Autodidactic Ambitions

Breaking Point: Overcoming Doubt & Obstacles

A couple weeks ago, I wrote all about the power of focus when it comes to reaching goals. Since I felt like I was focusing on too many goals at once, I needed to learn how to narrow down my focus so as to maximize my return.

But one thing I quickly realized (as I’m sure most people do once they start really going for something) is that there are ALWAYS obstacles that come up: financial trouble, criticism, not seeing results quickly enough, self-doubt…the list could go on and on.

And, if you seem to be just about at breaking point (much like I was at parent-teacher conferences), then hopefully some of these thoughts can apply to you.

But let me preface with what actually went on the other night.

Tuesday was my first round of parent-teacher conferences as a “real” teacher. I set up shop in the farthest corner of the gym (hoping people would forget about me way in the back and thus not be tempted to come over and yell at me), and I tried to prepare myself mentally for the next four and a half hours.

A brief summary: I met with many, MANY parents (yes, I was THAT teacher–the one with the eternally long line), and I had to explain over and over and over again what each test meant, what the problem was (if there was one), and how it could be fixed. I would say that easily 90% of these conferences were pleasant encounters, with some parents even going so far as to show appreciation for the work I’m putting in.

But, because I’m human, what did I go home thinking about last night?

That 10% that didn’t go so hot.

Like that mother who was fighting me for almost 10 minutes straight on a department policy that I very much agree with, and who was so frustrated by the end, she just looked at her son and said, “Well, next time just fail the first test. It will work out more in your favor that way.”

Yes, it would seem that our human nature has programmed us to focus on the storm clouds.

I went home so upset Tuesday night from the stress of such a long day that I vowed I had to change something before the next night of parent-teacher conferences so that I wouldn’t go crazy. You want to know the only two things I changed (which made me MUCH happier the next night)?

#1: I focused on the 90% of positive encounters I had instead of focusing all my energy on the negative ones. I gave the more frazzled parents the benefit of the doubt instead of condemning them for what seemed to me slightly crazy behaviors, and I tried to bring my attention back to the compliments I’d received rather than just the criticism.

As always, General Conference came at the perfect time, with many of the messages seeming to be directed right at me and my current situation in life, like this one from President Monson:

“[I]t is sometimes difficult to view the problems . . .around us and not become discouraged. I have found that, rather than dwelling on the negative, if we will take a step back and consider the blessings in our lives, including seemingly small, sometimes overlooked blessings, we can find greater happiness.”

So the first step to take when you’re feeling discouraged: address the positive–that way you can have the strength of mind and the positive will to continue to go onward and look for solutions.

#2: Since there were legitimate problems that came up with the way I was doing my instruction, I did need to address them. So what did I decide to do? Basically exactly what I did for my students who were struggling–I identified the positives first and then the problem, discussed ways I could address the problem (with the parents, with the other Language Arts teachers, and with the principal), and I came up with a plan to implement new strategies into my teaching. Basically, I had to tell myself what I am alwayis telling my students: when you’re doing something worthwhile, it’s okay not to get it perfect the first time or the second time or even the eighth or hundredth time–the important thing is that you keep persisting at it until you’ve mastered it.

Obviously, the ability to persist and problem-solve takes a lot of ingenuity, not to mention patience. A couple things to note:

*Motivational author Napoleon Hill said, “The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.” Notice that he did not say that failure comes from not having success on your first try–rather, he said that failure comes when you give up making up new strategies (in other words, when you give up problem-solving). Not losing that weight you vowed you would have shed by now? Change your strategy for losing it. Not reaching your financial goals to get out of debt? Change your strategy of making/spending your money.

*Often, we ourselves are unable to think of all the possibilities for new strategies because we are too embedded in the situation. That is why it’s so important to ask outside of ourselves to come up with the most comprehensive list of possible solutions.

So, when you’re feeling discouraged (as we all will at some point anytime we’re trying to achieve something worthwhile), try these two simple strategies:

1- Make a list of the positives and what has been going well, and
2- Come up with new solutions for the problems you face (don’t be afraid to ask around for help), and then implement the new strategies with persistence and patience until you’ve found one that works.

Like everyone, I struggle with doubt and disappointment at times, especially when it comes to becoming an effective teacher. This week I was particularly frustrated because I had more than double the number of students in remediation as the other two Language Arts teachers did, and a part of me just wanted to throw my hands up in despair and give up on either myself or the students.

Instead, I made myself do these exact two steps, and after reviewing the positives and talking to one of the other teachers about what she was doing, I felt much more equipped to re-face the problem, and I’m happy to report that so far, my new strategies seem to be working well (not perfectly, but better).

What problems have you faced lately while going for your goals? How did you overcome them? Or what new solutions are you thinking of trying?

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