Schools are places where young people develop many of the social and emotional skills needed to become resilient and thrive. This unique environment alongside the amount of time spent at school means that teachers and support staff are in a perfect position to be able to implement strategies and skills that enhance student wellbeing. One of these strategies is to teach Mindfulness.
You may have heard of mindfulness - it is a way of being where you pay attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment without judgement. In its most simplest of forms, Mindfulness teaches students how to focus their minds by paying attention to one thing at a time. This increases awareness of their world and helps them anchor to the present moment rather than being distracted by thoughts of the past or the future. This is an essential skill not only for learning but also for regulating emotions in our everyday lives. When students are able to be mindful, they can better notice and label their emotions, thoughts and urges. This helps them find balance between what could be an overly-emotional or overly-logical response. In contrast, Mindlessness is like being on auto pilot - unable to change course until the emergency bell is signally.
Neuroimaging research in the past two decades shows that regular mindfulness practice can create structural changes in the brain and supports neuroplasticity. So, how do we do it?
Marsha Linehan created Dialectical behaviour therapy in 1993. Linehan realised that the Cognitive Behaviour therapies at the time were not meeting the needs of the clients she was working with. She looked to both Western and Eastern therapies and created a therapy that was a modified type of cognitive behaviour therapy. DBT’s main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others. Linehan created the what and how skills of mindfulness as a way of learning how to achieve these goals.
So, what do we do. As the name “what skills” would imply these are what we do to be mindful.
Step 1: We observe - to observe mindfully is simply to notice or observe thing either inside or outside of ourselves without words. Simply put this is wordless watching.
Step 2: We describe - put words on our observations. We can’t describe something we haven’t first observed. Stick to the facts, without judgements or opinions. Wordful watching.
Step 3: We participate - to participate mindfully is to completely engage in an activity without self consciousness. An example of this is to be found in those who play instruments, artists or in sport when they find “flow” mind and body alignment and are 100% in the moment.
The “how skills” are exactly that, how we observe, describe and participate. Unlike the what skills, the how skills are practised all at once.
Step 1: Do one thing at a time - the opposite of multi-tasking. Choosing actions that move you towards your long-term goals or that are in line with your values.
Step 2: Let go of judgements - to observe, describe or participate non judgementally means just that, not to judge. Judgements tend to fuel the intensity of emotions, so the more judgemental thinking the more intense the emotions are likely to be.
Step 3: Be effective - do what works. Don’t let emotions control your behaviour. Act as skilfully as you can to achieve your goals.
Everyday we have an opportunity to be mindful. The simplest of tasks can be turned into a Mindfulness activity if we consider the what and how skills. Teachers and support staff have opportunities in each class to take a mindful moment to ground and anchor themselves and students to the present moment.
What will be your mindful moment today?