Adult learners. Juggling study and life.

Many of us these days are jugglers. We juggle our work, with family commitments that could involve elderly parents, children, or both, with socialising, with domestic duties, and if we’re very organised, we squeeze in some “me” time. Layer a whole lot of challenging complexity on top if you’re a single parent, or if you’re trying to further your education with formal studies.

I facilitated a session this month with a group of adult students who were the “jugglers” mentioned above. At the mention of “me” time, there was a lot of laughter. “You’ve got to be joking! I can’t find ten minutes for myself anymore!” Life was generally overwhelming most of the time. And occasionally it was so overwhelming that something had to give, and often it was their studies.

So how can an adult learner, particularly a juggler, reconnect with their studies and get back on track without unhealthy stress? There are several different ways depending on the circumstances but here’s one that can provide perspective. Often, when we’re in the midst of competing priorities and we’re feeling overwhelmed, we lose perspective so stepping back and looking at the bigger picture can be helpful.

So here’s the first step to gain perspective and get back on track with studies. Define your purpose. When we decide to further our education, we have a reason. Often it’s to get a job, or get a better job. For many adult learners, it’s interesting to dig a bit deeper into that question. What’s my purpose for taking on this study? Often purpose is something that is even bigger than yourself. Your purpose might be to provide a better future for your family, or to give back to the community somehow. So when the big goal of “getting a qualification” becomes a little shaky due to an unexpected setback, your purpose might be the perspective that’s needed to bring the goal back on track.

The second step involves micro-goals. You’ve connected again with your purpose and it underpins that big goal of getting that qualification. Great. But what are you going to do tomorrow? And the next day? And the one after that? It just needs to be a small win. One that gives you some forward momentum such as reading one chapter of required reading, or making some time to discuss your micro-goals with your trainer/lecturer, or spending half an hour planning how you’ll approach your assignment. And then just start. Don’t think about these micro-goals for too long. Just start the first one and finish it. Ticking off some small wins gives you confidence.

The third step is to become a cheerleader. Be your very own cheerleader. Congratulate yourself for ticking off that first micro-goal and enjoy that feeling of accomplishment. Destructive self-talk where you berate yourself for getting off track in the first place is pointless, unhelpful, and has no place in anyone’s head. The best tactic is to complete steps 1 and 2 and then say “well done me”. You would say that to a good friend wouldn’t you? Then, why not say it to yourself?

Everyone has setbacks. It’s not the setback that’s the issue. It’s your thinking about the setback that will change your path.

[This article is for information only and is not a substitute for medical treatment or psychological care if you, or anyone you know, is suffering from unhealthy stress or anxiety. Under those circumstances, please consult a medical doctor or specialist services.]