Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation
What do you do to increase your energy after the midday slump? How do you wind down at the end of a busy day? These are techniques you’ve consciously or unconsciously chosen to regulate your energy. “How Does Your Engine Run?”® program helps Pathfinders students find their metaphorical cup of coffee or bubble bath. “How Does Your Engine Run?”® is one of the foundational programs we use at Pathfinders. This program promotes self-awareness and self-regulation – big words that just mean helping our students check in with themselves and change their energy levels to make it easier to learn and focus. Let’s look at this program more closely then discuss why it is so important.
We introduce “How Does Your Engine Run?”® by asking our students to imagine their body as a car engine. A car engine can run on high speed, low speed or somewhere in the middle, which we call “just right.” These speeds are on a spectrum. A high engine can by incredibly high or slightly high. A low engine can be kind of low or very low. And, a just right engine can be heading toward a high speed or low speed. We visually label a low engine as a blue color, a just right engine as green, and a high engine from yellow to red. However, it is very common for a student to have a blue/green engine or a yellow/green engine.
To help our students identify where their engine is we ask them to think about how they feel and look at what their body is doing. Does the student’s body feel heavy, like they don’t want to move? Maybe their engine is running low. Does she want to make silly noises and tap her foot under the desk? It sounds like her engine might be high. Does he want to sit quietly and attend to his trainer’s directions? This feels like a just right engine.
As their trainer, we obviously can’t feel what they are feeling, but we can observe their behavior. Are they slumped over the desk, head held up by their hand? Are they wiggling their legs in the chair and looking all over the room? Are they sitting up straight with their eyes focused on the present activity? These observations can help a trainer, parent, guardian or teacher guide a student in identifying their engine level.
Once our students can identify how their engine is running, they need to decide if that is an appropriate speed for what they are doing. High and low engines are not inherently “bad” engines to have. A low engine will make falling asleep much easier than a just right or high engine. And, it’s quite normal for our engines to be low right after we wake up in the morning or after a long soccer game. A high engine is appropriate for a lively birthday party or when playing that soccer game. A just right engine is best during school and homework, where the student needs to feel calm and focused.
If our student has identified her engine and decided it is not appropriate for the current task, she needs to change her engine. If her engine is too low, she needs to increase her energy. Maybe she can do some Cross Crawls, jump on a trampoline or play a quick game. If her engine is too high, she can take some slow deep breaths, have her trainer do relaxing joint compressions on her hands or take slow, deep belly breaths. Each of our students finds which methods work best for them to regulate their engines.
This is one of our most important programs because it is all about self-awareness. Being self-aware is the only way we can fully understand and improve ourselves, children and adults alike. All of our programming at Pathfinders requires this self-awareness to create change in the body and brain. This mindfulness is what makes our students able to notice how they are doing an activity and then change the way they do it to improve their body skills or neural pathways. Self-awareness also helps us know when we need to take a break and what that break needs to be to renew our focus. This decreases frustration levels and ultimately promotes more efficient work habits.
Checking your engine is a wonderful introduction to self-awareness and mindfulness. This is a skill that is beneficial at school, work, home… everywhere, really. “How Does Your Engine Run?® program is an incredibly useful tool for our Pathfinders students and is easily transferred into daily life. When was the last time you checked your engine?
“How Does Your Engine Run?”® The Alert Program® for Self-Regulation by Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger (TherapyWorks, Inc.)