4 Tips for Effective & Transformational Exercises

One of the things people ask me most when they come to me for support on facilitation and curriculum techniques is “How can I create more effective transformational exercises?”

I love teaching about this because knowing how to masterfully craft exercises that move your participants is KEY to co-creating results and deep learning.

Yet, too often teachers and facilitators don’t quite get it right.

And when you don’t get it right, your exercises come off as trite, too surface oriented, misplaced or just plain weird.

There are a lot of components that are necessary for an exercise to work REALLY well, and this includes a very important piece about how you set up your curriculum throughout your workshop, class or retreat.

We’ll get to Curriculum Development soon, but for now, I wanted to share a few tips on what you can do within the exercises themselves to make them more powerful, more effective, and more moving.

These 4 tips are truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to crafting exercises, but they should get you started:

1. Activate at least two different levels of Learning & Processing 

In a previous article, I shared about the 4 Levels of Learning and Processing. In any full curriculum you create, you want to make use of all 4 learning and processing levels. But in any single exercise that you lead, you want to include at least two of these different levels so that deeper transformation can be harnessed and integrated.

2. Set up an emotional journey

How do people learn most effectively? Well, think about the Hero’s Journey for a moment. In every powerful Hero’s Journey, there are the actual events that are taking place (this can be compared to the content & information shared in your exercises)….but there is also an emotional journey that is happening for the Hero.If you want your participants to really be moved by an exercise, then not only do you need to evoke emotion, but you need to go beyond evoking just ONE emotion. For true transformation to happen, you want to weave a variety of emotions into any given exercise.For example, when I craft exercises, I may lead my participants through anger to grief to joy. Or perhaps from frustration to surprise to celebration. The variance of the emotional experience keeps participants present, helps activate breakthroughs, and allows for emotional integration of the content to happen.

3. Make use of metaphor and body wisdom

The absolute most powerful and effective exercises for workshop, retreat or class participants make use of metaphor and body wisdom. Simply put, this means crafting ritual and ceremony into your exercises.The language of ritual and ceremony speak not only to the mind, but to the body, to the heart, and to the soul. I always like to say: Before there was therapy, there was religion. And before there was religion…there was ritual. Ritual acts as a potent and physical metaphor for desires and wishes. Enacting ritual and ceremony goes deep to embed new patterns into the psyche. It is also a really wonderful way to harness the energy of the group itself, as ritual is often made more powerful through community.

4. Lean in and demonstrate

Really transformational exercises often require participants to do things out of their comfort zone – things that may at first seem or feel strange or foreign, or things that evoke emotion that they are not comfortable with. One of the keys to supporting participants to be willing to go to the depths with you and not feel weird or confused on it is for YOU, the facilitator, to be fully 100% present with what you’re asking participants to do and model it for them FIRST. When you model, you not only demonstrate for participants the nuts and bolt of HOW to move through an experience, but you also demonstrate the focus, intention, emotion and passion with which to be present. This makes such a difference in how an exercise will be understood and experienced.

Would love to hear how these tips are landing for you. I’ve literally got 100’s more when it comes to exercise and curriculum development, but these are some of the first ones to think about.

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