REBOOT: How to Restart When You Can’t Stop

February 6, 2015 / by Sarah Brown Wessling

A few weeks ago, I realized I had been slogging through too many days in a row. Maybe it was the let down of finishing one semester and starting the next one. Perhaps it was the post-holiday sugar detox I was sorely in need of. Or maybe those weeks of sleeping too little and pushing too hard had finally drawn their line in the sand. Whatever the reason, I found myself realizing I had been holding my breath for too long.

Even though I'd just come back from winter break, I still heard myself saying, "I need a vacation!" It wasn't the kind of exasperated quip I sometimes spew at the end of a long week. No. I was serious. I needed that feeling of taking in clean air, of seeing something beautiful, of breathing deeply. It was clear: I needed to reboot myself right out of this funk. Not one to stay funk-ified for long, I decided to figure out exactly how one restarts when you just can't stop.

Given all of the constraints staring me down (time, resources, commitments), there was a lot I didn't have. Conveniently, we teachers are used to those kinds of limitations. So I put on my thinking cap and designed a way to reset my purpose.

Here's my 5-DAY REBOOT — a little bit of a fresh start to help kick the chaos and restore some balance.


NOTE: This is the kind of reboot you can do while still in the midst of all your regular personal and work commitments. I chose to start on a Wednesday and end on a Sunday because I had a better shot of carving out a little extra time on the weekend for the end of the five days. To ensure success, choose the days that work best for you.

DAY 1: Get Ready, in the Kindest Way

We're usually most depleted when we forget, or are unable, to be kind to ourselves. Today is about taking a bit of that back. Remember, we're busy people and don't have time for sweeping changes. Rather, think about the accumulation of small moments that we can give back to ourselves. I did a smattering of these on my first day:

  • Put the junk in the freezer and get some fresh produce for the refrigerator.
  • Make a playlist of the best music you know.
  • Prioritize what's ahead with a few lists. Starting with a couple items that can be done quickly always motivates me to keep going. Put something at the top of the list that will make someone else happy. Again, this is small, doable, meaningful: a quick message, a surprise compliment, a random act of kindness.
  • Find that book you've stashed away, that magazine you've been meaning to catch up on, that box of photos you haven't gone through in a long time. (Hint: You may use it in the next several days.)
  • Do a little planning. Remind yourself when your yoga class meets, what time your favorite coffee shop opens, or the best time to carve out an extra 30 minutes for yourself.

Work as hard as you possibly can in the time you have. Snowball that list. Then put it away. Be present in what you're doing. Sleep. (Seriously, you have to sleep.)

DAY 2: Cleanse

When we're not used to replenishing ourselves, we have to create an impetus to do so. Today is about creating that reason. Our lives can get so noisy, it's difficult to sort out the important from the insistent. Be still. Be quiet. Get hungry. Get a little uncomfortable. Here's my take on this kind of day:

  • Eat less, but eat well.
  • Get rid of the noise. No mindless TV or social media feeds. Cut out the chocolate and comfort foods. Forego the coffee run, the evening glass of wine, the heavy dinner. In short, take away anything you use to anesthetize you from uncomfortable stillness.
  • Organize something small and doable. I chose one drawer. Clearing a physical space reminded me to continue clearing my mental and emotional space.
  • Purge something. That cubby in your car where you stuff all the on-the-go food wrappers, or that pile of papers at the edge of your desk.
  • Remember to find your quiet, even when it feels awkward to just sit.

Work as hard as you possibly can in the time you have. Then put it away. Be present in whatever you're doing. Sleep.

DAY 3: Fill Up… On the Good Stuff

If yesterday left you feeling a little uncomfortable, then you've earned today. Give yourself the best by replacing the mindless with the meaningful. At each turn, try to make deliberate decisions about how you feed yourself.

  • Set out to have a meaningful conversation. Maybe it's with a colleague, or a friend, or a family member. And remember, many times starting a conversation with a "how" (How are you? How did that lesson go?) instead of a "what" (What time does that meeting start? What are you up to?), changes the tenor of what follows.
  • Carve out some time to exercise a passion. Even if it's just 30 minutes, make those 30 minutes count by reminding yourself what fuels you.
  • Keep the noise turned down. Instead of social media, I found a fantastic podcast from On Being, read some thoughtful entries from Brain Pickings, and reconnected with my favorite Humans of New York. If you can manage it, you may even find a couple hours of volunteering is exactly what you need.
  • Laugh. Be present enough to laugh. Do it heartily.
  • Go for a little bit of the best (I'm always partial to chocolate and tea) instead of a lot of the mediocre. Grab that book, magazine, or box of photos from Day 1.

Work as hard as you possibly can in the time you have. Then put it away. Be present in whatever you're doing. Sleep.

DAY 4: Create

If we fill ourselves up enough, we'll need to share it with others. Use that little bit of overflow you generated yesterday and throw it back into the universe today. The idea is to not let tasks fill up your day; instead, it's to make room for the meaningful we pass onto others.

  • I carved out time to work on an altered book project that I had barely started a month ago and wanted to really devote some energy to. I also did a little bit of writing and tried a new recipe for dinner.
  • Even if you don't see yourself as creative, it doesn't mean you can't create. Maybe it's making those all-time favorite cookies, or working on that cool lesson idea instead of responding to emails or importing grades. Maybe it's creating an experience with a walk in your favorite park, or pulling out your camera and trying to capture the ordinary in new ways.

If you're working today, work as hard as you possibly can in the time you have. Then put it away. Be present in whatever you're doing. Sleep.

DAY 5: Presence is Purpose

Today, I asked myself the question: How can I live more like this, and keep this mindset going? Then I went for a long run (which is when I do some of my best thinking), and made a few goals for the daily, the short term, and the long term. Here's what I came up with:

  • Be committed to sleeping better. Every day. It's a priority.
  • Find some quiet each day. Even if it's just 10 minutes. Steal that time.
  • Replace the mindless with the meaningful more often.
  • Be a writer this year.
  • Be reflective and make your plan.

I hope by the end of the reboot you're feeling de-funked. I know I did. These days have been subtle and deliberate reminders of the importance of being present.

As educators, we spend so much time taking care of others, it's tough to remember to take care of ourselves. I'm reminded of a favorite analogy I think about every time I get on an airplane: the admonition that you must put on your own air mask before you can help anyone else with theirs. If it's been too long since you took a good, deep breath, I hope you find some time during this month of love to love yourself enough to reboot!

Topics: Professional Learning, Motivation, Teacher Wellness

Sarah Brown Wessling

Written by Sarah Brown Wessling

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

Read Next


Sign up for the Teaching Channel newsletter to get the latest articles, videos, and resources delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning.