We are now in our third month of home learning.  Prime Minister Abe has extended the state of emergency in Japan for another month.  In the US, some places are in their sixth week of sheltering in place.  Children have not been able to see their friends, neighbors have not been able to come around for coffee, and some families have not been able to hug their relatives who live outside of their home.  Many people are coming to the point where they are feeling they have had enough.  

Someone I love very much recently said, “When is this all going to end?”; a sentiment we can probably all relate to right now.  I read an article today that predicted three possible scenarios for COVID-19, and the reality is, no one really knows when or how this will end.  So let’s think about that word- “enough”.

Yes, we are all feeling frustrated right now- among many other things.  It is important to acknowledge and validate that.  A technique often used in counseling is called “reframing”.  Reframing occurs when persistent negative thoughts are challenged and then eventually changed.  One way to reframe the idea of “I have had enough”, is to shift it to, “I have enough”.  This challenges us to remember that we are safe because we have access to food and clean water, reliable information, and quality health care.  We can acknowledge and validate our feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and fear without dwelling in them or allowing them to define us.

Last week, a friend said to me that he just didn’t feel like he was doing enough when it came to his job.  This is a sentiment I have heard echoed many times since this crisis started.  We are all doing enough, and in most cases, we are doing more than enough.  I think the reason it might feel like we’re not doing enough is because before this, we were doing too much.  

The average day in the life of a 12th grader at Seisen used to look something like this: 

-Wake up at 6:00 to get ready for school

– Arrive at school by 8:00

– Use first “break” as an opportunity to follow up with a teacher

– Use lunch as an opportunity to follow up with another teacher, or attend a meeting, or attend a practice

– End the school day at 3:45, then rush to practice, a meeting, or after school club

– If there is no game, concert, or event, leave school around 5pm or 5:30 and commute home

– Have dinner around 7pm then start 3-4 hours of homework and college applications

– If there is a game, concert, or event, sometimes not getting home until 9pm, 10pm, or even 11pm, and then starting homework!

Aren’t you exhausted just thinking about this???

When I first moved to Germany, I had a bit of a culture shock because work-life balance is such a cultural value.  Most banks, doctor’s offices, and other services do not have evening or weekend hours.  Grocery stores and retail shops are all closed on Sundays.  As a single person who was working full time, I often found this way of life challenging.  Eventually, I came to really appreciate the emphasis that was placed on spending time with family and loved ones, and looking after one’s health.  When I then moved to Tokyo, I experienced culture shock all over again because Japan, much like in America, places a high value on hard work and “success”, though I believe the way these are defined can be challenged.  

Many students have written to me telling me they are struggling to find motivation.  I completely understand where they are coming from.  I, too, have found it difficult.  I keep saying I’m going to start running, and before I know it, I’m back on the couch watching more reality tv.  At this time, I do not think any of us can adequately grasp the toll this pandemic has taken on our physical and mental health- even if we haven’t been exposed to the virus.

For most people, motivation involves some kind of reward.  As a teacher and a counselor, a big part of my motivation is the reward of seeing and interacting with my students and colleagues.  Though we are connecting through Zoom and other online platforms, it really isn’t the same.  For many students, a big part of their motivation to attend school is the opportunity to be with their friends and teachers.  

If you are struggling with motivation, and/or are feeling like you aren’t “doing enough”, may I suggest this: Set three goals for yourself each day- one related to school or work, one related to a household chore, and one related to self-care.  If you do nothing else besides accomplish these three goals, then you have done enough.  

Accomplishing small goals helps us with motivation because it changes our thought patterns from “I can’t” to “I can because I did”.  This is why I am suggesting to start with three goals.  If you are too ambitious and set too many goals, then don’t accomplish them, you will get stuck back in that negative thinking pattern of “I can’t”.  My three daily goals are these: Make my bed, facilitate my online lessons, and drink water.  Some days, I do much more, and others it’s just the three.  And that is enough.

Many of my friends work full-time as parents in addition to working full-time at a job outside of the home.  They now find themselves trying to juggle the additional job of teaching their young child or children.  In the best of times, many of these parents do not think they are doing enough, and now, are just completely overwhelmed.  Unfortunately, sometimes this idea of not doing enough turns into “I” am not enough.  

Thanks to social media, we now have the ability to see what everyone else is doing and judge ourselves accordingly.  We talk a lot about this with teenagers, but the reality is, I know many adults who are also affected by what they see on social media.  “That mom built an obstacle course in her house for her kids and my kids are still in their pajamas at 5pm.” or “That teacher put on a full costume to make learning online about Shakespeare more fun for her students, and I haven’t brushed my teeth yet”, or “My friend has decided to learn Italian while she’s home and I still haven’t handed in my lab report that was due last month”.  When we make these comparisons, the negative self-talk follows, “I’m not a good mom”, “I’m not a good teacher”, “I’m not a good student”, and then these eventually snowball into questioning our self-worth, value, and lovability. 

During my time at Fordham University, I had a spiritual director who used to always say, “Compare despair”.  When we compare ourselves to others, we’re not making an accurate comparison because we’re only going off the information we have access to.  We have no idea what really goes on behind closed doors, nor should we.  We have no idea the resources and support to which some have access, and most of all, we only see what others want us to see.  Everyone is doing the best they can right now, and that looks incredibly different from person to person.  Now more than ever, let us remember to be kind and assume positive intentions, and these three facts:

  1. You have enough
  2. You’re doing enough
  3. You ARE enough

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