Friday, June 9, 2017

Get Yourself Out of Emotional Detention!

There may be a few among us who never ever had to go to detention throughout our school years, but most of us experienced what my high school euphemistically – optimistically? – called “study hall,” at least once, if not more often. Some kids actually seemed to spend more time in detention than they did in class, but whether you were relegated to those dismal couple of hours after school once or frequently, the experience is the same – prison.

OK, so no bars, no guards, no orange jump suits, but the idea is all too similar. Your precious freedom is cut off, there’s a teacher or some other official “watcher” making sure you sit there doing homework (yeah, right), and you aren’t allowed to talk, text, eat, or do any of the other things normal kids like to do. Detention is about as effective as prison, in that the recidivism rates are high: some kids are scared straight, others populate “study hall” so often they practically have chairs with their names on them.

How is this relevant to you? Too often, when we’ve done or said something our better self knows wasn’t that swift, we put ourselves in “detention” of a mental or emotional sort. Oh, we don’t slump off to a dedicated detention room, true, but we do slump off . . . into a mental and emotional berating.

A beat-ourselves-up pity party along the lines of, “How could I have been so stupid!” “Why did I say/do that?” “Now I really messed up, he/she will never forgive me,” “I can’t believe I said/did that, he/she will never want to see me again,” “I’ll can’t get this right, what’s the use in trying?” And on and on it goes.

Which does about as much good as detention did in school. Sometimes we scare ourselves into better behavior, but for the most part, all we accomplish is feeling depressed, unhappy, and even more of a jerk or failure.

A school in Baltimore, Robert W. Coleman Elementary, has adopted a novel approach to detention. They don’t do it. Instead there’s a “Mindful Moment Room,” which isn’t just a renaming of detention, like my school’s “study hall,” it’s literally an entirely different concept. Misbehaving kids are taught mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises, along with the opportunity (and encouragement!) to work with counselors.

What’s remarkable about the program, is that it works. Since the school started participating in the non-detention after-school program called “Holistic Me” two years ago, they haven’t had to issue a single suspension. Things are really going well at Baltimore Elementary.

What if you treated yourself to a “Mindful Moment” approach, rather than your typical “beat-myself-up-bad-person-poor-me” episode? What if you took some deep breaths, allowed your mind to quiet for a few moments. Then, as neutrally as possible, took a look at the bigger picture.

What were you trying to accomplish? As a kid, you generally landed in detention because you were bored or frustrated. What you were trying to accomplish was an end to boredom or frustration, you just went about it in a disruptive way. As an adult, you most definitely were trying to accomplish something positive, trying to turn a situation around. It’s rare that any one of us is going about trying to be destructive or disruptive for no reason.

Once you’ve got a sense of the bigger picture, focus on what you might do going forward that would be more effective. Keep breathing. Meditation can help keep you calm. Meditation can also help you zero in on possible new ways of doing whatever it was you were trying to accomplish.

“Mindful Moments” work, whether you’re six, sixteen, thirty-six or older. And they are far better for your overall health and well-being than the “let me see how hard I can beat myself up” approach.

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