Do you recall the idea of getting a time out from when you were a child? The version may differ slightly, but generally involves having a child sit on a chair in a corner when they misbehave. My first recollection of having a timeout happened in preschool (I am sure I have several before that, but my memory is hazy) The teacher had left the room for a few minutes and I decided to lead the entire class out of the school on a impromptu field trip to a local park I knew of. This was not done out of any reaction to authority or a desire to cause trouble. Those skills would come along later in my life. It was done because I genuinely wished to share my enjoyment of the park with my classmates. I can only imagine the feeling the teacher had returning the classroom to discover all of her students missing. I can further muse as to what her thoughts were as she saw us walking down the street outside her window. Whatever those thoughts may have been, the result for me was one thing – timeout.
To this day, I still do things that would put me in a timeout chair. Ask Margie and I am sure you would get a good sized list. The idea behind a timeout chair is twofold to my best estimation. First, it is to show the person there is consequence for their actions. “You must sit here while the rest of the kids get to play” kind of thing. I am not sure how affective that part might be. The other part of serving a timeout is to give you ‘time to think about what you done’. The prevailing thought would be that this young child would use this time facing the corner or whatever to think about why they did what they did, how it impacted others and what would have been a better solution. Most of the time I believe children spend thinking of how upset they are at their teachers or parents and pondering if dragons or unicorns really exist.
As an adult, nobody is going to ‘give you a timeout’. That may seem like a good thing until you really think about it. With nobody watching our behavior, things can go sideways in a hurry. We need to give ourselves timeouts on occasion. I think this would be a healthy idea. Yelled at your spouse instead of handling it in a healthy way? You get a timeout. Hit snooze on your alarm clock one too many times and were late for work? You get a timeout. Sacrificed your family to put in extra hours at work for a long period of time? You not only get a timeout, but might actually need one. Nobody is going to tell us we need a timeout as an adult, I would guess, but ourselves. Matthew McConaughey calls it our own personal Jiminy Cricket, referring to the insect that served as the conscious of the wooden boy in Pinocchio. We must serve as our own judge and jury. If we are honest with ourselves (something that make take a little time if we are out of practice) we know when we have done something that doesn’t live up to our standards. In other words, something that deserves a timeout.
We have done some blockheaded move that deserves a timeout. What then? Just like when we were children, we should find some out of the way place to sit and think about what we did, the effect it had on others and how we could have done it better. As you can tell by the pictures in this post, I have an idea where my timeout chair should be. That is the caveat here. It does not have to face the corner of a white wall, it doesn’t even have to be uncomfortable. It should just be a place free of distractions that allows us to be alone with our thoughts for a while. That could be a chair on the beach, a bench in a park or even sitting in our car in a parking lot while we figure things out. This is a good practice to share with others. It may very well help them in their own lives.
Time alone with our thoughts should not be viewed as a punishment. After viewing a ‘timeout’ through the lens of our childhood this may take some recalibration. It should be viewed as a chance to learn and grow. To turn a mistake into a lesson and a chance to do better the next time. Think about where your timeout spot could be. Perhaps give yourself several options to accommodate weather and other obstacles. I would love to hear about where you have decided your timeout spot should be and what you will do during your timeout to make it valuable to you.