Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness | AnneMarie Rossi | [email protected]

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Translator: Sarah Braun
Reviewer: Denise RQ Harvard conducted a research study and they tracked more than 1,000 people from birth until age 32, looking for what made someone successful. What common characteristic or trait
was seen in a successful individual? It wasn’t their race,
what language they spoke, what neighbourhood they grow up in,
or how much money their parents had. It wasn’t how well they did
on standardized tests, or even their IQ. It was self-control. Those who were successful,
who had good careers, financial stability, loving relationships, and physical health, were the ones who could focus, pay attention, and regulate
their emotions. They were the ones
to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t matter if I give you
all the shiniest new iPads, and Stephen Hawkings is teaching you Math,
if you can’t focus and pay attention, how well will you do? Mindfulness is the foundation
for all other learning, for all success you will have
throughout your entire life. So I ask you, why, if we know that this is the single most important
predictor of success for human beings, why aren’t we teaching it to you? Mindfulness exercises are designed
to train your brain to have focus, attention, and emotional regulation. There’s mindful listening,
eating, breathing, movement; it’s a way of engaging
in the present moment, without attachment and without judgment. Mindfulness is grounded in more
than 30 years of scientific study, most major universities in the world,
Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, just to name a few,
teach and/or research this practice. In fact, Oxford has
a Master’s Degree in mindfulness. This isn’t religion,
this isn’t hippie nonsense, this isn’t some idea
I came up with in my backyard. This is science. There exist literally thousands of studies that show us that mindfulness practice
decreases depression, anxiety, and stress; increases overall feelings
of well-being, happiness, focus, attention, and academic achievement. So, I ask you again: why if we know this, why aren’t we teaching mindfulness to you? We are inundated with distractions; our phones, our tablets, all the sights
and sounds that surround us. The never ending dialogue
our brain is having with itself. The ability to focus on one thing
at a time for an extended period is a skill and it requires practice. You all know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in your class, and you’re pretty sure you heard
the teacher say the words ‘important’ and ‘quiz’. But then that girl you met
over the weekend texted and while you have to respond, you want to sound cool and interested, but not too interested,
I mean you’re not desperate. And then a breeze blows through the window
and whoa, what is that smell? Has that girl always been in this class? She’s got pretty hair.
Man, I like a girl that smells good! Wait, do I smell good? Did I put on deodorant today?
Am I sweating? Sweating is weird.
It’s like your body’s crying smelly tears. (Laughter) And then the bell rings
and you have missed all of class and you definitely have absolutely no idea
what’s important and what’s on the quiz. The ability to turn
your attention to the class, to focus on something that frankly
might not be that interesting – like algebra – it’s a skill, and it requires practice. Mindfulness is how we get there. I find it funny when people tell me that they don’t need
to practice mindfulness, “Oh, I got this!” Really that is so strange
because I’m pretty sure Kobe Bryant already knows
how to play basketball, but he’s still practicing. He also practices mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t just about
the ability to focus and pay attention, it’s also able to feel emotions like pain,
anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear and not react to them. Mindfulness gives us space
between our emotions and our responses, so that we can actually think first. Sometimes we forget
that our emotions are ever-changing, that joy and pain come and go
like ocean waves. Mindfulness allows us to surf,
rather than drown. And sometimes we forget
that we’re not the only ones feeling pain. Look around the room,
look at the person next to you, in front of you, behind you. They have all experienced pain. Every one of you
have all experienced pain. Pain is inevitable. Suffering? Well, that’s a choice. We may not be able to choose
all the uncontrolled circumstances that life presents with us any more
than we can choose the weather, right? But we can choose not to be victims
to our circumstances, because we can choose our reactions. Pain and anger, well,
they’re just not good excuses because they’re a part
of every human experience. If we respond to anger with anger,
we only make the situation worse. The harsh truth is that it doesn’t matter how righteous and justifiable
your emotions may be, it is irrelevant, because you’ll be judged
based on your reactions and not your reasons. Mindfulness allows us
to be reflective and not reactive. It’s not about running from our emotions
or not feeling our emotions, it’s allowing us to not be
overwhelmed by our emotions. It’s not about controlling
our thoughts and emotions, but rather not having our thoughts
and emotions control us. I have two teenagers. I teach teenagers and I was once,
900 years ago, a teenager myself. The struggle to deal with your emotions
is real and overwhelming. The part of the teenage brain
that regulates emotions, that hasn’t fully yet developed. But the part that feels emotions, that’s the size of a full grown adult. So something small can really easily
turn into something big. You’re walking in the hallway
and you see your friend, they look right at you, and you’re like,
“Hey, what’s up?”, and they ignore you like a Casper. So you walk into your next class,
and you spend the entire time trying to figure out
why this person hates you now. You’ve texted all of your other friends,
and nobody’s responded, you’ve replayed the last
three conversations you had with them in your head, and you still have no idea
what went wrong. So you decided that, well,
you hate them too, now, I mean, who are they to ignore you, right? Or you decided that, well,
gosh, they ignored you and nobody’s responded
to any of your text messages, and man, this must mean that actually
nobody likes you and really, you don’t have any friends,
and no one’s ever going to love you, and you’re definitely going
to die alone with a hundred cats. (Laughter) Obviously. Right? Clearly. Look this right here, this is called
taking a left turn down crazy lane. And we are all guilty of it. Mindfulness allows us to stop at the intersection
of reality and crazy lane; choose which path we want to go down. With all of the no needs
and benefits of mindfulness practice, I ask you again, why are we not
teaching it to you? Well, part of that
is because for a long time, mindfulness practice has been a privilege offered in well funded schools or
through expensive individual instruction. CEOs, celebrities, world famous athletes,
they flock to the trainings, paying as much as 10,000 dollars
to learn the secrets of success. It’s important
that we have mindful leaders, but we are missing great thinkers,
innovators, and doers, those who can’t afford to pay
for the skills required to succeed. Do we really think
all the best and brightest happen to be born with money? And what about those born in poverty,
I mean poverty is traumatic. We’re born into generational poverty,
whose parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, and brothers,
all live in poverty. They’re surrounded
by the trauma of poverty and stress to contagious disease. It doesn’t just affect the adults,
it affects everyone living in the home. We know that poverty is traumatic,
we know that trauma changes the brain and so without practices like mindfulness,
gifted children are left behind. I believe that mindfulness practice
should be offered in every school, in every county,
in every district, in every state. It should not be about whether or not– (Applause) Thank you. It shouldn’t be about whether or not
your parents can afford the instruction or they can afford to move you
to the right ZIP code in the right school district. I believe that mindfulness practice
can reverse generational poverty, and we can move kids up and out. I had a fourth grade student
who grew up in generational poverty, his parents were in and out
of prison, drug use, he was considered a trouble maker,
academically behind, he even had to repeat a grade. He would get so frustrated,
he would throw his desk across the room, run out of the classroom building,
out of the school, and all the way down the street
multiple times a week. Now, two years later,
he practices mindfulness every day. He has no more classroom
or behavioral issues, and he’s in the gifted
and talented programme. He would tell you that it wasn’t until someone taught him
how to deal with his emotions, that someone taught him
mindfulness practice, that he was able to change his whole life. We know one of the number one predictors
for a student dropping out of high school is behavioral issues. We know that if you drop out, you’re
four times more likely to live in poverty. So we create these very specific
rules and consequences, but do we really think
little Timmy doesn’t know he shouldn’t poke little Tommy in the eye? Or does he not know how to stop himself? Has he never learned
how to manage his emotions? And for some, those emotions
can become so overwhelming they can feel permanent. Suicide is the third leading cause
of death in children ages 10-24. 4,800 succeed in taking
their own lives every year and 157,000 are treated for
self inflicted injuries, just in the US. In a study looking at 320 schools,
students ages 13-17, they found that nearly half,
49.5% met the criteria for suffering from at least
one mental health issue: anxiety, depression,
ADHD, eating disorders. We know that schools are the number one provider
for support for students, we know you’re struggling,
we know that mindfulness works, so I ask you again, why aren’t we teaching it to you? It’s with this in mind
that I conducted a research study with the University of Colorado in Denver
on the impacts of mindfulness instruction on fourth grade students
in a low income school here in Denver. We looked at the teachers’ perception of the students’ ability
to regulate their emotions, engage in pro-social behaviour,
and academic achievement. Those students who went
through mindfulness practice scored 250% higher
on emotional regulation, 600% higher on pro-social behaviour,
and 550% higher on academic achievement than those who did not go
through the class. We then asked the students, well,
what do you think of mindfulness class? 100% anonymously self reported
that they enjoyed the class, they benefited from the practice,
they will continue to do it, and they believe all
other children should learn it. They saw the greatest improvements
in their ability to calm down, focus, and avoid fights, as well as
feeling happier at school and at home. The teacher rated the class
a 10 out of 10 and said that she believed
mindfulness instruction actually led to an increase in teaching time
between 11 and 20 minutes. Mindfulness practices are exercises designed to help you become
a more mindful human being, one who can focus and pay attention
and miss a distraction, one who can feel intense emotions, and rather than react,
reflect and respond. Mindful listening? Man, that’s going to be important to every relationship
you ever have, for your entire life. Mindful eating? That’s going to determine
your physical and mental health, and mindful breathing allows you
to find calm and focus, peace in a chaos. These practices ultimately lead to compassion, generosity,
kindness, altruism. We need the world to be more mindful,
we need you to be more mindful. First, you have to decide
that you want to be the change that you want to see in the world
and then go about being it. Throughout this talk, I’ve asked you
why you aren’t being taught mindfulness. I will end with asking you to take
personal responsibility for your life. If you believe, as I do, as many,
many, many others do, that the path to your success,
the path to a better world, lies in the practice of mindfulness,
then ask your teachers and administrators to bring in experts to give you the skills
that you need to have to succeed. You need to take ownership
over your future. Change will happen;
by choice, not by chance. We will change the world,
one mind at a time. And it starts with yours. Thank you. (Applause)

 

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