Beginning to Model with São Paulo’s Teenagers
April 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I met with my first two groups of teenagers for the second time today. Having broken the ice and set some objectives in the first session, now was the time to get into some psychological modelling.
In order to know what kind of thing we should be aiming for in the sessions, I asked the apprentices what they wanted to have happen over the next five weeks, and if they could improve anything at work or resolve any professional problem, what would it be.
Their answers were different from the answers from my other two groups, and it was strange to see how patterns pop up within groups. I wondered if it was because some students influence others and they like to copy the pre-approved responses from their colleagues, or because they are put into groups because of the nature of their apprenticeships, and hence their challenges are similar.
One group wanted to be much more active at work: to have more responsibility and variety in their tasks. It seemed that as apprentices, they perceive that their employers don’t trust them enough to give them anything complicated to do. One student would like to improve her concentration and another would like to manage her stress.
The second group seemed to have an impatience epidemic. It was funny, one girl was so impatient to answer my questions that she couldn’t even wait to hear the end of what I was saying. Many of the girls in the group confessed to being explosive, looking for fights and being jealous in their personal lives. The boys wanted the skills to challenge their bosses about their salaries as many hadn’t been paid correctly in over six months.
In both groups we looked at Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain, using the three parts of our mind as a language with which to discuss emotional awareness and taking responsibility for designing actions to keep us working at our best, more of the time. Everyone connected with the model in some way, and thought about how they can structure their days and personal lives to limit reptilian responses and excessive mammalian worry. An important outcome of this is that we have a group language with which we can discuss emotions in a light way over the coming weeks, when challenges undoubtedly occur throughout the learning journey.
I won’t be at all surprised if challenges do occur. One girl wakes up at 4.20am every morning, and after having to put on her make-up and do her hair well in a society and job that prizes appearance, she takes two hours of busses to University, has lunch and then works until late. Getting home after 9.30pm, she has to catch up on studies and her family life, before getting to bed sometime around midnight.
I felt astonished at her ability to hold things together, this is much more than I believe I could achieve with my luxurious eight hours a night and largely working from home. And it could prove difficult for her to control reptilian responses, or even concentrate at her best at university, work or in our coaching class.
However it’s not my place to give her recommendations or tell her what to do. She will choose if she wants to change anything in her lifestyle with the awareness she gains through the modeling process. This pattern holds for many of the apprentices, including the girl who takes four busses to my class and four busses home again. I’ve been careful to contract in break times with them and monitor their sleep and hunger patterns throughout our time together, so that they can pay maximum attention to our exercises, taking the absolute most from them.
With the first group we modelled a negative state. The apprentices mapped out their psychological and physiological processes of getting angry, frustrated, nervous or impatient; reflecting on strategies they could employ to avoid such feelings and the negative actions associated with them in the future.
Then something wonderful happened – creativity started to flourish in the modeling process! One chap volunteered to do a demonstration of the exercise so that everyone could see what I wanted them to do when I sent them off into pairs to be “coach” and “coachee”. We modelled his “irritation” at home, and he started to feel better that he got it off his chest, realising that the “volume” of things was the biggest provocation. He’s going to use his headphones and go for walks more often, and speak to his mother about the problem – but that wasn’t the most exciting part.
When he spoke with his partner he had already modelled his negative state, so he asked himself, “I wonder how I become happy?”, and modelled that. Coming back into the circle at the end of the class, he said that he modelled happiness because, knowing more about how he does that, he can “hi-jack” his irritation with parts of the happiness process that allow him to feel better.
There’s no way I could have ever offered that solution to him, and at seventeen, frustrated with his lack of responsibility at work and at the quarrelling with his mother at home, this young apprentice has taken the responsibility to become self-aware and decide how he wants to manage his state as he walks through the world. Yes!
Each participant stated that they liked the idea of having three brains, found the class interesting, and took away “alternatives and responsibility” at the idea of managing their emotional states.
At the end of the day we had a party, and everyone brought cakes. One of the students has finished her placement after one year, and will rest a few months before starting university. With so much school, work, classes and travel, it’s important to recognise and celebrate when these young people achieve and fulfill what they set out to.