Let it be?

It was only when I started my holiday that I realized how much I really needed it.

“Not cool, dad”

Waiting patiently for a ride on the bumper cars with the kids, I noticed a group of young teenagers jumping the queue ahead of us and then being allowed to get away with it by the clearly intimidated young supervisors. It was clear that many ahead of us were equally irked, but no one said anything. So, despite not being able to speak much of the local language, I couldn’t help but raise a protest. I was super irritated and I told the group that they were being unkind by jumping ahead of everyone else who had been waiting their turn.

My kids, clearly embarrassed that I was making an unnecessary scene, tried to pull me back from the edge: ”let it go, dad”.

Let it go? Of course I should have done, but the notion of letting this go just didn’t sit well with me. I had already gone too far…got too emotional…and too irrational to question why or how I found myself arguing the toss with some poor-mannered children. I don’t even like bumper cars!

What did I do? I invited them to reflect upon their behaviour and asked them to join the back of the queue (or some words to that effect…!). I’m not sure what I was expecting really. The group looked at each other in disbelief for about half a second and then burst out laughing. Then they nonchalantly strutted through to enjoy the bumper cars without showing any semblance of remorse at being called out.

We know that wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes. On this day, it came from the youngest of my kids: “Let it be, dad”. I couldn’t let it go earlier, but at that moment I found that perhaps I could just let it be. The red mist lifted.

I was struck by the semantics between “Let it go” and “Let it be”. They sound so similar, but they obviously affected me in different ways (that even the oppressive heat wave couldn’t explain).

As is so often the way, a short search on the internet showed that I was far from the first to notice the difference between telling yourself to “let it go” or “let it be”.

A cool experiment

Can the tiny difference between a single word – “go” versus “be” – produce a differential calming effect on the mind? Apparently so…

In this social experiment, 500 participants were prompted to “think back to a difficult time in the last two years when you felt really stressed.” Immediately after, they were asked about their emotional baseline. They were then told to “sit with the emotion for three minutes, reflecting on how you felt then and how it makes you feel now.”  A third wasn’t given any other instructions (the control condition). Another third were told to “Let it go” and to repeat the mantra for three minutes as they reflected back and sat with their emotions (the Elsa condition). The final third had the same mantra instructions but was told to repeat “Let it be” instead (the McCartney condition). Finally, once the three minutes elapsed, all the participants answered the same emotional questions from before.

The results? The control group (given no mantra to repeat) observed a 4% reduction in stress and anxiety. However, those repeating the ‘Let it go’ mantra observed a more dramatic 24% drop. But the clear winner was “Let it be,” with an incredible 45% drop from before to after.

So what accounts for the differences observed? When told to “let it be,” participants said that they felt that this was relatively easy to do because it involved no effort. In letting things be, they just…let it be. Nothing needs to be done to it or to yourself. It’s a passive mantra. Conversely, when you let things go, there’s something that you have to do: there’s some ‘doing’ involved. It’s an active mantra. It seems, therefore, that this is one of those examples that show how humans are hardwired to follow the path of least resistance. Perhaps that’s all there is to it!

New superpowers?

My new mantra worked wonders throughout the rest of the holidays:

  • Seagull stealing my fish and chips – let it be
  • Credit card currency conversion charges – let it be
  • Kids spending too much time on the Switch – let it be

It was like I had discovered a new superpower. I was now impervious to stress.

However, I do wonder how this mantra might stand up to some of the timeless challenges of school leadership as I return to work this week:

  • A member of staff doesn’t turn up for a supervision duty – let it be?
  • A colleague makes an inappropriate comment to another colleague – let it be?
  • A safeguarding issue comes to my attention – let it be?

Yeah, it’s not quite that easy when we are back in the workplace. There are some things that we simply can not let go, nor let be, when safeguarding or workplace culture is at stake. And what about other things that some schools choose to get very excited about – where rules are broken:

  • A student not wearing the right shoes – let it be?
  • A student who has not done their homework on time – let it be?
  • A member of staff who is a bit scruffy – let it be?

A final thought

Perhaps as we move further into an era where stress, anxiety, and mental health are things that we both need and want to act on, we might do well to identify what we might choose to let be in our schools.

It seems to me that there are some battles that need winning, and some that are just not that important. Let’s start with the purpose of school. I’ll go first – I don’t think the colour of one’s socks is worth stressing over. I’m going to let that be.

Actually, I feel better already…this is going to be the best year ever!

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