My wife once pulled a human tooth from her pocket.
For a split-second, I thought she was a serial killer who finally let her evidence slip (I watch too much t.v., I know). Then I remembered that: a.) she was a 2nd grade teacher and b.) she often helps students pull their loose teeth.
While she felt guilty about not getting the tooth to the kid at the end of the day, I felt intrigued by how much stuff teachers bring home. We not only bring home physical things — paper clips, pencils, notes, and human teeth — but we bring home emotions.
Sometimes we are emotional hoarders.
We hold onto everything, especially the negative parts of our day — venting, ruminating, worrying about everything, no matter how insignificant. We search for imperfections, hoard them in our minds, then dump them onto anyone and everyone we see.
We need to be goodness curators instead.
We need to choose only the best memories to bring home with us. We need to be selective about what we pick up, what we carry, what we make the signature pieces of our lives. Sure, we can notice the things that aren’t great — the bad art. But we don’t need to bring the crap home, filling our houses and our relationships with negativity.
The experiences we curate (or hoard) become our memories and memories affect our well being. Memories affect our past, present, and future happiness.
For example, answer these questions: Are you having a good year? Are you looking forward to tomorrow? Now, consider on what you based your answer.
In the present, what we choose to focus on affects our mood and becomes a part of our memory bank. Hoarding unpleasant memories is like taking our garbage and throwing it into our living rooms. Not only does our environment wreak, but as we go about our day, we stomp the trash into the carpet and kick it under the furniture.
Researchers find that our well-being is comprised of our most recent 3 months of memories — our immediate past. Hoarding unpleasant memories makes it easier for the trash to stay with us, becoming our long-term memories as we re-tell our terrors, vent about our students, and point out everything wrong in our lives. And, these memories influence whether we look to our future days and years with hope and joy or despair and angst.
We make better lives when we curate better memories.
If you are sick of hoarding the negative, here are two specific things you can do:
1. Take on the 24-Hour No Complaining Challenge
Go 24 hours without voicing a single complaint. No complaint baiting. No holding negativity for 24 hours just to spew it in a fit of rage. If you slip up, start the clock over. See how long it takes to go one day without hoarding negativity. Consider this a “life audit” for your happiness.
2. Start a Goodness Jar
Get a large jar. Once a day, write down one good thing that happened and put it in the jar. Make it an end-of-the-day ritual. Even if your day was rough search deeply for something good that happened or something for which you are grateful (trust me, it’s there).
Not only does the jar create a visual of good experiences, but it provides a stockpile of reminders for when you are in a rough patch. Tag team with others — students, colleagues, partners — who can contribute to the jar.
Will these tips make you a goodness curator in one day? No, but they will help you see how much negativity might be consuming your awareness and cluttering your life.
Becoming a goodness curator is not easy. We have decades of emotion-hoarding habits. And, we have a brain build around a negativity bias. But, among the many things that have helped me continue to love teaching (and living), being a goodness curator is among the most important.
Our worlds are filled with bad things. And, they are filled with good things. Give yourself permission to let go of the crap. Choose to bring home good memories, good experiences, good art.
For more that fifty research-based, teacher-tested strategies for reducing burnout and boosting well-being, check out my new book The Burnout Cure: Learning to Love Teaching Again. Available at ASCD.org