Mindfulness

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The New York Times Well section just published an all-encompassing article titled Mindfulness for Children, with links and information for each specific age-group. A quick read or scroll-through and you are hit by all the benefits of mindfulness, and what a useful tool it is for "decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness." I feel like I've been a bucket for the past few years, collecting bits and pieces about mindfulness/meditation, even ordered some books at some point, but after having read this article my bucket finally spilled over, and I feel like it's time to take action. 

However, for me it's never as easy as it sounds, because it order to begin anything, I need to fully understand it first. This can get annoying - or just take me years to get to the point of acting on something.

So while mindfulness is considered a "simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner," it takes a little time to truly understand what it is.

But first off, the reason I'd like to instill it in our family's life is because of two things:

1. I want my daughters to be the drivers of their own lives and make conscious decisions based on being self-aware (as opposed to just reacting to things on auto-pilot.) 

2. Learn to deal with big emotions in a more productive/self-reflective way.

According to Happify, meditation and mindfulness are the "next big public health revolution, and join the pantheons of no brainers like brushing teeth, eating well, and taking meds prescribed by your doctors." They also have the best definition I've found so far:

"mindfulness is the ability to know what's happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it."

"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly... You are breaking a lifetime's habit of walking around in a fog of projection and rumination, and you are actually focusing on what's happening right now."

According to Mind the Bump, "the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness or auto-pilot, kind of like taking the back-seat and letting your thoughts and emotions drive your decisions and actions. Mindfulness works because it allows us to step out of our auto-pilot mode and get into the driver seat. So instead of reacting, thinking in circles or repeating old habits, we are able to respond to the events in life with greater empowerment and choice."

"Mindfulness is able to bring this calm and clear perspectives to all of our moments. It helps to create space between us and our thoughts. It allows us to notice our thoughts, emotions and our surroundings, and choose what we attach ourselves to, and what we let pass by, like clouds on the sky floating by. Over time, this can allow us to be less stressed, less reactive, and more focused and connected." 

The last thing I had to clear up that I didn't understand, is how does listening to your breathing and clearing your head, actually make you more self-aware, since usually the goal is to try and think of absolutely nothing? This took me a little while, but I finally found the answer in a new book I just ordered called Mindful Games: 

"When children and teenagers focus on an experience in the present moment (the feeling of breathing, perhaps, or the sounds in a room), their minds tend to quiet, and a space opens up in their heads that allows them to see what's going on more clearly. As they become aware of what's happening in their minds and bodies, kids learn to use sense impressions (I'm feeling restless, for instance) as cues to stop and reflect before speaking or acting. Through this process they become less reactive and more conscious of what's going on within and around them. Rather than focusing on the result, they focus on responding to the situation with wisdom and compassion."

I'm finally sold. Now what?

The bad news from the NYTimes article is that “learning mindfulness isn’t like piano lessons, where you can have someone else teach it to your children, you have to learn it yourself.”

I'll take that on as a challenge, as I could definitely apply all those benefits to my own life.

 

So here is our intro into Mindfulness...

1. What is a thought?

Ask Courageous Girls first to explain, and then show video by Cosmic Kids Zen Den. (I started it at 1:45)

Excerpts from video:

"It's good to know what thoughts are, so we can sort them out when our heads feel really busy.

They are like bubbles, they pop up in your brain, and sometimes there can be quite a few all at once. They don't hang around for long. The funny thing about thoughts is that they join up to a feeling - some thoughts make us happy, some make us worry. 

Remember, you can always choose which thoughts to believe and realize which ones aren't helping you. And the secret to helping ourselves when our brains get too busy is super easy - it's breathing!"

2. How Mindfulness empowers us

Ask Courageous Girls if anyone knows what mindfulness is. How is it related to your breathing? 

Then show this video by Happify. 

"Mindfulness allows us to see our thoughts and feelings as they are beginning... It's very powerful to know what we are feeling as we are feeling it or know what we are thinking, as we are thinking it. With mindfulness we can choose what will strengthen, and bring into action, and we will choose to gently let go of. We don't have to be at the mercy of old habits, or old ways of thinking or old ways of being. We are empowered. It just takes practice." 

3. Kids explain mindfulness

Watch this video. Then ask - what does PBS stand for? (Pause, Breathe and Smile.) When do kids you use this strategy? Why do you think it works?

4. Why mindfulness is a superpower

Another awesome video explanation by Happify. (By the way, watch them all first and see which ones work for you.)

"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly."

5. Just breathe...

Last video to show and discuss. In what situations you think you can implement mindfulness in your own life? Can you think of some triggers at school or at home, or with your friends or family?  

6. Create a Glitter Jar activity

Wonderful activity from Mindful, where the glitter jar represents the mind settling. It's a great way for children to visualize their busy minds, and what happens when they take the time to breathe, and let their thoughts settle.

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A big step forward...

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While the ultimate dream for the Courageous Girls Club is for it to reach Courageous moms and their daughters around the world, my first goal, however, has always been to establish it for my own daughters. 

This fall, I read the book The Mother-Daughter Project, and wow. It gave me the final push to reach out and actually start our own Courageous Girls Club with other moms and their daughters (besides just meeting as a family.) This book is wonderful and describes a similar idea where they formed a mother-daughter group in 1997, and stayed together through monthly meetings for 10 years, until the girls graduated from high school. The book chronicles how they tackled the different issues that are relevant to the different ages (from age 8-18), and how they dealt with some of the challenges over the adolescent years.  

For me, what was truly amazing about reading it, is that it works

And not only does it work, the sooner you can establish such a community with other moms and daughters, the better. Not only for your daughter, but also for yourself.

So I mustered up some courage, and sent out an e-mail to a few moms I thought would be fun to start this journey with. I sent it out to 4 moms, and 2 were game! Then 1 mom invited another mom, so altogether we are now 4! 

(By the way, the book recommends having between 4-6 moms/daughters in the group + starting between the ages of 7-10, well before puberty hits. My eldest is 10, so I couldn't dilly-dally any longer.)

So on a beautiful fall Sunday night we met at a restaurant (which was founded by a hard-working immigrant girl from Albania who grew it into this amazing restaurant called Sava's in Ann Arbor, MI), and in short, we were off! 

(The reason I'm writing this all down here is that so you can get a feel for how to start your own CGC in case you are interested, and learn from my own experiences of what worked, and what didn't.)

 

So I had an agenda... 

1. Welcome and short introductions of ourselves (name, kids, and who and how we know each other in the group.) 

2. I talk about why I want to start a Courageous Girls Club  - for me this was a passionate and vulnerable talk in 3 long points. I put it all in there.

3. Overview of what the Courageous Girls Club is, and what we would do

4. Idea of safe space - the hope is that what we share between us is considered a gift and is well-respected, and obviously not gossiped around. 

5. Take a time-travel probably to the 80s, where we meet our younger selves, who is around our daughter's age between 7-10. (This wonderful activity is from The Mother-Daughter Project.)

Ask of yourself some of these questions: What was I like back then? What did I love to do? When did I feel the best? Whom did I love to be with? 

(In our meeting, the first mom who started sharing realized that she can't really discuss herself as an 8 year-old without giving us context about her amazing life story as an immigrant, so from then on we all shared about the different contexts that shaped us into that 8 year-old child - so it ended up being a combo of parents, where we lived, how we lived, family dynamics, siblings, etc.)  

6. Remembering your mother when you were young...  

Some questions to ask: What are some of my favorite memories with my mother? What did I love to do with her? How was she with me back then? What did I need from her as a child? What did I miss that I feel like I didn't get, or get enough of?

The point of this activity is to reconnect with our younger selves which is our daughter's age, and try and feel what our moms were good at giving us that we can replicate, and think about what other things they may have missed that we feel like we needed, which we can then implement in our own parenting.

7. How was gender viewed at your household, what did you learn from your parents about how girls/women behave, etc.?

8.  What is your goal or reasons for wanting to be in the Courageous Girls Club? And/or what would you like to get out of it? 

 

Questions for Logistics:

-Do we want/need more members for our club? Who are we looking for? Do you know of anyone?

-How often should we meet (every other week or once a month)? Where should we meet? When should we meet? When should our first meeting be?

-Should we meet as mom’s once a month? If so, when and where?

 

TAKE-AWAYS

Our first meeting together absolutely blew me away. I don't know what it was, but for me the true beauty in it were three things: 

1. We were all vulnerable with the things we shared; 

2. There was real depth to the conversations as we discussed our lives and experiences being a daughter, wife, mom, professional; 

3. Everything was relevant and interesting as we are all on the same path to try and raise courageous girls.  

These were not surface conversations. We are all in this together. We are all trying to do our best. And it’s not just about parenting. In order to best raise courageous girls, we ourselves have to be role-models, we ourselves have to be self-aware and figure ourselves out, plus learn about the different issues we want our daughters to know and to become.

So our next step is meeting just as moms again in 2 weeks, same time, same place, but armed with a great overview book in hand: 9 Ways We Are Screwing Up Our Girls And How We Can Stop - A guide to helping girls reach their highest potential. I think it's a perfect book with which to launch our mission.

When I got home after our 4 hour-long meeting, I told my husband that it felt like CGC is really just as much for moms as it is for our daughters, which was a new concept for me. I think we all realized that we have a lot to share with one another, learn from each other, and so many issues to cover and educate ourselves on. So meeting once a month with a new book in hand to discuss issues, ideas and experiences felt natural I think for all of us.  

What a gift. 

Who am I?

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If there is one thing I'd like for Courageous Girls to get from being in the club is the concept that they are the authors of their own life. Nora Ephron so wonderfully said:

"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

Precisely. If our Courageous Girls could get just this one concept down, we have succeeded. Why? Because this means that they take full ownership of the way they direct their lives, and how they respond to challenges.

Let's say a Courageous Girl is called stupid at the playground. Not so hard to imagine, right? And let's just say that she gets sad, starts crying, and even believes it. This is just one of the ways that this story can unfold. There are obviously other ways as well, and that choice is in her hands.

How do you want this story to be written?

And even more importantly,

How do you want this story to end? 

Instead of crying or being passive, she could instead reply: "You're wrong... It's pronounced, AWESOME!!" Which is probably the best reply I've read to this common predicament in Laura Clydesdale's wonderful blog.   

We've changed the CGC tagline recently to try and encourage Courageous Girls to view themselves as the heroine in the book that they write with their choices and actions each and every day.

"Power Up your Heroine's Journey" is our new tagline, and by "power up" we mean giving her knowledge, skills, and access to the different options from which she can choose to write her own story.   

So at today's meeting we delved into the first concept of a heroine, which is to know herself and to take the time to think about who she wants to be, because... 

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

MEETING NOTES

1. Our tagline is "Power Up your Heroine's Journey." What is a heroine? 

A heroine is the principal female character in a book - she is not a superhero, but a regular person who is in charge of her journey and writes her own story. 

Do you have a favorite heroine, or can you give examples from stories or books? 

Moana, Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Laura Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie), Pippi Longstocking, Jane Eyre, Jo March (Little Women)...

For ideas, here are 50 of the best heroines from middle grade books.

Are the lives of heroines easy?

Think of how boring any of these books would be if for example all Moana did was practice sailing in nice weather all day. We need challenges in order to learn and grow from, and through which we can explore our world. 

What are some characteristics that these heroines' have?

Adventurous, courageous, kind, perseveres, funny, etc.

 

2. "I Am..." activity

The point of this activity is to think about who they are as their own heroines. The beauty of it is that as they think it through, they discover more and more strengths that they each possess, in the end filling the whole page, giving them a visual of the many things that they are. We framed this activity based on this Brave Girls Club project. We ended up printing out the sheets, but the older girls mostly drew their own pictures and came up with their own words to describe themselves, while for the younger ones it was helpful to pick and choose and cut and tape from the different options. Whichever way you do it, the point is to take the time to think through who you are, discover your strengths, and who you would like to be.

“The more girls know who they are, the more they can believe in themselves, and trust in the power of their own intellect and intuition. This self-trust is the foundation of self-confidence, the foundation girls need to assert their voice and remain resilient, to rise up as leaders - and to keep rising.” -Elizabeth Perlman, The Intuitive Writing Project (as mentioned on How to Unlock your Strength blog post)
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Elephant Power

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For the last couple of weeks, we've been using the Bully-Proof Children Curriculum from Kids Empowered, which has been awesome. I ordered it online, and they sent it to me in the mail. You can do the same from here. Here are some of the issues we've tackled so far:

1. How you can increase your bubble power - which is a visual to see how one can increase their self-esteem, confidence and power, which bubble membrane then acts as a buffer or a layer of protection between you and the outside world (such as a mean friend.) (Positive self-talk, your strengths, being healthy, how you feel about yourself, etc.) 

2. How to calm ourselves and why it’s important. (You seriously can’t cover and practice this enough times.)

3. Girls demonstrated what is confident body language + tone.

4. Who are our allies - friendly classmates, who don’t have to be a friend, but someone who is friendly and approachable. How can you be an ally? 

5. Tattling vs Reporting - tattling is when children tell adults about something someone is not supposed to do, but noone is getting hurt or property is not getting destroyed. Reporting is when children or property are being hurt - this is when adult help is needed. (They’ve realized that maybe sometimes they tattle too much, and soon after our meeting I heard from a distance “Nori, stop, you are about to go and tattle!) And I think she did stop, because I never heard about it again... 

6. And the 3-time strategy - try to deal with a problem 3 times and then get help if needed, because assertiveness takes practice. Love this, and this really helps my daughters to help figure out how to deal with certain issues. 

7. How to use your voice - aggressive (shark), passive (sheep/lamb), passive-aggressive (chameleon), assertive (elephant.) "Assertive people express their feelings without being mean about it. They know there is more than one way to solve a problem. They will try and find a win win, compromise or agree to disagree. (The elephant is the symbol for this style because it is big and strong, and rarely uses its force unprovoked. The elephant defends is territory, uses its wits to get things done, and has compassion.)" -from the Kids Empowered curriculum

 

Interesting points from our CGC meeting: 

Kriszti (8) led this meeting for the first time and what an amazing opportunity it is for her and ultimately them. (Previously they would lead the art activity or an exercise, but not the whole thing.) Of course there was drama, because then they all wanted to lead it, but how great it is to have that problem versus noone wanting to lead. Realized to fully harness this desire to lead and fly with it - they learn so much from the process. Public speaking, asking questions, how to reply to answers, etc. The added bonus is that whoever leads it learns to know the issues inside out, because of course we practice it beforehand. 

Their thoughts on friendships and what really is assertiveness - which can sometimes be hard to find in between aggressive and passive. For example - "you are not the boss of me," is too aggressive. "I can make my own decisions" is much more assertive and less inflaming. They shared different experiences from their own lives, and it was great to practice what to say. You also get an insight into how they deal with these things at school, sometimes maybe a bit too aggressive, or even too passive. For example, my daughter has a friend who always seems to want to lead and make the decisions about the games they play. (Even if my daughter is her own character in their Harry Potter game, the friend dictates what color hair my daughter can have, etc.) "Fine, have it your way" in a passive-aggressive way is sometimes my daughter's response, or just an aggressive "not playing with you anymore" type of reply. During our CGC meeting we talked about this and told my daughter that her friend may not realize that she is like this. So we practiced her saying something more assertive instead, such as: "Listen, I’ve offered 3 things I’d like to do and you’ve said no to all 3 of them. It’s not fun to play with someone who makes all the rules. So either you’ll let me make some of my own decisions, or I’ll go play with someone else." 

The biggest take-away from all of this is how much my husband and I are learning from all of this. This morning I overheard my husband asking Kriszti (whose favorite animal is the elephant), "Kriszti, can I borrow an elephant to take to work with me and leave on my desk? I'd like it to remind me to be assertive at work."

"Sure, Papi."

Growing Gratitude

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You know the Thanksgiving tradition that many American families have, to go around the table and say what each person is grateful for? We’ve done it on and off in my own family, but then at some point it hit me that we can all say the words… I’m thankful for my family or I’m thankful for the house we live in… but how can we teach our children (and ourselves) to actually mean it? 

So I’ve researched and researched gratitude. The answer to this was surprisingly hard to find. 

It’s fairly easy to find the benefits for gratitude. They are abundant and seems to be one of the most foundational elements of a happy life...

"Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait - more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. People who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness and enjoy more robust physical health." -Robert Emmons, Gratitude Works!
 

...just to name a few of the benefits. But it really is mind-blowing how beneficial gratitude is. The Science of Happiness course does an amazing job of outlining all the scientific aspects of gratitude - how it effects your health, your mind, what it's challenges are, and what are some of the best gratitude practices. Highly recommend this course to any parent through Berkeley online, and it's free! It really is amazing.  

But I finally found my answer to this question in Robert Emmons' book, Gratitude Works!. He is a gratitude researcher from UC Davis.

First and foremost it is about "growing gratitude," writes Robert Emmons. So if you are the most ungrateful person - no worries. All you need to do is start practicing it. To me, the best way seems to be through a gratitude journal, where you put about 3 things down each day that you are grateful for.

The point is, it's okay if at first you are not fully and deeply feeling the gratefulness for each of those 3 things. But if you keep at it, looking for 3 good things a day, your brain will start to adapt to help you look, even when you are not consciously searching. Since your brain will begin to know that at the end of the day it'll need 3 good things to write about, it'll start picking up on happy things on it's own throughout your day... Wow, that tree is beautiful! Wow, I love our little house. Look at my daughter's smile! How nice is this person who held the door open for me?! 

The point is that at some point you'll start noticing more and more things throughout your day. By writing them down (as opposed to just thinking it), it gives it depth: "The act of writing down your blessings translates your thoughts into words, as well as organizes them, facilitates integration, and helps you accept your own experiences and puts them in context." 

Some other quotes from Robert Emmons' book:

"Gratitude is important not only because it helps us feel good but also because it inspires us to do good."

"Because it is a virtue, gratitude, at least initially, requires mental discipline.... (But) you will find that each time you make the choice for gratitude, the next choice will be a little easier, a little more automatic, a little freer."

"At the core of these practices is memory. Gratitude is about remembering... A French proverb states that gratitude is the memory of the heart." 

 

GRATITUDE IN ACTION

So putting it all together, what I really needed answer to was how exactly to grow in gratitude, and this is where this book helped me the most. So I will now make a list of questions that helps my daughters and I when writing down our 3 things at night... since it is not only about things that made us happy that day.

Overall, it is about developing skills of noticing, appreciating, and communicating. So be very specific - the truth is in the details. Complete sentences, with as much detail as possible. In addition, consider the benefits that you are grateful for and are receiving as "gifts." 

 

12 Questions to help guide your thoughts:

1.  Did anyone help you today or do anything for you that cost them their time, energy, or money? What was it, what did it cost them, and how did it make you feel?

2.  Think about the people to whom you are grateful, and why. Who deserves your thanks? What have you received or are receiving from them?

3.  Surprises create more gratitude, because they are unexpected. What unanticipated or novel surprises have showed up in your life? 

4.  How have others helped you intentionally today? Did anyone go out of their way to help you on purpose? 

5.  What can you savor today? Becoming aware that a very pleasant experience (such as vacation) is about to end enhances feelings of gratefulness associated with it. So focus on savoring vs. worrying.

6.  What were you dreading that did not happen? 

7.  Think about people who are helping or have helped those whom you love. 

8.  Think about the absence of something positive in your life. (If you did not live in your neighborhood, meet a friend, have a sister, how would you feel?)

9.  Recall a breakthrough you had in what was once an insurmountable problem, whether this was just last week or 10 years ago. 

10.  Who are the people who have made a significant difference in your life? In what ways did they shape your life? 

11.  Think of a time when someone went out of their way to help you. How have you benefited from that person's help?  

12.  If you are currently going through a difficult situation, or are trying to overcome an obstacle, what are some things that you are learning from this experience? What are some positive things that you wouldn't have discovered any other way?

 

BONUS

If for some reason none of these questions speak to you one night, and you possibly have gratitude fatigue, here is a final twist that can still help you gain a positive boost on your day:

What were some things that you achieved today, no matter how small? 

While our brains naturally love to focus on things that are going wrong, highlighting to ourselves our little achievements gives us energy to continue down a productive path.

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run." -Rebecca Beris

Let your actions define you...

(From early December, 2016... but even more relevant today.)

You know when in middle or high school, when you were sitting in history class learning about World War II, and in between the horror and disbelief of how something like that could ever happen, the question ultimately arose, whether just in your head or as an actual class discussion: What would YOU have done?

Would you have gone along with the persecution and turn a blind eye? Or would you have stood up against the injustice and fight with every fiber of your being? Would you have even recognized the little bits of propaganda of turning against each other? Or would it have been too late? Would you have helped your Jewish, Roma, minority, disabled, gay or lesbian neighbors and friends? Or would you have just watched on in a helpless way?

Think back: 

How did you answer that question to yourself, way back when? 

I am sure you asked it.

And did you wonder back then, like I did, and maybe you even raised your hand in class and asked your teacher about it: how could the masses go along with such a hateful message? How could so many people be convinced to turn against each other?

It used to make no sense.

But who would have thought back then when you asked it, and even just a couple of months ago, that all of a sudden we could be transported back in time, and feel bits and pieces of what they must have felt like almost 80 years ago...  

But this time around we know from history, that one day, our children will ultimately ask us the same question, if they haven't already: 

Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle, Teacher or Professor, what did YOU do to fight the injustice?  

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say:

I took action.

After a brief pause for sadness and anger, I dusted myself off, and used those emotions to fuel me to find an action I could take, every step of the way. 

Let your actions define you, and find some organizations to support, causes to fight for, and let your voice be heard by your senators/congress(wo)men. 

 

In case you need some direction, here are some options:

 

314 Action

314 Action is a nonprofit that was founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists.  Why 314 Action?  Pi is everywhere. It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community. It is used in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives.

314 Action is concerned that STEM education in the United States is falling further and further behind the rest of the world, that our political leaders continue to deny scientific facts and that Congress fails to fully fund scientific research so we can solve pressing environmental issues like climate change and social problems like gun violence.

 

Brand New Congress

Congress is broken. 80% of Americans agree. Both major parties have chosen big donors over the American people. We are going to recruit and run hundreds outstanding candidates in a single, national campaign for Congress in 2018. Together, they will pass a practical plan to significantly increase wages, remove corruption, and protect the rights of all Americans.

 

Emily's List

Our vision is a government that reflects the people it serves, and decision makers who genuinely and enthusiastically fight for greater opportunity and better lives for the Americans they represent. We will work for larger leadership roles for pro-choice Democratic women in our legislative bodies and executive seats so that our families can benefit from the open-minded, productive contributions that women have consistently made in office.

Emily's List counts Diversity & Inclusion as a key goal of our organization — for our candidates, membership, partners, board of directors and staff. We are committed to creating a space where people are valued regardless of sex, age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, national origin or religious affiliation — and we celebrate the diverse geographic, economic, and family perspectives that help a movement meet the needs of the people it seeks to serve.

Setting the groundwork for Emotional Literacy

According to Brené Brown, from her online class The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, when asked, people on average are only able to name 3 emotions: happy, sad, or angry. However, in order to correctly identify our own emotions, as well as be able to successfully read others, takes knowing around 30. This first video in her blog post is a great explanation of this. Why is this so important? Because "if you can't articulate, identify, and name an emotion, you can't move through it," says Brené Brown. And only by moving through it can we process and possibly learn from it. 

Even though I've known about the importance of emotional literacy for a while, it's taken till now to truly realize the significance of actually teaching my Courageous Girls all these 30 emotions. It really hit me when asking my 5 year-old a few times over last week, when she happened to look frustrated or when something unjust happened to her, what she was feeling. And she always would just say: I feel sad. 

Or ask many adults coming home from work in the evening who say: "I am stressed." Well, are you stressed because you feel overwhelmed with work, or are you stressed because you are not doing the type of work you thought you should be doing by now, or are you stressed because you feel like you are not being treated fairly at work? (Here I'm paraphrasing Susan David talk about this issue while discussing her book, Emotional Agility in this Robcast.)

Here is a poignant explanation by Brené Brown, once again from her online class, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting:

"Imagine you have an excruciating pain in your right shoulder. You get to the doctor's office, and you are ready to tell her what's wrong. But your mouth is taped shut, and your arm is tied behind your back. So she looks at you and says "tell me what's going on." And she can see that you are crying, and she can see that you are suffering, and she can see that you are struggling. But you cannot articulate, name or point to what's happening. How frustrating, frightening, and scary that is. Plus, the bottom line is, we can't fix it. We can't help. And the same thing is true with emotions... Because if you can't name it, then you can't find the right intervention to move through it to heal it and change it."  

Learning about emotions is just like learning another language. You have to define each one, and help them identify with our help the correct one that happens to match their emotion in each event... over and over again. 

From all I've seen and read, this seems to be the foundational skill that underscores assertiveness and confidence for girls (and boys.) Just having finished Peggy Orenstein's book, Girls & Sex, it is mind-boggling what an important skill it is to know what one is feeling at a given moment, be able to interpret it, and assert oneself based on that emotion. The younger a girl starts to assert herself with friends, the more successful she will be asserting herself in relationships. If you think about it, the younger you start being able to say "no" to things that you don't want to do, the easier it is to do that later on in life, especially during the peer-pressure filled adolescence.

 

So let's begin! 

(This lesson is between 25-60 minutes long, depending on the discussion.)

1. Why do we have emotions and feelings, and why are they important to us?

KEY POINTS: Emotions guide us, and color our lives. Without emotions, we wouldn't be passionate about anything, and life would be fairly bland. Plus, we would probably die young, as emotions also help us survive. Every emotion focuses our attention and motivates us, and there is usually a MESSAGE in there somewhere. Also it's E-MOTION, meaning it moves through you, and doesn't last forever. Your thoughts then turn it into feelings, which can last much much longer.

(If your Courageous Girls are old enough and want to know the difference between emotions and feelings, show this to them.)

 

2. Show me how you look when... 

You are angry, surprised, disappointed, jealous, proud, excited, regretful, disgusted, etc. (Here are a list of feelings to choose from. Or in this first video, you'll also be introduced to Brené Brown's top 30 emotions/feelings.)

Show me how your face looks, tell me how your body feels (energy, no energy, butterflies), and tell me what you do in that mood (curl up on your bed, want to hit someone, tell a friend, etc.) 

PROCESSING: Even when we don't quite know what we are feeling, clues from our bodies can help us figure it out. Our feelings and emotions affect our whole body. In addition, each of us may show different feelings and emotions in different ways. I may act out in anger and attack, while others may start blaming or just shutdown, and curl up in a ball. It's important to realize that we may have our own unique ways of showing our emotions, so let's explore what that is! 

After a rough phone call with a friend the other day, after hanging up I realized all of a sudden I had no energy, and thought about getting coffee. But then I realized, wow, actually I'm just really sad. Sadness zaps your energy, so that you would sit down, and have time to reflect on what just happened. (Hence the reason we learn more from failure than from success. Failure leads to sadness, which in turn leads to introspection.) Pride, on the other hand is a social emotion, and urges you to tell someone what made you proud. Anger gives you energy to fight off injustice. Excitement gives you energy as well, but in a different way. Disgust, on the other hand, scrunches up your nose, so that you would not smell that pungent smell. Happiness is also a feeling that makes one reach out to others, be more creative, and gives off more energy.

The point is, that each emotion/feeling tells your body something about yourself, so encourage your Courageous Girls to start looking for that MESSAGE, as the message is there to get to know ourselves better - what we like, don't like, what we fear, what our values are, what we perceive as injustice, what our reactions are when we feel powerless, etc. Because only once you understand what you are feeling, can you then correctly choose your action in return.

 

3. You are in control...

DISCUSSION: The idea is that once there is an EVENT (which could be a fight with your sibling, or a mean word from a friend, etc.), to create space between our EVENT and our REACTION. So instead of being on automatic pilot, and reacting to something without even thinking about it (think: event - scream at sister, event - hit brother), to try and pause and put some space in between and think about what we are feeling and why, and what our choices are in order to figure out how best to react. We were introduced to this EVENT - THOUGHT - RESPONSE model at GoStrengths!, and here is a great quick explanation of why thoughts matter so much.

While other organizations have different models that deal with this idea, my family put together our own model that works for us, and helps us better deal with big emotions. So you are welcome to use the GoSrenghts! model, the 6Seconds model of FEELINGS + OPTIONS + GOALS, or this model below, or make one of your own! The key is to somehow put space between the EVENT and the REACTION, and consciously choose the best choice possible.  

So let me go through our model for you: 

Our model for big emotions - image.001.jpeg

1. BREATHE - often, when we automatically react to something with big emotion, it's because that emotion got stuck in our Amygdala part of our brain, and we react without using our logical/thinking part of our brain (the Pre-Frontal Cortex.) Every emotion first passes through the Amygdala in order for it to check whether it's an emergency. However, the Amygdala can be dramatic and overly-cautious, and may think you are in danger, when all you are is just mad. So it blocks the emotion, and instead of passing it down to the thinking part of your brain, it instead gets your body ready to fight (or run or freeze.) This is awesome when a bear is attacking you, but not so much when you just need to figure out how to deal with your sister who borrowed your roller-blades without asking. So, a long story short, the best way to move that emotion to your Pre-Frontal Cortex is by giving your brain some extra oxygen with some deep tummy breaths. Here are a couple of examples for better breathing techniques: 4 Square Breathing Exercise and 4-7-8 Exercise by GoZen. However, as I've witnessed on myself and my daughters, breathing can be super helpful, but will not automatically solve your issues. If all we are thinking about during our breathing is how best to get revenge, or we are just ruminating on all of our negative thoughts, breathing will not help. That is why our next step is super helpful when combined with curiosity, and think of ourselves as Detectives.

2. EMOTIONS DETECTIVE - So after or even during deep breathing, instead of focusing on how we were wronged, thinking about what exactly we are feeling and why is crucial. What exactly is beneath our anger? Did we feel helpless, unjustly treated, or shame? For me, a helpful concept I learned once again from The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, is that if you think of an iceberg, what you can see jetting out of the ocean is usually anger or stress. Beneath it, however, in the hidden depths is the rest of the iceberg that hides our painful feelings, such as loneliness, jealousy, shame, guilt, humiliation. So diving in is crucial, because only once you identify the true emotion/feeling, can you then think of your choices. This is when you would then use I statements (I feel..., when..., because. I would like...). More information on these powerful I statements here

3. CHOICES - We've been using this word a lot lately. Choices. You always have a choice. And just that idea can be empowering. No matter what anyone did to upset you or even hurt you, you always have a choice in how you reply. Maybe you just want to get even. Okay, that's your choice. Maybe not your best choice, but at least you know you picked that one out of the many. And next time you might realize that another choice in a similar situation might serve you better. So when we go through our choices, we usually write down even our negative choices, such as screaming at our friend, getting even, etc. It's important to realize that yes, that's a choice. But what are some other ones? Another word that might also be useful here is Problem Solving. Or come on, you are a Problem Solver, how can we solve this problem? What are some of our options? Similar idea, whichever fits your Courageous Girls best.

4. BEST SELF - I read this somewhere, I'll try and find it where, but it immediately spoke to me. This may or may not be too advanced for your Courageous Girls, we are still figuring it out with them. But I love it for adults. In my mind, when dealing with big emotions, a flash of my best self appears in a split second, for just a split second. And that flash gives me energy to try and stay calm in the midst of putting out the fire, whatever that fire may be, and helps me choose the best choice in dealing with that situation. My flash of best self is a 3-word phrase for me, and it's an image for my husband. It's obviously different for everyone, but what do you think, can you find yours?? 

 

EXTRA ACTIVITIES:

  • Make your own model for dealing with big emotions.
  • What is your Best Self? Can you put it into a quick phrase, sentence, or an image that you can then retrieve in your mind as you like? 
  • Learn about different emotions by matching them to different scenarios
  • Watch Inside Out. Here is a good video that helps guide parents what to pay attention to when watching the movie together. 

GETTING BEYOND THE ZERO-SUM GAME

Our meeting this weekend was inspired by the Girls Leadership blog post - Williams sisters get beyond the zero-sum game.  So for our meeting this weekend, I wanted to expand on this idea, as it's very relevant in our lives... how to foster, instead of a win-lose attitude, a mindset of enjoying and exploring that space in between. Since watching a few University of Michigan women's gymnastics meets, many of our nights entail gymnastics competitions in our basement between the 4 girls. As my husband, Jonathan, judges each apparatus, the final winner is then pronounced at the end, at which point both happiness (by the winner) and sadness (by the losers) ensue.

The Williams sisters are an awesome inspiration, how you can both compete and push each other's limits, but at the same time keep the love and admiration for one other. And this isn't just about bettering sisterly/sibling competition, but as the Girls Leadership blog post explains, it's also about how you look at any other competition in your life:

"Competing against one another in sports, running for office against friends, or trying out for the same part in a play doesn’t have to be about winning or losing. We tend to think of our achievements as a zero-sum game when we are most insecure, or when we are scared. What if we push past our insecurity and explore the possibility that we can compete against each other, respect each other, and make each other better in the process? Even if the situation is, like tennis, one where someone needs to win and someone needs to lose, we will only get better, have more fun, and discover our potential if we take the risk to get beyond zero-sum."
-Simone Marean, Executive Director of Girls Leadership

 

So let's introduce this concept to our Courageous Girls:

(This lesson is about 10 minutes long + game)

1. Introduce who the Williams Sisters are. (If you are not into tennis, you may not know that Serena, the younger sister, actually has more Grand Slam Women's Single titles than her big sister, Venus. 23 vs. 7. This in itself should be fun to explore with siblings.) I might also show some videos of them playing tennis. 

2. We will then discuss that they've competed against each other for many years, and yet they are the best of sisters off court. Here is Serena's recent victory speech after winning the Australian Open against Venus, praising her sister. And here is Venus' graceful speech as well, "your win has always been my win," says big sister to little sister. This real-life sisterly bond is so much better than Frozen... 

             Possible questions to help with exploring this issue: 

1. What did you think of the videos? What did Serena/Venus say?

2. What does it mean when Venus says: "your win has always been my win?"

3. How would you feel if your younger/older/twin sibling (or best friend, neighbor, etc.) beat you at your favorite sport on many occasions? 

4. How do you think Venus felt immediately after she lost? (Discuss how feeling disappointed and sad about losing is completely normal. However, at some point Venus made room for other emotions as well, once she was ready to recover from the loss.)

4. What are some things that you enjoy about competing?

5. How can we demonstrate good sportsmanship, whether it's in sports or trying out for a theater part, science olympiad, etc?

 

ACTIVITY: The journey to the end of the game

Write "Start a Competition" on one side of the board, and "Win/Lose" on the other. Draw a curvy path between these two. Ask: What are some things that happen from the moment you start playing/competing against each other, until the end, when you either win or lose? 

Let Courageous Girls come up with the words for the space in between, and write them in on the path (such as they have fun, they push each other's limits, they improve, they laugh, they make mistakes, they learn new things, etc.) Each time they compete, whether against a sibling or schoolmates, they gain from that experience, and ultimately get better with each game. So instead of looking at something as successful if won, and failure if we lose, looking at all the things we have gained in the process is a better way to view it.  

In fact, "we always learn more from the losing than the winning," (Yani Tseng) because it can make you introspective and go through the things you may need to work on. Plus, you also learn how to dust yourself off and keep going.   

ACTIVITY #2: Play a game!

Any game! (Board game, card game, sports, karaoke, etc.) And practice competing hard, and losing/winning gracefully. At the end, explore how the winner feels, as well as how the people who lost feel, and how the journey in between went!