Acceptance and commitment

Acceptance and commitment

Remind yourself of why teaching matters to you

09-10-2023 · Column

Many academics not only make new year’s resolutions on December 31st, but also on August 31st. You might have promised yourself to say ‘no’ more often, to block time for answering email, or to limit the time you spend on admin. If Forbes’ statistics on new year’s resolutions apply to academic resolutions as well, then only 11-19 per cent of you are still going strong six weeks into the academic year. Research on why resolutions fail shows that people find it difficult to maintaining change efforts when one’s environment stays the same.

Over the last twenty months, I got some first-hand experience in persisting in the face of things that cannot be changed while working on my recovery from Covid. During my revalidation, two concepts helped me to go on through exhaustion and uncertainty: acceptance, and commitment. Acceptance means allowing yourself to feel negative emotions about things you cannot change, without getting hung up on asking why (me) or how (long). Commitment means focusing on your values and goals within the limits of what you can control. Making small but consistent steps towards these meaningful goals offers efficacy and purpose.

So, how can acceptance and commitment help to make more effective academic new year’s resolutions? Step 1: allow yourself to feel upset by elements of the academic world you cannot control and that challenge you, like unrealistic norm hours and publication expectations. But then, take the next step: remind yourself of why teaching matters to you, what drives your passion for research, and why it matters to you to work in academia.

Once you know your why's, take step 3: Formulate goals that align with your why's within the bounds of your control. Whatever you do may seem small, like no longer sending emails outside of work hours, keeping evenings work-free, asking why before accepting a new responsibility. But imagine what talking about our values, questioning our patterns, and setting meaningful goals could do, for ourselves, but especially for each other? Especially as a leader, you can do more than most to create a safe and healthy work environment by acting on your values.

Therese Grohnert, assistant professor at the School of Business and Economics