Emotional education can only be understood through one’s one emotional reality to promote personal growth. Thus, in the UpToYou program, emotional education materializes in two steps: First, it starts by uncovering participants’ emotional reality to find out where they are personally; second, it confronts participants with the dilemma of growth, knowing that they have to answer the question of what kind of people they want to be. In conjunction with this question, it provides tools for this decision-making.
By focusing on growth, we believe the goal of emotional maturity should be the acquisition of habits because they are in the order of growth. The concept of habit needs to be explained since the terms habit and routine are commonly used as synonyms. Habit in the sense we employ does not mean routine; we understand habit as a highly relevant cognitive act that is proper to adult human beings and that facilitates a kind of growth that is always open.
Neuropsychological processes that lead to the acquisition of habits are developed during adolescence. If the habit is not cognitive (that is, if it does not require an individual’s inner development, for which the causes and the purpose of it is known), it will become mere routine (behavior repeated quasi-mechanically) and routines related to behavior are associated with the context in which they are learned. This implies that in another context a given behavior would not develop. If an emotional program does not develop cognitive habits, what students learn will be linked to a specific meeting or class and cannot be applied in daily life. Cognitive habit ensures that a person thoroughly possesses a thought, not that it is a mere given. That is to say, the so-called phenomenon of “transfer” presents serious problems in the long term. The absence of transfer occurs, for example, when learning math operations through routine without a cognitive exercise, meaning it never becomes a habit itself and therefore during the next course or even chapter, students can no longer apply it. These cognitive habits are reached through a student’s inner activity, awakened through exercise and, above all, a teacher’s dialogue. Routine thinking, visible thinking, and metacognition can help, but generating thought through questions is most helpful. The teacher does not need to add reflection, but rather to confront the adolescent with reality through questions.
Bearing in mind that this maturation process happens in a stressful medium, proper to the abandonment of a secure family environment and the introduction into a new society, stress management topics should be addressed. This goes without considering the painful events that some adolescents go through. One stressful aspect of adolescent maturation is frustration due to, for example, discovering that one’s parents are not what one expected or when one discovers parents’ limitations, including of the economic variety. This frustration is extended to friends and the self as sometimes both do not live up to one’s expectations or preconceived notions. Frustration, generally and at that age, is more related to experiencing broken expectations and less related to an event itself. Thus understood, frustration equates to experiencing the crisis that builds when a given way of life no longer makes sense and one must take a step forward. Frustration and crises are necessary since they are related to the need for growth. Thus, the interpretation that an adolescent makes of reality is fundamental. Asking adolescents how and why they interpret reality and if there might be another interpretation, helps them to make more comprehensive and accurate assessments.
Stress can also appear when one feels challenged, which is also necessary for growth. Adolescents must be made to see that life itself presents this challenge, urging them to decide their place in life. It is worth relocating all events to this existential dimension. For example, arguing with friends doesn’t just present a problem on a particular topic, but also presents an opportunity to think about how one wants to conduct friendship. We must help young people transcend concrete events and make them see that their every day decisions do much more than solve a specific problem— through them, they are deciding what kind of person they want to be.
In this sense, adolescents need to find an endogenous motivation to achieve personal stability. Endogenous motivation is opposed to the exogenous kind. In exogenous motivation, the person is directed by what happens outside of himself, which is proper to a carrot and the stick paradigm. In endogenous motivation, the person addresses himself and is in possession of the “locus of control.” But for this to happen, adolescents need more than a reason to do things; they need a reason for personal growth. True motivation cannot simply be found in the development of certain skills or abilities, but rather in the desire to fully be oneself. Thus understood, motivation is linked to a fundamental option (understood as how to position oneself in this world and to act in accordance with that position), since one’s values in life are ordered from there. The fundamental choice is the attitude and the decision by which one’s personal and historical reality is assumed and by which one is situated in this world with a basic orientation, i.e., a way of being and existing. This goes beyond any goal, however large (related to school or work), and focuses on a way of life.
The goal, therefore, is to have cognitive habits and a fundamental choice; therein, the medium is stress and motivation is the motor that energizes growth. As a means to accomplish this, we should provide adolescents with resources to acquire self-management skills, emotional cognition, planning and resilience, which is consistent with neuropsychological maturation.
Self-control enables adolescents to situate themselves before the urgency of the here and now. This requires educating the reactivity of subcortical nuclei, but above all, giving tools to adolescents so that a negative comment, gesture or certain behavior does not pose a stumbling block for personal development. But we must keep in mind that EE cannot be addressed through the paradigm of self-control (which is similar to the regulatory model earlier refuted). In fact, EE is much more than having tools for emergencies that only seek not to spoil a brief moment (with a bad word or gesture) in the maturation process. In fact, the best way to encourage self-control is not through technique, but rather by promoting overall personal growth.
Emotional cognition (not just knowing how to name feelings, but rather discovering the logic behind their configuration) is found in relation to cognitive reevaluation (reformulation of past experiences from today’s perspective and in the order of growth). This leads to the ability to contextualize emotional experience and to extract all the information that a feeling contains. Cognition and cognitive reevaluation go together because knowing what happened always produces a re-evaluation. In effect, I interpret the past from my present situation and in relation to the kind of person I want to be. This cognitive exercise looks first to obtain all the information contained in a feeling and then to use it to understand a new situation and make a conscious reevaluation of the past.
Planning, along with the maturation of a fundamental option, fits in with decision-making and requires the maturation of executive functions. The known effect of “temporary devaluation” directly affects adolescents’ decision-making ability. This phenomenon makes things worth less the farther away they are in time. An A+ today is worth more than an A+ at the end of the school year. This means that, when comparing a good that is far away with one that is nearby, the closest one is more highly valued. Therefore, a lesser good (going out this afternoon with friends) may end up outweighing a greater good (passing final exams). The solution is to make decisions early enough so that the two are equally valued. For example, in deciding between going for a walk with friends or studying, it is easier to chose going out with friends because this option has not been devalued and weighs more heavily than studying, which is devalued by being father away in time. But if deciding three days before a given afternoon, one may choose to study. And how does one maintain that decision? Adolescents must “bind” their commitment like Ulysses did in binding himself to the mast of his ship so that when passing by the sirens he would not succumb to their call. Adolescents can be “bound” by implementing intentions with activities that have a “rudder.” Working with the fundamental option developed in the “faithful adviser” activity helps to cultivate good objectives.
In a stressful environment, resilience can make the difference. Resilience studies (the ability to recover from a stressful event that goes beyond one’s abilities) show that the best way to intervene is prevention. They also show that personal relationships are a common denominator in terms of the biggest protective factors. Cultivating quality personal relationships is the best way to ensure resilience. Thus, it is especially important to evaluate the quality of family relationships and friendships, and, where necessary, to improve them. Personal relationships begin with a solid foundation in infancy and childhood. Sometimes those relationships start out damaged, requiring one to stop, go back and cure (re-assess) one’s past to reach a better future. The biggest sign of personal health in this respect is to be thankful and grateful, which is achieved through giving order, coherence and meaning to past experiences. Obviously, this cannot be accomplished in a few activities. Some adolescents may have special needs that the program cannot address. Thus, this program is not a form of psychotherapy, but rather an exercise to attend to the smaller injuries that occur in overall healthy people.