You have an exciting, impactful opportunity ahead of you. You can help students take important steps toward becoming who they want to be and creating a life that they want to have. First, you can help them determine the overall nature of that life by asking themselves questions like what do I want to feel, what level of confidence do I want to have, and what kind of relationships do I want to build.
You can then help students work with changing the assumptions that most get in the way of those goals. You can use your knowledge of your students to direct them to specific assumptions with which you see them struggle. You can help them edit their assumptions by correcting the errors in logic inherent in them.
Students can be helped to remember to use language that is based on reality versus exaggerations, basing their beliefs on words like “sometimes” versus “always”, “some people” versus “everyone”; to look at a range of possibilities rather than believing one can accurately predict the future, and to look at negative outcomes as “not preferable”, rather than “awful” or “terrible”.
You can give your students examples of assumption editing. Examples include reminding oneself that it is not true that everybody is better at sports than you are, that even though some people might be better, you can work to improve the best you can; reminding oneself before a test that the worst probabilities rarely happen and taking slow, deep breaths, and patting oneself on the back for getting a B rather than getting stuck focusing on how awful it is that you missed some answers.
You can put an assumption on the board, and have students work as a group to edit out the illogic. For example, you can have them edit an assumption that leads to worrying more than one might like – “Everything that could go wrong, will go wrong, and that’s awful!”. You can help them change “everything” to “some things”; “will” to might”; “awful” to “not preferable but manageable”. This leads to students understanding that some things might go wrong sometimes, and while this is not preferable, it is manageable.
You can encourage students to choose and work on small specific steps to loosen the grip of their most pervasive, problematic assumptions. Guide students to make sure that the step is realistic and achievable. For example, instead of having a goal to be less angry, you can help them develop a goal to pause more often when they feel anger in their bodies.
You can then help them build on this step. After pausing, students can look at and edit an assumption that can lead to their being angry more than they might like, changing “It is awful when things don’t always go the way I want them to go” to “I would like things to go my way, but I can handle it when things don’t go that way”. They can remind themselves of this new understanding when they get angry. Additional goals could be adding a slow breath, and using I messages.
In order for students to become who they want to be and achieve the kind of life they envision, it is important to encourage them to work regularly and consistently on editing their assumptions. It is also important to teach students to be patient with themselves and the process. It takes time to learn and improve and change habits. It is not easy to build new habits because we have been feeding our minds with faulty information and have been acting on that information for a while. With a computer you can delete and change the information, with us, it takes longer. We have to feed better information over and over until it becomes habit, while letting the wrong information float away.
It is helpful if students work to regularly feed themselves better information. There are a number of ways they can do this, including learning songs that provide this content, reading and writing stories, role-playing and visual arts activities. A list of songs and books on various social-emotional learning topics are available on this site.
As students edit their assumptions and work towards their goals, it important to remind them to give themselves kudos for their small achievements along the way. It is helpful for them to know that it is motivating to reward oneself during the process, as opposed to waiting until the final goal is achieved. In this way, they and you can be proud that they are working towards becoming who they want to be and creating a life that they want, one small, important step at a time!