The past few years have been a whirlwind of roller coaster–like change. And yet, one thing remains tediously constant: if you check the news right now, you’re going to see a headline that contains the words “Uncertainty Looms.” And it’s going to mess with your head. Why? Because uncertainty keeps our brains running on a hamster wheel of trying to prepare for the future without actually having enough information to sensibly do so.
Judson Brewer, a habit-change researcher, describes anxiety as a form of addiction. According to Brewer, every addictive behavior becomes a habit because it is, at least initially, reinforced with a reward.
What’s the reward for anxiety, you might ask?
The illusion that we are preparing ourselves.
When we spiral into anxious thoughts, look up pictures of skin conditions on the internet, or imagine the worst possible response to the email we just sent, we feel like we’re keeping ourselves from being blindsided. The problem is that the future is unknowable. We can never gather enough information to make a usable mental model. Instead, we spend a lot of energy imagining an array of worst-case scenarios, or trying to gather new information by refreshing apps on our phone that we just checked five minutes ago.
This takes a lot out of us. It’s also not a great fit for important day-to-day tasks like convincing reluctant kids to practice their multiplication tables. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a specific plan in place for when you catch yourself in one of these loops. It can be something as simple as pausing to take a few deep breaths, or repeating a phrase in your head like first things first, or one step at a time.
This is also a chance to do the same thing for your students that you need to do for yourself: it’s not always possible to project certainty and effortless confidence when you’re feeling the churn of an anxious mind. But it is possible to recognize anxious thought patterns and create a strategy for putting them in their place.
Haters gonna hate. That’s what haters do. Uncertainty is gonna loom. That’s what uncertainty does.
The question is, what are you going to do?
Have a teaching-related topic you’re trying to untangle? A one-on-one session of Office Hours might be able to help.
See Me After Class Office Hours are confidential Zoom or phone sessions tailored to any teaching-related topic you want to talk about. To book, simply choose one of the options below and click the “Book Me” button to select an available time from the calendar. If you experience any technical difficulties, you can also try this direct link to the booking page.