, you can give yourself a bit of extra motivation by using a commitment device.

A commitment device is something that you create to make it easy for you to stick to your goals.

  • For example, you might enlist the help of a friend as an accountability buddy and give her/him permission to say or do certain things if you don’t stick to your commitment to yourself. There may be certain consequences if you don’t follow through on your commitment. You might even formalise this in a written contract.
  • You might delay gratification by not allowing yourself to do something you want to do unless you have completed your healthy habit. Such as no social media unless you exercise.
  • Or you might create cue cards reinforcing why you are committed to this new action for when you are tempted to go off track. For example, your new healthy habit is to take a lunch-break away from your desk. You might make yourself a little card and stick it to your computer that says, ” Hey you, I know that you think that you are too busy to have a lunch break, but remember this break is going to make you a healthier, happier, more resilient and productive person. You will have more energy and be nicer to be around Xx”.

So where will you start?

What can you commit to?

Remember that every day you practise your new habit is a vote for the person that you would like to become. Where you are going and who you would like to be is way more important than how fast you get there. Progress might be slow but you can do this!

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How To Lead Your Team Through The Transition From COVID 19

It has been a weird old time.  

One day you are going along with your business, battling the challenges of running an early childhood centre and the next we are all in lockdown and you find yourself adapting to a new set of challenges. How do you keep your business afloat? How do you remotely manage your team and how can you be there for your teachers during a time of crisis? You find yourself grappling for the delicate balance of keeping team connection and being compassionate to what is going on for your teachers at home? 

You might have struggled with dilemmas like, “If I’m paying staff, is it the moral thing for me to expect them to work during this time?” Or battling with the social media peer pressure of what you should be doing.  Perhaps you puzzles over how to keep connections with families and children?  You did this all while balancing our own emotions and fears and the needs of our own family as the cases of the virus rose. That was just in the first 2 weeks!

Fast forward to this week,  it is amazing that the number of cases of COVID 19 is decreasing, this means that what we are doing is working. However, this brings up with-in us a whole new set of fears and challenges. This is especially after yesterday’s announcement of what Level 3 will mean for ECE services. Regardless of how you make sense of this, for most of us, this means that yet another change is on the horizon in short succession. The transition of going back to work outside of our safe little bubbles. For most of us into the real world that is not the same as it was when we left it.  This can seem daunting, terrifying and totally overwhelming. 

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The Challenges for Early Childhood Centres

For most professions, the idea of leaving the safety of our bubbles can be scary. But if you are an early childhood centre owner or manager this can seem like a mammoth task. 

Our profession was stretched for staffing before this virus and this has just added another layer of complexity to the mix. We all know that our role is not just about managing tasks.  It is not simply taking ourselves back to work and being responsible for ourselves or a couple of others. We are responsible for (or feel responsible for) the health and wellbeing of many other people – teachers, children and their families.   

However, with our current ratios and the nature of our work, social distancing is just not possible.  Children need cuddles and care, they play in each other’s space, they put things in their mouths and they are still learning the basics of good hygiene. You might be wondering, “How do we do this and keep everyone safe?”

How to cope with these changes

You may be kept at night worried about all the “what ifs?” and all the possible scenarios.

You might be feeling upset or angry with the government decisions around Alert Level 3.

You might be thinking, “I don’t know how to do this!” or  “I don’t have the resources or the tools to do this!” or even “I am going to stuff this up!”

It is in our nature to leap to the worst-case scenario, things are always bigger, more terrible and scarier in our heads.  Let me stop you right here,  you are already enough!

It is not the case of resources, but rather a case of resourcefulness and believing in yourself. You already know how to do this. You know how to access the resources that you might need.

None of us has done this before, as I write this, even I struggle with the idea of advising as I have not done this before either. However, we have tackled tough things in the past and made it through with lessons and wisdom gained and this will be no different. Will you do it perfectly? – No (none of us will). Will you make mistakes? – Yes (all of us will.) But you can do this! 

You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable or the most capable, you simply need to show up day after day with your heart engaged and your work boots on – you just have to care and to show that you care.

Try not to get caught up in the drama of it all. It is all too easy to try to consume every bit of information and social media advice in your struggle to make sense of this all. But try to focus on what you can realistically control – your mindset and attitude, your thoughts, your actions, your media consumption and your half of interactions.  

Your mind is an amazing tool, you control how you use it by what you feed it.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

During this transition you are going to need three key things: a mindset for success, an end goal(or a reason why) and a plan.  

The Mindset for Success:

Your mindset and attitude are key.  Your mindset as the leader sets the tone for the whole team and whether this transition will be a success.  You might have to work-out and strengthen some muscles that you have not used in a while such as flexibility, adaptability, creative thinking, resilience, curiosity, and self-compassion.

Some questions you might want to ask yourself here are:

Who do I want to be during this process and what are the actions of this person?

When the people in my team, the children and families look back at this experience, how would I have made them feel about themselves and about being part of this centre family? 

You have a unique opportunity here, especially if there was some conflict in the ranks before self-isolation, to bring everyone together through our collective traumatic experience – the commonality of what we are all going through. You have the opportunity to move people past the events of the past that caused a disconnect in your team and to inspire everyone towards working towards a common goal for the greater good of your learning community.  To create an “Us-ness” –  a deep-seated feeling of belonging for everyone who was part of this experience.

The End Goal

This is where you “zoom-out” to six months or a year from now and ask yourself “What we would like to achieve as a team?” 

You might look at ways of how you are going to inspire others to be part of this.  This is going to be a bit of a marathon and none of us can do this alone without the support of others. We need our people to do this with us and this is going to need for us to trust them to be part of the process and leaderful in their own way. 

As Anthony Semann said recently in an interview on Facebook,

“The leaders we need are already here.” 

This end goal is made meaningful with your mission or your “why”. 

Try frame your goal like this:  Our goal for our centre is……………….. so that……………..

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

The Plan

This is the what and how. Here are some of the things that should be on your plan:

Firstly, you should plan for managing yourself and your energy.  How well you take care of yourself will have a direct influence on your mindset and how you show up for others.

The number one thing on your plan should be:  

How am I going to preserve my energy so that I can last the distance? 

This should include a self-care plan and will be individual to you.  However, you should include things that bring you joy, feed your spirit and energise you.  Take stock of who you have in your support system and have someone outside of your centre who you can speak to when you are feeling stressed or having a hard day. You should also acknowledge and plan for barriers to your self-care as well as putting in place the boundaries that you will need to keep yourself and others emotionally healthy.

Once you have done this for yourself, the next step would be to facilitate this process for the teachers in your team.  Create a health and wellbeing team contract.  I know that many teaching teams are in regular contact with each other over this time so this might be something that you could map out together before you go back to work. 

How we take care of ourselves and each other is going to be vital to the transition process.  Tired, frazzled teachers will not be effective at being emotionally available for settling upset children or for supporting scared, worried families.  We will need to dig deep at times over the next few months and so keeping our own emotional cups full so that we have enough to give to others without depleting ourselves should be a priority.

Remember for this all to work, open and honest communication is the glue that keeps us all connected. You will need to keep things as safe and predictable as possible and this requires you to be fair and transparent about your communications with your team members and families. Be consistent with keeping your people informed with regular updates about what is happening, how people might be affected and how they can be part of the whole process. You also need to make it safe for people to express their feelings and have a plan for how you are going to support each other with this in an empowered way.

The next part of the plan is to work with your team to create an environment of safety for everyone in your centre.  You will need to review health and safety policies and adapt them to meet new health and safety procedures set in place by the MoE and the MoH. Discuss concerns with staff and parents and make them part of the consultation and problem-solving process.

If possible take a couple of “teacher only days” before the centre opens to regroup, reconnect with what is important in your setting and reset your environment. 

Create a plan for how you are going to welcome families and children back into your place and talk through the strategies that you as a team will use to help settle everyone back in. How you are going to ensure that everyone is kept physically and emotionally healthy.  Take it one day at a time.

Take stock of the rhythms and rituals of your place and how these will help you to create security and predictability for everyone in your place. 

Set realistic expectations, there are some things that you are going to have to let go of at this stage and that’s okay.  You are all human beings going through a human experience, caring for other humans and everyone is going through this in their own way. Have empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Trust each other and keep the best assumptions of each other in your heart.  Remember, everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have.

I know that it may be difficult at times but try not to let things become so dire that you forget to play, laugh and have fun. Talk about how well you are all doing and how proud you are to be part of this amazing team.

My last point is around gratitude.  One of the most significant protective factors of resilience and mental and emotional wellbeing is the ability to experience and express gratitude.  Look for the good things, the “golden” moments in your day and talk to each other about what went right.  Be a strength finder, catch each other doing good things and point these out, say thank you and be kind.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

If you would like to find out more information about how I can work with you to support the health and wellbeing of yourself and your team please follow the link HERE and I will be in touch soon with more info.

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Getting Clear With Why

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

This year I decided to make my physical health a priority. This has been the same goal that I have had for myself for the last 17 years. This is also the age of my oldest child. I put on a considerable amount of weight when I was pregnant with her that I haven’t been able to shift. So, in reality, I have spent 17 years trying to lose the “baby weight”.

Now I have had many cracks at this. I have been on many diets, joined gyms, read countless books… In fact, I could speak to you for hours on end debating the pros and cons of each weight-loss plan.

You can clearly see that my problem is not knowledge. I also don’t see motivation as my problem. If you have ever met me you would know that I am extremely self-motivated in many areas of my life.

But yet I remain “pleasantly plump”.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

“WHY” instead of “WHAT”

Maybe you could relate to my story above.

It could be that there is an area of your life that have been struggling with for quite some time.

That you too are an “expert” in the knowledge on how to make the change.

Perhaps you have asked yourself the same questions that I have of myself.

Maybe, you are a depleted mother, teacher or leader reading this. It is likely that you know WHAT you should be doing to make yourself less depleted. However, you could have like me (in my story above) made your self-maintenance a priority for a while but given up at the first hurdle…

Well, here is what I discovered that has made a HUGE difference in my life… It is not a question of “WHAT” or even “HOW” that is the issue.

It is more a series of questions beginning with “WHY”

Start with “WHY”

The first “WHY” question you need to get really clear with is:

WHY do I want to do this?

This is something that I had to really dig deep to find for myself. Sometimes the answer goes a lot deeper that you first thought.

For me, my obvious answer is :

I want to weigh less or to fit into smaller clothes.

But once I dug a bit deeper I discovered that I wanted to lose weight because:

  • I have spent so much time around family members and friends with avoidable weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, joint problems mobility issues and strokes. These illnesses really hamper them from doing certain things that they love as well as the overall enjoyment of life. I don’t want the same thing to happen to me.
  • I have a legacy that I would like to leave and I need to take good care of myself in order to achieve this.
  • I would like to set a good example for my children so that they don’t repeat my behaviours
  • I want the energy to enjoy my work and to be present and available for my children instead of being tired all the time.

Once you move past the obvious there will probably be several deeper reasons “WHY” for you too.

In order for you, to do this for yourself I invite you to complete this sentence:

I want to ……………. so that ……………..

Keep this somewhere handy so that you can refer back to this when things get a bit wobbly.

Any type of transformational change is challenging. When we focus on “WHY” we want to change instead of “WHAT” we want to achieve, this inspires something deeper inside of us and keeps us going when the going get tough.

WHY do I continue to do WHAT I do even though I know WHAT I know?

Now, this is a much bigger “WHY” question.

I eat cake because I like cake

or I can’t exercise because I don’t have time

or I’m too tired might be obvious reasons why a person might be overweight.

You might have some pretty obvious and reasonable reasons why you are struggling to make changes in your life too.

Remember, you are stronger than your excuses. When we value something we make time for it, when don’t make something a priority we make excuses.

However, it goes a bit deeper than this. In order to make real and long-lasting changes to our behaviours and habits, we need to examine our habits our behaviours as well as how we view ourselves but we also need to examine how we would like others to view us.

Examining ourselves through a new lens

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

We all have received programming in our “downloadable years” about who we are, what our culture values or the behaviours that we need to exhibit in order to “fit in” or to be successful in life. Who we are and what we value is shaped by the environment and the culture that we grew up in.

The human brain is designed to be moulded by the environment it encounters.

Nathan Wallis

Think back to your childhood. What might have been some of your programmings around taking time for yourself or taking care of yourself? It could be that you received repeated messaging about the importance of hard work and the perils of being lazy.

You might have taken that to mean that: if you are not working really hard all the time – giving less than 110% – or if you take a sick day or time to meet your mental health needs, this is laziness.

What are your labels?

We all have labels that we attach to ourselves (and strive for). These labels might be kind, friendly, a good person, generous, fun-loving, a good teacher, a good parent, a good leader. What these labels mean to us depends on our experiences with people, places and things as we were growing up.

Depending on our experiences we develop a description for some of these labels. Some of these descriptions are helpful and some of them damaging.

Let me illustrate this point to you in the following example:

You might have had a mother who made you feel loved and safe as a child. Every morning she got up at 5am to make the school lunches and breakfast for everybody in the family. She worked really hard (often doing 2 jobs) to make sure that you got to do the ballet lessons or the swimming lessons rarely taking time for herself. She might have done everything for everyone and not accepted anyone’s offer of help…

If this was your upbringing you might have developed the perception that “a good mother” does everything for everyone and never prioritises her own happiness or asks for help. This could then become your description of “a good mother”. Which could be why, when you want to take some time for yourself you might feel guilty because this goes against your description of what “a good mother” does.

A leadership context

Or perhaps as a beginning teacher you might have had an amazing leader who seemed to have it all together. She was smart, funny, she always knew just what to say. Your leader never took a day off, she was the first one at the centre in the morning and worked till well after closing time every day – she was there even when she was sick. The whole team loved her and she never set a foot wrong or made a mistake…

This leader might have really connected with you and inspired you along your leadership journey. You might aspire to be “a great leader” and hold your perception of this person up as the leadership ideal. Your experience with this person has shaped your definition of what it means to be “a great leader” as unrealistic as it may be.

However, this unrealistic ideal is what we strive for. When we do something that deviates from this ideal, fearful of our perceived loss of approval from others, we criticise ourselves, put ourselves down and perpetuate a pattern of negative self-talk. This causes us immense amounts of stress and stops us from doing the things that we know that we should be doing for ourselves.

In my blog Leading From the Heart – The Principles, Strands and Goals of Te Whāriki for Teachers, as well as my new book Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki  I outline ways that leaders can take steps to keep their light burning bright as well as creating an environment where the Wellbeing, Belonging, Contribution, Communication and Exploration of everyone in our centres can thrive.

Flipping the paradigm

Unfortunately, our culture perpetuates the “toughen up” attitude. That asking for help, making mistakes or not having all the answers is a sign of weakness.

Fighting against our programming is challenging. We have had many years of repeating these behaviours and there is security in them. Often these ways of being have become coping mechanisms that have kept us safe. Change can be scary and painful and fill us with self-doubt.

Awareness is the first step. Recognising your “whys” as well as your “why nots”. But also an awareness of the label descriptions that are harming you and the ability that you have to change these at any time. Remember, you are powerful – YOU are the master of your thoughts and YOU get to determine your own self-worth.

Try thinking of ways to flip your disempowering or limiting beliefs of yourself and create new more empowering statements that you can use to upgrade your programming with. I have included a limiting beliefs worksheet in the freebies section of my website for you to work through to determine some of this thinking for yourself.

Further tools can be found on my Making Yourself a Priority Facebook page or catch-up with me at one of my live events.

I would love to hear from you! What are some of the labels or descriptions that continuously come up for you? Reach out if you would like to chat.

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What Your Feelings Are Telling You?

Tanya Valentin

Have you ever suffered hurt or disappointment?

Do you ever get angry with yourself or others, or feel guilty?

Have you ever had an emotional response that has left you so triggered that it is all you can think of for days and days?

Chances are that we have all felt these emotions in our lives from time to time. Sometimes these emotions can be really intense. We can really feel upset by them or feel so stuck that we just can’t move past them.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me recently…

I was facilitating a workshop and it was all going well. In the break, someone came to me and said, “Excuse me but, there is a typo on one of your slides.”

Now I acknowledge that it took a lot of courage for this person to come up to me and tell me this. I know that she was doing this because she cared about me and my professional integrity. I personally value professional discourse and honest direct feedback.

I know that to you this might seem trivial… So then why was I feeling so triggered?

To be perfectly honest this emotional response hung around me for days after the workshop like a bad smell. So I decided to put pen to paper and to curiously and courageously unpack some of what was going on for me.

I learnt this process at a personal development course that I attended a few years ago. I have since added my own bits to it so that works for me.

Today, I would like to share this experience and the process that I used with you. My hope is that this might help you with some of the feelings or emotions that have taken up residence in your mind and heart.

How I got myself out of Stucksville

First of all, I found a time where I was able to be undisturbed and I able to focus on my thoughts. I then tried to, as accurately as possible, to write down all the facts about the situation. (Just the facts)

I then tried to think about what I am projecting – something from my past (in this case, the first-ever presentation I did in front of a group of people many years ago) or was it fear or something that I am worried about for the future?

In this instance, I realised that I was in my circle of concern rather than my circle of influence and that I needed to move back into where my power was.

Tanya Valentin

I then confronted myself and wrote down everything that I was saying about myself and this situation.

I usually take a “no holds barred” approach to this as I feel that once these words are on paper they are no longer taking up the room in my head. I then acknowledge them and draw a line under what I had written to signify that I am now moving past them. I reminded myself that nothing has meaning except the meaning that I give it.

What are my feelings telling me?

The next step is to pinpoint the emotions that I am feeling.

For me, it was anger and disappointment.

I have three choices with these emotions. I can either wallow in them(and make them mean something about me) try to bury them (we can easily fall into the habit of labelling our emotions as “bad” and to try to avoid feeling them) or … I can see them for what they are information.

“Information for what?” You might be asking. Information for what my next move should be.

(I have included a list of common emotions that we don’t like to experience and what they might be telling you below.)

When I examined what my emotions were telling me, I realised that I had not met my own expectations of myself. I had also violated my “rule” about excellence and professionalism.

I then needed to challenge my expectations – were they realistic? As well as my perceptions around my “rules”.

What did excellence and professionalism mean to me?

Life is all about perception and what we tell ourselves at any given moment of time. Once we realise that we control the narrative of our lives it opens a world of new possibilities. What you tell yourself everyday will either lift you up or tear you down – YOU decide.

Decision time

So instead of perpetuating the narrative of not being good enough, not professional enough, et cetera, et cetera (that we all can fall prey to).

I chose to change the narrative.

I decided to tell myself that I am human. That everyone makes a mistake from time to time – even professionals.

I chose to tell myself that I will take action to do better in the future. However, I would probably still make mistakes and that this is okay.

I decided to take the lessons from this experience. To forgive my younger self for the disastrous workshop from years ago (and for my mistake in the recent one.) And to let it go.

What are your emotions telling you?

Here is a list of common “unpleasant” emotions and the action that they are telling you to take:

Fear – I am unsafe/I need to prepare – get prepared, change your situation or change your perception about the situation.

Hurt – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.

Anger – one of your “rules” has been violated by yourself or by others – You can accept the situation, take steps to change it or move away from it.

Frustration – what you are doing isn’t working – change your behaviour or try something new.

Sadness or Disappointment – unmet expectations – adjust your perception or your expectations.

Guilt – you are out of alignment with your values – adjust your values or realign with your values.

All unpleasant feelings stem from some sense of loss – real or imagined.

What had I lost in this situation?

It turns out that my sense of loss was merely a projection, an idea that I was aspiring to be.

What about you?

How do you choose to deal with your feelings?

Have you ever thought about your emotions as feedback or information on an action that you had to take in your life?

Could use these often perceived “negative emotions ” as an agent for change or as a powerful way to empower you?

If you found these steps useful or helpful and you would like to chat with me about mentoring, wellbeing coaching or whole team PLD please get in touch.

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A Sense of Community

Tanya Valentin ECE

I recently read a story about a village where the women all washed clothes together at the river. When their fortunes changed and they all got washing machines the depression rates in the village went up drastically. No one could initially figure out why.

It wasn’t the technology or owning a washing machine that was at fault, but rather the sense of isolation that these women felt because they were no longer spending time together down by the river. Their sense of community was missing.

The Invisible Load

This really resonated with me, because at various times in my life and career I have felt this isolation too.

The first time was when I took a break from teaching to welcome my first child into the world. I went from being part of a busy centre to being a stay-at-home mum. I love being a mum, and I really wanted to love being a stay-at-home mum. However, I really missed the sense of community that my job had given me. Along with all the hormonal things that were going on, the absence of adult company really took its toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing.

The second instance that I can remember feeling this way, was when I decided to become a home-based educator for a brief stint when my children were preschoolers.

And…

When I was promoted from being a teacher to became a centre manager. Now this one came out of leftfield. I was part of a team, I was surrounded by people, some of whom I called friends. However, the feeling of loneliness and isolation I experienced was really profound.

I know now, that this is something that many leaders struggle with. It is often lonely at the top. Especially when you work in a small stand-alone centre and you don’t other centre managers to talk to.

This can become an invisible load of stress and emotional labour that only we can see and feel. This load can have a damaging impact on our feelings of belonging and wellbeing in our own centres. Which is ironic really because we feel responsible for building a culture of wellbeing and belonging for the people around us and yet we are often doing this from a place of lack and loneliness. We can feel the weighed down under the expectation of being the example worthy of imitation.

Tanya Valentin ECE

I’m Fine!

We’re “fine,” we tell ourselves even when in reality we’re depressed, we’re overwhelmed, we’re lonely, and we’re hurting. “We’re fine, we’re just too busy right now,” we say as days turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” It’s so easy to say even when it’s not true.

We’ve become so isolated and it’s hard to know how to get back. It’s so hard to know how to even begin to build the kind of relationships our hearts need which could mean the difference between thriving and surviving.

And, as a result, we shy away from the very thing we are wired to do – connect.

We live in a culture where we have our own “washing machines” and we don’t really depend on each other for much of anything if we’re being honest. We hide behind labels, titles and roles as a way to keep ourselves separate and safe;  in case we will need to have a difficult conversation with someone in the future. Frightened by the messiness of human relationships, we isolate ourselves behind our “management” armour and keep our “professional distance”, denying ourselves the joy of whole-hearted human connection. Consequently, this has a detrimental impact on ourselves and our centre cultures and children’s experiences are poorer because of it.

In Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness, she likens the damaging effects of being lonely on overall wellbeing and even the length of our life expectancy to be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I don’t say that to freak anyone out, but to let you know that the longing for connection is REAL.

I think we’ve treated friendship and our relationships like a luxury for far too long. Feeling part of a community – having a genuine sense of belonging isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Building a Sense of Community

We need it. Remember the leader is part of the team, and you set the tone for the culture and the relationships. How many of the kaiako in your team are carrying similar pain and are struggling with their own courage and vulnerability “stories” too?   For us to have true empathy, we must first be able to relate. By taking the lead and being brave and real, we make it okay for others to do the same thing.

If you are a teacher reading this, look out for each other but also check in on your leaders. They are people first and foremost and they might need a little help and support too (even though they might not ask for it.)

Remember that we are all part of a wider teaching community. It is our community and it is our responsiblity to strengthen and uplift it. We can get so caught up in the idea that we are in competition with each other. There might be people in this community that might not be your “tribe”. However, what would happen if you changed the “story” that we tell ourselves and took a chance?

It is very likely that there are many other teachers, leaders, owners and centre managers in your neighbourhood that are feeling a similar sense of isolation. Why not reach out and get to know them? Or reach out to an independent coach or mentor. There so many benefits to having a person outside of your centre for you to talk to or to gain a perspective outside of your own.

Be independent. Be proud of it. But be an independent person who realizes the value and the importance of opening the door to other good people.

You can do it alone, but you don’t have to. Islands are only fun for so long.

There is true magic when people come together and share ideas, share stories and struggles. You use your gifts, and I’ll use mine, and then we’ll invite the person over there who brings a completely different set of skills to the whariki we are building, and we’ll watch together as something miraculous unfolds.

If some of this is a challenge for you and you would like to chat with me about how I might be able to support you, please click the button below to book a 15-minute no-obligation chat over the phone or via video call.

Tanya Valentin Book a time to talk

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