George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and Emotional Curriculum: Self-Reflection

Door Three of the Seven Doors to Happiness

January 30, 2012
Photo credit: US Department of Education via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One of my favorite quotes is from Socrates: "Know thyself." If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is a game changer. Awareness of what gets you centered as well as off course is a huge advantage. Here are three ways to empower yourself and your students:

1) The Wild Mind

Have you ever felt like your thoughts and emotions have hijacked your peace of mind and left you feeling overwhelmed, out of control or off your game? We call the patterns of thinking that do not serve us well the "Wild Mind." Some examples are:

  • Mind Reading: You assume you know what someone else is thinking or feeling based on your own ideas, not theirs.
  • Critic Voice: You think you're never good enough, smart enough or capable enough.
  • Personalization: You think every event, conversation and action is a reflection of your worth.
  • Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be the truth. If you feel guilty, then you must have done something wrong.
  • Control Myth: You think control over your life is external or outside of you, or that it's internal, causing you to take responsibility for everyone else's life.
  • Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain or blame yourself for every problem.
  • Catastrophizing: You make even the smallest challenges into huge disasters. You don't trust your ability to handle adversity.

Which one is your go-to reaction? Imagine saying, "AHA! I see you. We're not going there today!" If you can identify your patterns and, even better, be mindful of them as they arise, then you have a choice: go along with that particular habit of thinking, or challenge it and respond in a different and more empowering way.

2) Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. To get back to a state of calm, focused breathing is a powerful tool. Here are two quick techniques that are effective and easy to implement.

Color Breathing

Sit quietly and feel your body on the chair or floor, your feet on the ground. Imagine two colors: one represents the color of HAPPINESS, calm and peace. Now choose a second color that represents problems, frustrations and STRESS.

Breathe in the color of calm and feel that color washing through all the cells in your body. Hold the breath briefly to really let the peaceful feeling flow through you. Then, breath out the color of stress and imagine all your stress moving downwards and leaving your body, through the soles of your feet, right down to the center of the earth, where that energy just dissolves away. Again, breathe in happiness and breathe out all stress. Repeat this several times. The more you practice, the easier it will be to access a greater sense of peace.

Let Go

Breathe in while silently saying the word "let," and breathe out while saying the word "go." With every exhale, feel all the stress leaving you. Repeat slowly.

By using these techniques, emotions can change from impulsive reactions to more relaxed responses. Anger doesn't need to develop into rage, fear doesn't need to lead to panic, and disappointment doesn't need to grow into hopelessness. These intentional practices calm the mind and the body. Consider starting a class with some mindful breathing. Studies have shown that better stress management helps kids learn.

The Four Rivers

A fast track to self-reflection can be found in what Angeles Arrien, cultural anthropologist and educator, calls the Four Rivers: Inspiration, Surprise, Challenge and Love. Ask your students or even colleagues:

  1. What inspired you today? Inspiration is a key to creativity and an antidote to being overwhelmed.
  2. What surprised you today? This is about flexibility and resilience in response to whatever comes your way.
  3. What challenged you today? Challenge opens the door to mastery and reaching beyond the knowable.
  4. What made you feel connected to others today? This amplifies and puts a focus on moments of connection. Caring is a balm for the soul.

Another benefit of the Four Rivers is that it induces an attitude of gratitude, which is one of the pillars of a happy and meaningful life.

These are just a few of the many tools for self-reflection. How has self-reflection served you? What tools have you found to be effective for yourself or your students?

Next blog will be Door Four, exploring Self-Mastery.

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Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Curriculum Planning
  • Mindfulness
  • Student Wellness

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