Why Aren't We Teaching You Mindfulness?
AnneMarie Rossi, Founder and CEO of BeMindful
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, and 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 has 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.
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 program.
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)