Nick, you’re working to introduce mindfulness into classrooms across the US. What does that involve, exactly?
First off, thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog with you. It is such a pleasure to hear about the success of Real Clear English and catch up!
Mindfulness involves easing into the present moment and choosing to respond to whatever arises with as much compassion as possible. It’s important to remember that mindfulness is a process -- and it takes practice. But it’s worth it. The more tuned into the present we are, the richer our lives become. This is because the moment at hand is really all we have.
The first step of introducing mindfulness to an organization or school involves helping the leaders/teachers cultivate a regular practice. Once that’s established (which is no small task!) mindfulness will be embodied for everyone else and taught from a place of authenticity.
At your school - and in the other schools where you consult - how does mindfulness coaching relate to the rest of the curriculum? Is it a standalone activity? Or is it integrated into classes and “regular” instruction as well?
The reason I ask is that in my own classes on critical thinking, I’m starting to see a relationship between mindfulness and clear thinking. When our thinking goes awry - say, when we commit logical fallacies or succumb to cognitive biases - it’s usually because we’re not aware of what’s going on in our own minds. Instead of recognizing our thoughts as thoughts - just stuff that our mind is generating, and that will eventually pass away - we identify with those thoughts. Sometimes, we do so very deeply - fusing with them, becoming emotionally invested in them, and confusing them with reality itself.
This makes it very hard to imagine alternatives, much less consider them.
Yes, it is often easy to forget that we are far more than the thoughts we experience - let alone that we get to choose which thoughts we act upon.
That’s why I encourage project managers and teachers to begin every meeting and class with a 3-5 minute mindfulness exercise.
When mindfulness is not part of an organization’s culture, people will find a thousand excuses not to practice. And don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why they feel that way. We're often snowed under by the endless needs of our jobs and families. But we truly can’t afford not to practice. Mindfulness is the foundation of all learning. It empowers employees and students to engage with complex material, and enables leaders to keep their cool under pressure.
I want to press this last point a little further: when I work with students, I see a direct relationship between mindfulness and the quality of my students' thinking and writing.
Some of what I discuss with my students is technical stuff - grammar, syntax, etc. But many of our conversations are ultimately about students’ motivations, beliefs, and underlying psychology. I often find myself saying things like, "You're arguing X. Why do you believe that?" or "It sounds like you want to convince your reader that Y, but I get the feeling that you don't entirely believe that…”
In other words, guiding my students means helping them pay more attention to all the stuff that's swirling around inside them. It’s hard to write a good persuasive essay if you don’t know what you think - and it’s hard to figure out what you think until you spend some time watching the complicated workings of your own mind.
Ah, the good old complicated workings of our minds; believing those thoughts swirling around it as if they were all equally true! Mindfulness creates some much-needed space between our mind and these wacky, fluid thoughts that come and go. When we regularly practice mindfulness, we are less likely to buy into these thoughts at face value and thereby gain more perspective on them.
But here's the rub: people need to genuinely want to practice. If it's seen as just another chore they need to shoehorn into their already-crammed day, they'll be less likely to do it - even though its benefits range from insomnia relief to enhanced executive functioning!
That's why I've spent the last few years developing a personalized approach to mindfulness practices. This methodology harnesses each person’s unique skills and interests to help them craft practices they genuinely want to undertake. There's no right way to practice. Once you've got the fundamentals down (process, awareness, compassion), the manifestations are limitless.