A Message for Education Entrepreneurs: Reclaim Mindfulness During COVID-19
Ever have one of those days where you missed your stop on the train, or hopped on the wrong bus and quickly jumped off only to realize it was the right one? Maybe, like me, you’ve accidentally set your alarm two hours early but didn’t realize until you got to the airport and couldn’t find the gate for your flight because it hadn’t even been listed yet.
Those are days I’m happy to be rid of as we shelter in place. But two years ago they started happening to me with alarming regularity. I had to take a step back and check myself. What was really going on?
At the time, I was in the process of closing Move This World’s Series A round of funding, which allowed MTW to scale our virtual tools and reach more students across the country. I had picked up a few bad habits. I began sleeping with my phone in the bedroom — something I never did before. I worked late into the night, and started snapping at my husband.
I am the Founder and CEO of a company that focuses on social and emotional wellness, and yet mine had completely disintegrated. I forgot how to pause every day. I was easily distracted. The more I got up at the wrong times of day, the more I got on the wrong trains. Shouldn’t raising my Series A demand the utmost concentration to drive the highest level of performance?
When I realized how far I had slipped from my best practices and rituals, I dug deep into my toolkit and found what I needed to be present and rediscover mindfulness. And what I’ve found is that many of those strategies are helping me get through the challenges of today.
Here’s what I’ve been practicing:
Avoid multitasking. It’s so easy to switch between apps, to communicate with lots of people at once, to fill up a calendar, to consume the latest news and entertainment. That’s a lot for the brain to process and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I started focusing on one task at a time, getting things done and moving on. Whether you’re extremely busy or find extra time on your hands, the feeling of accomplishment can help you keep moving forward.
Leverage the Power of Pause. I took five minute time-outs to sit in total silence and still my mind every few hours, meditated every night, and rededicated myself to the Artist Way Morning Pages. Going all-in was the only way to try and rebalance how much work had taken over my life. These days, I am focused on the times before and after work to clear my mind from all the screen time.
Keep your phone out of your bedroom! That’s it. That’s the paragraph.
Acknowledge where you are. It’s important to recognize that times of extreme stress and pressure cause our rituals and support systems to crack. Instead of kicking myself at the train station, I had to forgive myself and move forward. There are only so many things we can control, which feels infinitely more true today. Sometimes, the best thing to do is focus on your breath.
Rest. Whether you’re working on the front lines or furloughed at home, genuine rest can be hard to come by. Most of us are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue. Regular sleeping habits are important, and so are the times around them. Try to reserve a few minutes before bed and after waking up to take care of yourself. A small self-care ritual like a cup of tea in the evening or some morning stretches when you wake up can help set the tone for a good night and a good morning.
Surviving a global pandemic and confronting the difficult realities of systemic racism in our communities, world, and ourselves is a more heightened level of stress than fundraising for a company. Instead of trains and flights, I’m on Zoom calls all day and caring for my small children, all while remaining mostly isolated from my larger community. As someone who loves the gym, takes weekly dance classes, and has a no-screen policy with my toddler, my sources of release are out the window, and some of my core beliefs about how we build relationships are being challenged.
Being mindful reminds me that the work we are doing now in isolation can help mitigate the huge toll coronavirus is playing on our society, and hopefully force reflection and learning from the long history of trauma that racism has had on Black and Brown communities. It drives me to improve our product so that more families can access our tools, cultivate empathy for others, and practice emotional well-being at home. I am focused on what we can do to help our neighbors and our community, forgive all the screens, and dedicate time before and after work to pause and stop my brain from scrolling.
And yes, the phone is back out of the bedroom since fundraising for our Series A — although some days it inches closer. Then I remember not to multitask and to breathe.
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Sara Potler LaHayne (@sara_lahayne) is Founder and CEO of Move This World, a social-emotional learning program supporting students.
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