A Bit of Advice with Long-Term Effects

Elaine O’Reilly of Academic Coaching and the SMART Space shares some wisdom about showing grace to yourself and your students in stressful times.

I learned a valuable lesson years ago after my mother died. I was seeing a hospice nurse to deal with the aftermath of my mom’s death, which included grieving and a lot of paperwork. I was the executor of her estate, which meant, despite her good organizational skills, there was a mountain of papers on my dining room table that needed my attention.

When I met with the hospice nurse to begin to process my grief and the enormous responsibility I faced as the executor, I explained how overwhelmed I felt. She listened, and the valuable thing she asked me to do was the following. She said, “Every night when you look at the pile of paper work and feel overwhelmed, instead of writing down what you didn’t get to, write down what you did accomplish that day. Even if it is one thing.” Her recommendation wasn’t earth-shattering, yet when I began to do this, I felt more capable of handling the amount of work ahead. I continued to do this every night and it helped immensely with my self-efficacy. Her advice has come in handy years later, as I continue to have many things on my to-do list!

Instead of writing down what you didn’t get to, write down what you did accomplish that day. Even if it is one thing.

As an Academic Coach and Instructor, I have encouraged students to employ this method. Rather than beating themselves up for what they didn’t do, I suggest they write down at least one thing they completed each day. We are so expert at saying negative and unhelpful things about ourselves and to ourselves, that writing down what we did accomplish may seem counterintuitive. What is intuitive is our need and ability to congratulate ourselves on what we did accomplish! Sadly, most of us haven’t learned how to do this yet because we live in a culture that doesn’t always support self-congratulation.

So, while it’s important to acknowledge what you did accomplish on a daily (or weekly, monthly, or whatever) basis, what is more important is the psychological accumulation of seeing how we silently speak to ourselves, and counteracting that behavior with writing out what we did do! When doing this consistently, we can accumulate the power and knowledge that we are truly capable and have the ability to get things done, while simultaneously building a positive mindset towards ourselves. This little act can be helpful for time management skill-building, getting through tasks we may not feel motivated to conquer, and most importantly, learning to celebrate the accomplishments we make; no matter how small.

More Self-Care and Wellness
“Winter Blues”: Managing the Freeze of Inertia
“Winter Blues”: Managing Energy and Concentration
“Bear-ing” the Winter Blues at Champlain