Decision steps

Choose Wisely

Decision bags


I co-facilitated this activity with Pam Hall, a Substance Abuse Counselor who works throughout our school district.  The activity focuses on decision-making steps and dealing with the outcomes of our choices.


Decision-making step cards (see below), paper lunch bags filled with candy and other assorted items such as lip balm, pencils, little toys, etc…

Set Up:

Place several items in each of the lunch bags.  Make sure to vary the contents of each bag.  There should be bags that are more desirable and others that are less desirable in terms of amount and type of contents. Fold over the tops of the bags so that participants can not tell what is in them.  Place the bags in plain view on a table (see picture above). Create cards (or strips of paper)  with each of the decision-making steps on separate pieces of paper (using the attached template). Place the decision-making step cards in blank envelopes.  Make several sets.

When you gather your group, divide the participants into several smaller groups of no more than three or four.

The Action:

Open up the session by asking if any of the group members have ever decided to get arrested or suspended from school.  How about fail a class or get in trouble?  While they may not have made decisions to have these things happen, they may have made a series of seemingly small poor decisions that led to a disastrous outcome.  Discuss any decisions your group members choose to share and ask why they think they made those decisions and what the outcomes were.  Have your participants reflect on the fact that they are constantly making decisions.  Point out that they all have made many decisions already today!  For example, they all chose to get out of bed and come to school (or wherever you are working).  Decision steps

Next, hand each small group an envelope with the decision-making steps and have the participants attempt to put them in the correct order.  Once the groups are done, check for accuracy and review the steps with participants.

Direct the participants’ attention to the bags.  Ask for one volunteer to come to the front and take one bag. He or she can not feel the bag or lift it up before choosing. Once the bag has been selected, ask the volunteer to explore it without actually opening it and seeing the contents.  Then offer them the option of trading it in for a different bag or keeping it. Be sure to tell your volunteer that they will only be offered one trade. If they trade their bag in, they must keep the one they take. As they go through this process, have the group determine what decision-making steps the volunteer is taking.  Once the volunteer makes their final choice, invite the rest of the group members to choose one bag without touching any other bags first. Once everyone has a bag, encourage them to explore it without opening it. Ask if anyone would like to trade in their bag, again, pointing out the steps in the decision-making process they are engaged in.  Remind them that their choice will be final.  Once everyone has their final bag, they may open them and keep the contents.

Have members reflect on their choice. Do they feel that they made a good or bad choice?


Do you regret your choice to keep the bag (or trade it in)?  Why or why not?

How do you feel about your choice?  What emotions are you experiencing?

Have you ever made a choice that you later regretted?  How did that feel?

Decision Making Steps

Pam This activity was shared with me by Pam Hall.  Pam is a substance abuse counselor that works district-wide in the Manchester Public Schools.  She has been using this activity as the second session in a three-part series about substance abuse, although, it stands on it’s own well!  With this activity, Pam cleverly steers away from directly discussing substance abuse, rather focusing on decision making.

I Have a Goose Story


I have a goose story. It is not that nice story about how geese fly in a V formation so that each goose benefits from the updraft created by the goose flying in front of it or how when the lead goose tires, another flies to the point to take its place. You can see an inspirational video of that story HERE. My goose story is different. However, it solidifies the claims made in the other story. This is also a story about one of my “personal flaws.”

It was just after sunrise on Sunday, August 2. The glorious morning colors were just giving way to clear blue skies. My brother-in-law John and I had just trekked over a half-mile down Craigville Beach in Hyannis (Cape Cod, MA) to fish off a jetty. It was the first fishing excursion of our vacation and visions of huge striped bass splashed on the edge of my imagination. Anything could happen!

jettyWhile it was near low tide, the wind was strong and steady, forcing the waves into a chop of small white caps. At the end of the jetty, I cast my line out as far as I could and set my brand new surf-casting rod firmly into the rocks. I loosened the drag on the line so that if a big fish hit, the line would pour off the reel instead of the rod flying into the water. Two minutes after setting my line, my rod went flying into the water.

Without thinking (my aforementioned personal flaw), I launched myself off the jetty into the water. In the brief moments between leaving the rocks and hitting the water, time slowed and I had several distinct thoughts, in this order:

  1. That rod cost me $80 and I will NOT lose it on its first cast!
  2. The fish on the other end MUST be worth this if it was big enough to yank the rod into the water!
  3. I hope I don’t hit the jetty rocks.
  4. I hope I can stand.
  5. My phone is in my pocket.
  6. It will cost $100 to replace the phone.  That’s more than the rod cost.

Splash! Feet on the sandy bottom, the waves were almost at chest level. A few quick strokes and I was able to grab the fishing rod as it was torpedoing towards open-ocean. I pulled back on the rod and felt the resistance on the other end. I tightened the drag and began to reel. About 50 yards out, I saw a group of geese, one appearing to be in distress, trying unsuccessfully to fly, honking madly. Then, the rest of the geese joined in its distress, creating a cocophonus chorus. I realized that the huge fish of my dreams was, in fact, a goose. I handed my sea-soaked phone up to John and began to reel the goose in without any specific plan.

As I reeled, John and I shouted back and forth over the surf as to how to handle the situation. The goose was clearly in distress and his five buddies appeared to be equally upset.   All of them refused to leave the goose that was on my line. As they got closer, I started to realize that while the geese were smaller than me and that while a single goose would provide me with a respectable opponent in hand to beak combat, a group of five angry geese with me chest deep in the water wasn’t going to end well for this human. But again, logical thinking is not necessarily my strong point.  I kept reeling.

Being an emergency room physician, John always came equipped for fishing excursions with several surgical tools. Why these tools came fishing with us, I had no idea. But on this day, it was clear that they might be useful. John handed me some sort of tool to cut the line when the goose was close enough. I think it was a knife…or a scalpel.

As the goose approached and his buddies began making direct verbal threats to me (it becomes very easy to understand goose language in this situation), I saw that the goose was not actually hooked but had simply gotten caught in my line. I pulled the two ends of the line together and moments before they executed their all-out attack, I cut the line leaving a piece of about 6 feet on the goose. Luckily, the goose was not actually tangled in it so it fell away with a few shakes.

The goose, completely exhausted, tried helplessly to fly. When it couldn’t, it began to slowly swim towards shore. I watched as the other five geese surrounded their tired friend and swam with him/her all the way back to the beach. Once they arrived, the goose who had been caught on my line sat down on the sand. The other five stood in a circle around him like the secret service guarding the president.

I climbed out of the water and inspected the wounds on my foot from scrapping against the rocks when I jumped. The phone was toast, but I had the rod. I looked toward the beach, worried about the goose but amazed by the camaraderie shown by its friends.

The gaggle stayed for about twenty minutes before re-entering the water and swimming off together. Eventually, the six geese took to the sky again. I couldn’t believe the level of dedication and self-sacrifice the other geese were willing to put forth. They put themselves in harm’s way, risking their own lives. They were like our soldiers living their creed “no man left behind.” If you haven’t watched that video above yet, this is a good time.goose flying

In our world, we see many examples of heroes selflessly risking their own safety to help others. We also see the opposite, by-standers who refuse to get involved or those who only care about themselves. Which will you be? I’d like to think that If I see someone who needs help I would jump in without thinking twice. Wait…didn’t I point that out as a personal flaw? Maybe I need to reconsider that.

How’s Your Trend Line? A New Group Activity

Dow jones graph nasdaq-historical-chart-adjusted-for-inflation-2015-09-08-macrotrends

Introduction: Have you ever seen the graph showing the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the course of its existence (over 100 years!)?  How about the NASDQ?  These stock exchange graphs provide great examples of a “Trend Line.”  If you look at the graphs, you see dozens of peaks and valleys (ups and downs), however, the overall trend over the course of time is upwards.  In our own lives, we also experience “ups and downs” and have a personal “trend line.”  The hope is, that despite all the ups and downs in our lives, we can have a positive, upward-moving trend line.

Props: Stock market graphs above, markers and paper (or, alternatively, pieces of rope or raccoon circles)

The Action: With your group, review what the stock market is (a market in which small, of companies are exchanged.  These parts of companies are known as shares.  The price of these shares goes up and down.  If you buy cheap and sell shares at a higher price, you make money. If you sell your shares at a lower price, you lose money).  Show the group the graphs above and discuss how the stock market has had many ups and downs over the course of its existence but the “Trend Line” is positive.  You may want to point out some areas when the trend line was flat (1934-1949) or even trending downward (Dow Jones 1965-1982).  I am sure, if you lived during those years, it seemed like things would never turn around.  But as you back up and take a more long-term look, things ALWAYS got better.

Have your group participants think about their lives.  You can have them look at their lives birth to present or choose a certain period of time (i.e. the last five years).  Consider all the ups and downs.  Have participants draw their own graph/trend line with all its ups and downs.   Have participants share their graphs with others.

 trendlineDebrief: The Debrief for this activity takes place as participants share their graphs.  Note the direction of the trend line.  If the trend line is negative or flat, what would help get it moving upwards?  Be aware that you may very well get some intense, deep and emotional sharing during this activity.  Be prepared.  You also may counter resistance as the activity demands a great deal of reflection and sharing.  Encourage participants to only share what they are comfortable sharing. 

Variation: Instead of having students draw their graph, use pieces of rope or raccoon circles (15 foot sections of nylon webbing) to create their graph on the ground.

National Day Project Days 1 & 2

Hello! Please check out the fun we’re having on our first two days of our National Day Project: National No Rhyme Day and National Blueberry Popsicle Day.  It’s not too late to join in the fun and post your own celebratory creations.  Tomorrow is National Welsh Rarebit Day…what’s that?  Check out our page and find out!!!!

Use #NationalDayProject

Scott I. Goldsmith, M.S., LPC

Owner, Outside the Box Experiential, LLC

Twitter: @scottigoldsmith

Instagram: OutsideTheBoxExp

National Day Project: Join in the Fun!

Image result for national day calendar

Educators and kids look forward to summer all school year and head into fall with dread. This September, I want to give everyone something to look forward to. My idea stemmed from a confluence of events.

On a recent steamy, August morning on Long Island, the amazingly inspirational Tough Mudder Emcee Sean Corvelle was getting Tough Mudders (including my friends and I) pumped up with his starting line speech.

sean corvelle

Something he said caught my attention. He asked, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Sean encouraged us that we should try to do something every day, big or small, that we’ve never done before. That stuck in my head.

Fast forward to August 20th, and my daughter Mallory informed me that it was National Lemonade day. How and why she knew this, I have no idea, but it reminded me of what Sean had told us at the onset of the Tough Mudder about trying something new each day. I replied that every day seemed to be some sort of national something or other day. Hearing this, my buddy sneaked off and printed up the September National Day Calendar. Sure enough, there’s at least one thing to celebrate each day.

So, here is my open invite to the world…let’s celebrate each day in the oft dreaded month of September. My guess is that these celebrations will give most of us something new to try each day! Here’s how it works:

1. I will notify you (via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest) what the national day is for the following day.
2. I will tell you how I am honoring it and suggest ideas as to how you can honor it and share it with the rest of us. Also, invite others to join in the fun! I will post to this page and everyone else can too (as well as Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Pintrest, etc…)
3. Anyone involved can honor the day and share their pictures and stories on the Facebook page and other social media using the following tags:‪#‎nationaldayproject‬

Stay tuned for our September 1st day!

Find me on Facebook at Outside The Box Experiential, follow me on Twitter @scottigoldsmith, Instagram at Outsidetheboxexp and Pinterest at OutsideThe Box Experiential

Why We Do What We Do: Attribution Style, Locus of Control and Mindset


We’re going to look at three closely related concepts that have everything to do with why we do what we do in life.  They are Attribution StyleLocus of Control and Mindset.  Issues with these concepts are at the crux of many problems in our lives.  Let’s see how….

Attribution Style (based on Attribution Theory) looks at how we determine why events happen and evaluate successes and failures in our lives.  Basically, we can “Attribute” cause to one of two broad categories:

  1. Factors outside of us
  2. Factors inside of us

in out

For example (and I will take the liberty to brag a little here…), several years ago, I made it to a semi-final round in a national guitar competition.  Scott GuitarWinning a preliminary round in my home state of Connecticut, I competed in Boston with 8 other guitarists from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York.  I lost (end of bragging).

I realized that as well as I played, I was not quite on par with the winner.  A few style tweaks and more hard work were what I needed to possibly do better the next year. In the parking lot after the competition, another competitor (who also did not win) was yelling and swearing about how unfair it was and how the judges sucked and that they were biased towards the local “favorite”.  While I was attributing my “failure” to factors inside myself (not being quite as good), the other fellow was attributing “failure” to factors outside himself (the judges’ competence and bias).  These different viewpoints can have a major impact on future behaviors. For me, the result was an examination of what I needed to do to do better the next year.

angry guitarThe other guy?  Well, since it was the judge’s fault in his eyes, it was unlikely that he would change anything about his playing.  I figured he wouldn’t compete again.  According to his expressed viewpoint, no matter what he did, he wouldn’t have won anyway.  This is where Locus of Control comes in.  Locus of Control has to do with where we perceive the control in our lives as coming from.  Do we feel as if we are in control of outcomes in our lives or do we feel that outcomes in our lives stem from factors and people outside of us?   At the competition, I had a quote taped to the back of my guitar:

“Destiny is a choice”

That’s pretty much the epitome of an “Internal Locus of Control”.  It reflects my belief that I am responsible for the outcomes in my life.  In that way, if I don’t like an outcome, I change my behavior to bring about a different outcome.  The other guy? He clearly possessed an “External Locus of Control”.  The outcome (failure to win) was brought about by factors outside of himself.  Again, this thinking is unlikely to lead to changes in behavior that produce a different outcome.  Most likely, he would avoid the competition the next year.

Finally, all of this is related to what Carol Dweck, Ph.D. calls “Mindset” in her 2006 book of the same name. mindset Dweck explains that there are two primary mindsets.  The first, a Growth Mindset, asserts that personal characteristics (such as intelligence and talent) are not fixed but malleable with passion, effort and dedication.  With a Fixed Mindset, she explains, people believe that these aspects of our selves are fixed and cannot be meaningfully changed.  As with Attribution Style and Locus of Control, one mindset will lead you towards self-improvement and growth while the other will keep you locked into your current performance levels.

The importance of these concepts cannot be underestimated.  While most people will describe themselves as having an internal locus of control, an internal attributional style and a growth mindset, if you truly examine behaviors, you’ll often see things differently.

For example, kids who fail at school often blame teachers or the school.  I remember speaking with a 10th grader who was failing miserably and couldn’t wait to transfer to a nearby high school.  I asked him why he believed he was failing and why he thought changing schools would help.  “Because this school sucks and that one doesn’t.” Hmm….would he do better at the new school? Not likely.

While it’s true that what’s happened to us in the past effects our present, it doesn’t give us an excuse to not take responsibility for our choices and solving our own problems.  It matters a lot less where the problems stem from than what we do about them!!!

To paraphrase an old adage, “It’s not the hand we’re dealt but how we play it.”cards

See the next BLOG entry for an experiential activity that focuses on helping others understand these concepts 

You can learn more about Scott I. Goldsmith, M.S., LPC and Outside The Box Experiential and his book

“Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence”


Emotionally Intelligent Crisis Intervention: Today’s Example

Ryan (name changed to protect identity) came storming down the hall towards me swearing about someone.  His counselor was following behind him and gave me the “Can you help out?” look.   When working in a small alternative high school, you get to know each so well, sometimes words are not needed to communicate.

As Ryan approached, it became clear that he was angry at another student with whom he was in the midst of having a “Closure.”  In our school, Closure is a process by which we bring together two people who’ve had a conflict (student-student or student-staff).  The goal is to resolve the conflict peacefully, allowing each person involved to feel a sense of closure about the situation. The week before, Ryan and the other student had a physical altercation with each other and were suspended out-of-school for five days.  Upon their return on this day, they were to participate in Closure.  It apparently was not going well.

Ryan’s counselor asked me to guide him to the front office.  He went willingly, talking “trash” about the other student all the way to the office.  He sat down in the front office, still visibly agitated.  Without speaking, I indicated to his counselor that she could go deal with the other student and I would stay with Ryan.  After unsuccessfully attempting to engage him in rational conversation in the front office, I knew that I needed to get him to my office.  The smaller space and decreased environmental stimuli would be essential if I were to help him regain control.  I invited him to come with me to my office and he accepted.

In my office, I got the story of what happened. Ryan had no intention of doing a closure.  He made it clear that he didn’t care about the consequences, that he already “beat his ass” and had nothing left to say.  Ryan added that if we put the two of them in the same room, he would “beat his ass again.”  I felt that it was important for Ryan to gain awareness of exactly what emotions he was experiencing.  After asking him in several different ways how he felt, it was evident that his emotional vocabulary and his awareness of exactly what emotions he was experiencing were limited.  I handed him a copy of The Emotions List from my book (p. 465 of Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence, Goldsmith 2014).  I asked Ryan to circle any emotions he was currently feeling.  While he couldn’t verbalize his emotions when asked, he was able to identify three emotions he was feeling that were listed on the sheet: annoyed, irate and boiling.  I helped Ryan connect his emotions to the situation that triggered them as well as his behavioral response to his emotions.  Identifying the emotions, acknowledging the triggers and seeing how his emotions were connected to his behaviors brought us into the de-escalation phase of the episode.  With rationality now returning, I was able to bring some logic back to our conversation.

I asked Ryan to tell me who was present during the fight (staff and peers).  He told me and I wrote the names down.  Then I further inquired about his friends in school, which teachers had missed him in class and gathered work to send home to him and who were the staff members who intervened with him the day of the event.  Adding these names, the list now totaled seventeen.  I explained to him that any violence in a community impacts other members of that community beyond the ones directly involved in the incident.  Our list was comprised of only the people we could identify that were directly impacted by the event (as opposed to family members and others in and outside the school who may have also been impacted).  If he continued to refuse the closure, none of these people could have closure on the event which would lead to people feeling that our community was not a safe place.  We talked a bit about what this meant and the implications of it.  After some further discussion, Ryan agreed to engage in the closure with the other student.  The two boys participated in a successful closure and were both praised by staff as they moved on with their day.

There were several things that happened that led to us being able to bring the conflict to a successful closure:

  1. Removing Ryan from the situation
  2. Getting Ryan to a space with minimal environmental stimulation
  3. Listening to his side of the story and validating his feelings
  4. Helping Ryan identify and label his emotions using the tool from my book
  5. Helping Ryan understand how certain events triggered his emotions, which in turn, lead to negative behaviors
  6. Helping Ryan understand how his actions impacted others and how he could make better choices now that he was calm

If you have other ways of viewing this situation or another situation to share in which attending to elements of emotional intelligence helped, please comment on this BLOG.  Thanks!