“I Have the Power to Make Wise Choices”
5-year old Darien had already learned the mindfulness exercise of “I have the power to make wise choices” through the Inner Explorer program at his school. One day, frustrated by another student and angry, he picked up a box of toys to throw it at the other child. His teacher watched him as he scrunched up his face, managed to say out loud, “I have the power to make wise choices,” and put the box of toys back down on the floor.
I heard Darien’s story last week from my colleague Laurie Grossman, a staffer for Inner Explorer, an audio-guided mindfulness program incorporating practices in self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and responsible decision making. K-12 students in 77,600 classrooms across the country learn to handle difficult emotions like Darien’s stress and anger in ways that are not only appropriate, but deeply wise.
Laurie shares other examples of students using mindfulness to cope effectively with stress and get along better with other people in her book Master of Mindfulness: How to Be You Own Superhero in times of Stress, co-written with Mr. Musumeci’s 5th grade class.
I used mindfulness when I got hit in the face with a soccer ball. Instead of getting mad at the person who kicked the ball and leaving the game, I took a few deep breaths and realized I was scared but I was okay. I kept playing.
When I got mad at myself for changing a password, and my computer wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do so I couldn’t pay video games, I used mindfulness. This time I didn’t holler, kick stuff and blame my sister. Instead I called my cousin and asked him what to do.
I used mindfulness when my cousin left for Oklahoma and I was really sad. It helped me feel a little better. Instead of crying in my bed for days, I started thinking of how we could video chat and write letters to each other.
This “power to make wise choices” is awesome at 5 years of age, or 10 years of age; it’s so essential to getting along with people and coping effectively with stress at any age.
EXERCISE: Noticing and Naming to Create Options
Here’s an exercise from my book Bouncing Back for adults to practice using mindfulness to respond wise, choicefully, when we’ve felt ignored or dismissed by other people.
1. Imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk in the neighborhood where you live. You notice a friend walking toward you on the sidewalk on the other side of the somewhat busy street. You call out and wave “hello!” but there’s no response. Notice your own split-second reaction to that “no response” in your own body, a contraction, a drop in energy. Notice whatever thoughts might begin to cascade in response to your body’s reaction. “Hmm, that’s unusual. I’d better try again.” Or “Whew! He has a lot on his mind. I wonder if I should even bother him?” Notice any reactivity to those thoughts. “Gee, he seems a little stuck up today.” Or “Oh, no! What have I done wrong?” Notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you have noticed before. Feeling badly about yourself or wanting to reach out even more, for example.
2. Now imagine that your friend sees you and, on his own, calls out and waves “hello!” to you. Again, notice your own split-second reaction in your body to him connecting with you now, a smile, an uplift of energy. Bring awareness to any shifts in your body, notice any shifts in your thoughts. “He noticed me!” “I’m glad we weren’t disconnected after all.” As you reflect on your experience, notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you have also noticed before, perhaps relief or gratitude.
3. Take a moment to name the reactions and the patterns you discovered, with compassion for any reactions that may have been triggered by the noticing. With every moment of practice in noticing and naming, you are strengthening your mindfulness. And by pausing to do this, you are conditioning your brain to create choice points, giving yourself the chance to respond with more flexibility and choose a different response the next time.