One of the most exhilarating and unifying moments of the 20th century was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. During several hot July days in 1969, people all over the world were glued to a television or radio anxiously following the astronauts’ progress to outer space and awaiting Commander Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the moon. Willing to put aside global tensions for a bit, we became citizens of the world as we watched Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, gleeful and childlike, bouncing and driving along the dusty and hilly and mysterious lunar surface.
Apollo 11 celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and, as we return to school life, it is fitting to remember this astounding achievement, born of extraordinary vision and executed through hard work. You undoubtedly had memorable, edifying and perhaps exhilarating experiences this summer. And like the moonwalkers who had to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, you must now re-enter school’s atmosphere from the bliss of your summer months. For the Apollo astronauts, re-entering the earth’s atmosphere was bumpy and hot and required a complete physical and mental reset including three weeks of quarantine upon finally reaching terra firma. It is clear that daily training and good habits prepared them well for their mission. Luckily, re-entering school’s atmosphere is less grueling and taxing (although you may argue the opposite) but it requires a definite readjustment of mind and body. Taking a page from the astronauts’ book, we learn that healthy routines, patience, balance, calm, an open perspective and a little fun will be your friends and will help you succeed as you go through your academic year. So, we would like to offer a few familiar and perhaps unfamiliar tips that will make your re-entry to school smooth and keep your mind and body strong as you prepare for your next mission.
1. Sleep well. Relax well.
The school year offers paces and rhythms that are radically different from the summer months and requires a more regular set of sleep patterns. One cannot overestimate the benefits of 8 hours of sleep every night, so try your hardest to attain that goal this year. And find moments during the day when you can forget about your work and simply relax and perhaps meditate. These brain breaks are surprisingly refreshing and energizing.
2. Share your table and appreciate your food.
Sharing your meals with someone will help you take time to appreciate your food. Think about what you are eating and make wise choices that will help to sustain you during the day. While you are eating, take your mind off work; savor the flavor of the pizza; appreciate the crunchiness of the apple and talk to the person sharing the table with you.
3. Slow down your pace.
Every day, choose one activity that you usually rush through and slow it down. Take the time to be aware of each phase of it. This could be as simple as consciously choosing the right tools with which you do your classwork or as complex as figuring out how to get to your theater rehearsal on time after a long day of classes. Take time to acknowledge and perhaps even enjoy each step of the activity.
4. Plan ahead.
This will help you slow down your pace. Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as a “planner”; a person who thinks ahead. But, like the astronauts, you can train yourself to adopt new habits. Take a few minutes daily to outline either on paper or in your head what you will need in order to tackle your daily activities. Have your books, clothes, sports equipment ready to go in advance. This takes practice but it works and saves time and stress in the end.
5. Break down complex tasks.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the perceived complexity of a task; instead, break it down into doable parts and doable time frames. Your teachers can help you with this. And each time you finish one stage of the project, savor your accomplishment before moving onto the next phase.
6. Seek support from your family, friends and teachers.
Like the Apollo 11 astronauts who relied on thousands of people for the success of their mission, you too should set up and rely upon your own support systems. Ask your teacher’s opinion on your idea for a term paper; get your coach’s advice on how to improve your technique; explore your thoughts with a close friend. Cultivate your relationships and know that each time you seek support, you strengthen ties.
7. Build in some time every day to do something you love or to do absolutely nothing.
Reserve some time each day for something you love to do that is not related to school or your extracurriculars. This could be watching a favorite TV show or hanging out with your friends or just basking in the pleasure of doing absolutely nothing. Allow your mind to clear and don’t feel guilty about taking this time. It is not wasted and will ultimately help reset your spirit.
8. Stay away from the electronic grade book.
If you have been a constant grade checker in the past, back off a bit this year. Checking your grade too often turns into a useless habit and serves only to increase anxiety. Remember that a grade is only a number with no nuance; it reflects a stagnant state, not your growth. Pace your grade-book checking; set up a specific time each week or two to look but not every day.
9. Instead of checking the grade book, loop back to what you have learned.
Every time you learn something new in school, in the art studio or elsewhere, appreciate it by taking a few minutes to reflect upon how you have grown from this knowledge. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with all the information that we are absorbing that we forget to understand how all that information is benefitting us on a deeper level. Keep your graded assignments and compare how they look throughout the year; you will be so pleased to see your progress. Thinking about what you have learned will give you great satisfaction, is a good reality check and may even make you smile which, in and of itself, is good for you.
Although your re-entry to school will not require you to jettison space modules or splash down via parachute into the Pacific Ocean like the astronauts did, it is just as important to recognize and prepare for this crucial and unique phase of your life.Make the most of it. As you reset your mind and body for a new school year, remember to eat and relax well, pace yourself, remain calm, have fun and give yourself a “ticker-tape parade” to honor all your successes, big and small.