What are your tools?

Recently, my partner asked me this question, “Well, what are your tools?” My caring and thoughtful partner asked me this in a moment where I was trying desperately to self-manage. I had said, “I just need to use my tools and strategies to get through this!” I was having a “wave of emotions” kind of day where everything hit hard. I used all my “tools and strategies” to know that he had done nothing wrong, I was just simply triggered and emotional. I reassured him and thanked him for his support.

What I’ve learned is that things from our past shape us into who we are. They are not bad or good, but they affect our present selves. It’s our job in our own personal journey to be aware of how our past creeps in to the present and to decide what to do with that.

But his question really got me thinking… Well, what are my tools? I should reflect and journal about those because those seem to be a pretty important part of my everyday life. I want to capture that in writing.

Last year, I was in the classroom, and truthfully, my students were one of my tools. They could brighten any day for me. In a way, helping them self-manage helped me to self-manage. That might only make sense to the educators who are reading this… but I was lucky. We did mindfulness daily. We journaled daily. We reflected. We cleaned (for those of who find cleaning soothing, yes, I feel you). We followed routines. Everyday we were tapping into our tools. Still, just like adults, no child is the same. What works for me, may not work for you. Some students liked reading and others liked drawing or building things. What’s important is that students found what worked for them. That’s where the beauty lives.

This year, I didn’t fully step away from education, as I support educators everyday, but my work isn’t all SEL (social-emotional learning) focused. I have had to do a lot of personal SEL work on myself. I no longer rely so heavily on students to “brighten” my day or ensure that I am taking the necessary proactive steps to have a great day. I am honoring that this year, away from the classroom, I have worked hard to improve my relationship with myself. I’ve learned that I can brighten my own day. There is no destination in this work; my relationship with myself is an ever-changing and forever growth journey.

So, I encourage you to come along with me as I continue to share that journey. As I reflect back on that question, “What are your tools?” I realized that I have developed many tools through therapy and my own research and healing. No day is the same and not every tool in the toolbox will always work. Those tools aren’t “fixes” either because no child or adult needs to be “fixed.” However, what we do need is that support. We need that strength to know that feelings will pass, they will move through us, and we have all the power to be resilient and make shifts in how we react and move forward.

Here are my current favorite tools. I’ve split them into three categories: cognitive, emotional, and physical. Some tools help my mind, others serve my heart, and finally, some help my body. Yet, the mind, heart, and body are all connected! So no tool is better than the other.

Cognitive

  • Reframing: To me, this tool is about recognizing the “shitty first draft” (SFD), which was coined by Anne Lamott and is often used by Brene Brown. These are those made-up stories that first come into our heads — it often stems from our fears and insecurities. They’re drafts for a reason. You can learn more about this concept here.

Emotional

  • Journaling: This is often a way I can get my SFD out fast. It does take time though. I wouldn’t say this is the first tool I reach for, but I’ve found that it doesn’t serve me to carry around a notebook with me everywhere and sometimes my hand gets too tired from ranting on paper (Yes, now I know what my students meant when they said that their hands hurt from writing)! So, I will journal in my phone or even use speech-to-text on my phone. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the thoughts out. It often feels better to get them down in real time. I love journaling in the morning or at night too as a form of reflection, but I wouldn’t say that I do this daily.
  • Practicing mindfulness: If you follow my page, you know that mindfulwithmorgan was born from the way mindfulness changed my life. The biggest thing that mindfulness has given me is space: space to breathe, process, and be. I credit mindfulness as the tool that also saved my classroom from needing any kind of intense behavior plans. My students knew that everyday we would pause for mindfulness and that mindfulness was our superpower. It can be anyone’s superpower in a matter of minutes because all the tools are right there inside of you. My favorite mindfulness tools are using breathing exercises (such as in for four, hold for hour, and out for four or in for four and out for eight), practicing Ziva meditation, or pausing to notice my five senses. Mindfulness is one of my favorite tools because it doesn’t take a lot of time, but I find that it helps me cultivate presence, which is powerful, and still not something I find easy. It takes practice.
  • Gratitude: You can find a whole post I wrote about this one! Gratitude is another one of those “superpowers.” In my toughest moments, gratitude also brings me back to the present moment. I can stop and look around and realize all the [little] things that I have that make life so wonderful and worthwhile. I find that when I mix mindful breathing and gratitude with my hand on my heart, I feel an overwhelming sense of calm and safety. It’s like I’m surrendering to all that is in that moment.

Physical

  • Dancing: I rediscovered dance when I started working from home. I would take a break from my computer and do the dishes and blast some tunes. I am by no means a “good dancer,” but when I feel the music and move, it’s like I’m letting go. I can feel the emotions just moving through me. If you haven’t tried dancing breaks, I strongly suggest them! If you have a standing desk, even better! Dance has also helped me reconnect with myself and my body; it has strengthened my relationship with myself. When I dance, I can feel the love I am giving to myself.
  • Walking: Oh, the power of a walk! This is one of my most sought out tools because it does wonders for me. I heard somewhere that movement heals because it soothes. Think about why we rock babies. That really got me walking. When I feel a strong feeling, I walk, and it doesn’t mean the feeling will go away, but it will feel a little bit lighter. I think that there is power in stepping out into nature too. It helps me connect to my senses, another one of my favorite tools.
Walking in sunshine just causes me to smile.
  • Running: You can read more about my relationship to running here. I often go to walking first because running has always felt like something I need to prepare for. I need to get on the right gear and be in the right mindset. I’m used to competing and training. But as the years have passed since being competitive in the sport, I’ve changed my relationship with running to be less about the results and more about the feeling. Now, I have reached for running more often. I never regret a run afterwards. It doesn’t have to be long to be effective and worth it.
  • Doing yoga/pilates: This is my form of mindful movement. It’s slow movement, but it’s powerful. Similar to running, I have found that I don’t need to go to a sixty minute yoga class to feel the results. Yoga and pilates move me in a way that is healing for my soul. If you are looking for guidance, Melissa Wood Health is my go to resource. She’s amazing.

I am not a therapist. I am not licensed to give medical advice, but I am sharing what has felt powerful for me in the years of work I have done on myself and with children in my classroom. I have been blessed with so many wonderful supporters on my healing journey, such as my therapist, my partner, my friends, my students, and so many more. I think surrounding yourself with people who support your growth is the best tool of all.

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Morgan Atkins

Morgan Atkins

instructional coach: student-centered learning | social-emotional learning | mindfulness | wellness | animal lover | contact me: mindful.w.morgan@gmail.com