Mastery as Motivation for Resilience

Mastery as Motivation for Resilience

Coincidentally last week, I discovered research that psychologist Dr. Ann Masten had done years ago on cultivating a sense of mastery as a significant motivator in developing resilience in children on the same day that Heather Daly sent me an email grateful for the practicality of some of the resources in Resilience for her Courageous Hearts program to help integrate social and emotional learning into secondary schools in Los Angeles.

A quick trip to the Courageous Hearts website warmed my heart and affirmed what Dr. Ann Masten has been teaching more decades: When children and teens are motivated to master skills, they learn, they grow, they thrive.

They are many educational programs now incorporating exercises like the one below to help students develop the mastery that motivates their resilience. (They help adults, too.)

One thing led to another last week and on my favorite “good news” website, karuna-virus.org I found this story of 12 year-olds in a public school in Sydney, Australia creating a podcast to help 5year-olds learn how to manage stress and improve their resilience in this time of pandemic.

I’m sure if I kept looking, I would keep finding. When “each one teaches one” students develop mastery, and even if they say the word out loud or not, they are developing resilience.

Mastery of Social Emotional Intelligence Leads to Resilience

Exercise: Mindful Empathy – Attuning to and Conveying Basic Emotions

You strengthen the capacity of the prefrontal cortex to attune to and recognize the flavors of the emotions you experience through practice, like doing reps at the gym. This exercise involves communicating with a partner without using words to strengthen the capacities of your prefrontal cortex to perceive and interpret nonverbal expressions. Practicing with five of the most basic emotions — anger, fear, sadness, joy, and disgust — builds your capacities for attunement, which can then be refined later to read more nuanced emotions such as disappointment, jealousy, guilt, and curiosity.

1. Recruit a partner to participate in this exercise with you.

2. Decide the order in which you will evoke these five emotions — anger, fear, sadness, joy, and disgust — without telling your partner. Recalling previous experiences of each emotion is a quick and easy way to experience the emotion again internally.

3. Tune in to your own experience of the first emotion you’ve chosen to work with, and then let your body wordlessly display the chosen emotion for ten seconds. Maintain eye contact with your partner. You can use gestures, facial expressions, and sounds — just not words. You may find yourself exaggerating your expressions at first; that’s okay. Your partner notes which emotion he is reading from your expression but doesn’t disclose it yet. Notice what happens inside of you — self-attunement — as you communicate your own feelings to someone else. Notice whether the felt sense of the emotion increases, decreases, or changes into something else.

4. Without discussion yet, turn your attention inward again. Release the emotion you’ve been expressing with a few gentle, deep breaths into your heart center. Evoke the next emotion on your list and display it to your partner for ten seconds. Again, your partner notes the emotion, but the two of you don’t discuss anything.

5. Still without any discussion, refocus your attention inward, evoke the next emotion on your list, and display the feeling to your partner. Repeat the process for each emotion.

6. Before discussing anything yet, switch roles, so that your partner now displays five emotions in sequence. As you observe them, notice what signals you pay attention to — facial expressions, body language, the tone or rhythm of sounds — to distinguish one emotion from another. And notice what happens inside you as you perceive your partner’s feelings.

7. When your partner has finished, you each share your best guesses at the emotions the other person was trying to convey, and explain how you each identified each emotion.

If all the guesses were accurate, congratulations to both of you! If there were discrepancies, take the opportunity to discuss what you perceived in each other’s expression of emotion that led you to a different interpretation. This exercise strengthens the prefrontal cortex’s capacities for expressing and attuning to emotions, which are the foundation of building more competence in communicating what you need, developing the skills you need to get those needs met, and empathizing with others as they express their own needs.

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