Nothing & Surprises

This morning I listened to Tara Martin’s most recent episode on her podcast, “Something about Nothing.” Inspired by the children’s book, “All about Nothing” by Elizabeth Rusch and Elizabeth Goss, Tara talks about the benefit of having “nothing” in our schedule in our work and lives.

I was struck by so many of the beautiful examples she offered. Particularly, for those of always on-the-go, simple and easy ways to ensure we have nothing space and how that can inspire more creative, brilliance in our work. Additionally, she explained how having too much nothing space can be draining and bring down our energy levels and motivation , so there is value in finding the sweet spot.

As I’ve mentioned in my blog posts, I’ve been working on an upcoming book. I anticipate an August publication. Something I write about in the book is the importance of ensuring we don’t consume too much content at one time. I love to read, and I love to learn, but sometimes my love of reading and learning leads me to consume at such a rapid and massive rate, my brain doesn’t have much space for sense making. It is vital that we make the mental space for little moments of reflection and critical thinking and sense-making. Otherwise, what’s the point of what we consume? Poof, it’s gone, and it’s onto the next.

As a teacher, I struggled with consuming books about effective instructional practices and then trying too many of those practices at one time. It’s hard to do things well when we are trying too many things at once without space to think about whether our strategies are having the desired impact. What struck me about this episode, however, was the flip side too. When I’m not reading or listening to insightful sources both inside and outside of our profession, my work feels less inspired. The brain is designed to react to stimulus. Stimulus inspires thinking, application, and new ideas, so the absence of stimulus can lead to work that feels a bit flat and mundane. The key is understanding ourselves enough as learners to know how much content consumption works for us personally where we have that nice balance of new or revisited content and reflection.

This is often a miss in the planning of our professional days. Well-intentioned, these days are packed with what we believe are meaningful learning experiences. However, often missing, is time for educators to process, think, plan, and apply. Exhausted from that packed day, it would be easy for someone to leave with a head full of ideas on the drive home that simply fad away as their other adult responsibilities take over their schedule for the remainder of the evening. Giving educators a chance to talk to each other and/or think independently for 20 minutes or so, is a great way to honor the human need for reflection.

Here is a small example of how a little nothing space can help us make connections between our learning and generate inspired work. I had a few minutes of nothing space for the remainder of my commute to work. Upon finishing that podcast episode, I was struck by a comment Tara shared about enjoying shows where she has to wait the full week for the next episode to be released. That delayed gratification and excitement and speculation over what will happen the next week was a little thrill for her.

This got me thinking about how there are few things that feel like a true surprise anymore. Technology has made our lives easier in so many ways, allowed us to be connected with each other and with information like never before, and yet an unintended side effect of all of the great connection, learning, and efficiency is a removal of some joyful anticipations.

Perhaps this is why some shows wait a week to produce another episode. We are empowered to make those kinds of choices as creators, leaders, and educators. This is why selection Sunday is so exciting. Even the teams who will be playing in the tournament have to wait to find out exactly what seed they will be, what team they will battle, what city they will play in. It’s such an exciting moment to be shared by all, and it’s a conscious choice. They could simply send every team an email, but they choose to make it an experience.

Which leads me to some connections I was making during that nothing space at the end of my drive. Chip and Dan Heath talk about making moments matter in their book, The Power of Moments. When Tara talked about being excited for the surprise of the next episode, I was reminded of this book and my understanding that the brain benefits more from unexpected moments of delight than the expected. As they explain the book, people rarely talk about moments of whelm. They talk about moments that EXCEEDED their expectations. Moments that were overwhelmingly and surprisingly delightful.

In my most recent presentations, I’ve been talking about how yes routines are critical to our success inside and outside of the classroom. Yes, AND it’s important to find ways to make one day feel a little bit different than the rest. If the class warm up and closing feel very similar every day, that’s going to fall a bit flat for you and your students. But if the classroom set-up looks different one day, and the warm up is a short trivia game with your content, that might pump some new energy in the room. This is often not sustainable for the every day. This is for that element of surprise and delight! Maybe plan it on a day when you need their brains to be extra energized for new learning because happiness has the power to turn on all of the learning centers of the brain. Unexpected happiness gives us an additional boost that being whelmed cannot.

How might you ensure you have just the right amount of nothing space in your day?

How might you incorporate a little surprise and delight into a lesson or meeting?

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