Good Morning Families, today is Monday, March 23rd and it is now time for our morning moment of SEL.
How are you feeling? What are the thoughts you are thinking? How are you feeling in your body? How do you want to express yourself? How can you express yourself?
True confession. Sometimes during meetings, even though I am physically present, I think about things that aren’t on the meeting agenda. And sometimes in social settings, I look at my phone, more than once, just to see what else is going on. Also, once on the playground, a student was telling me a very long and exceptionally detailed story about Grandma’s cat. I pretended to listen, but I really wasn’t. I was thinking about going to the grocery store.
From time-to-time it may be true that all of us experience something like this: our bodies are present in an activity, while our minds are elsewhere. We may gently refer to this as “being spacey” or “zoning out”. Sometimes, perhaps less gently, we call it being distracted, or distant, unable to focus, or even, inattentive. In the presence of someone who is not Present with us, we may feel ignored, unseen, unimportant, or insignificant; others may experience that with us, when we are not Present with them. When we feel our friends or students or children are in this state, we may ask, or even demand, they pay attention or focus! Being present without being Present can bring stress to the relationships we build and maintain with loved ones, friends, and co-workers.
To offer specific skills for how to increase our ability to be Present we are going to spend this week focusing our SEL learning in the context of mindfulness.
In SEL language mindfulness can be found under the domains of Self-awareness and Social Awareness. You may be familiar with mindfulness through your own personal practice, or perhaps from the world of business/education as, certainly, mindfulness has become a buzzword for both the boardroom and the classroom. And with very good reason. Here are some of the benefits, research has demonstrated, that can come from having mindfulness skills: a reduction in rumination, greater cognitive flexibility, greater satisfaction with relationships, decrease in emotional reactivity, increase in emotion management, reduction of stress, improved general health, efficiency managing time/energy, increase in focus, boosts to working memory, and a decrease in depressive symptoms.
Maria Gonzalez, author of Mindful Leadership: 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others, defines mindfulness most simply as the ability to be present and aware, moment by moment, regardless of circumstances.
For me, if I used mindfulness skills in the staff meeting I would have recognized my off-topic thought and gently dismissed it in order to stay present with the task at hand. In my social settings I would not check my phone for other activities but rather recognize and dismiss the desire to do so. Also, I would be fully Present in the experience of hearing a 6-year old’s saga of Grandma’s cat; all twists and turns and surprise introduction of characters included. But without practice building mindfulness skills, the ability for me to be fully Present, would be as low as my desire was, at the time, to do so.
Here is a brief exercise that can help you begin your work with mindfulness or can help supplement the work you are already doing. Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, both of The Potential Project, identify two skills necessary to maintain a mindful mind: focus and awareness. They define focus as the ability to concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment and awareness as the ability to recognize, and release, unnecessary distractions as they arise.
So, choose one thing you will do today that will become your mindful practice. It could be doing the dishes, coloring, reading, playing with your kids, going for a walk, sitting on the couch, anything you want. For the time you are doing that thing try to commit to keeping your focus only on that thing. That is, allow yourself to fully concentrate on what it is you are doing. Really BE with all the aspects of the activity. Recognize all the parts and pieces that sometimes go unnoticed or happen on “autopilot”. While you are allowing yourself to focus, recognize any thought that is not part of the activity. Each time you recognize a thought about anything other than what you are doing, take a slow breath in through your nose. As you exhale, also out through the nose, label your thought as “thinking” and let it go. For this type of self-awareness, try not to engage with the thought at all, just allow it to flow out with your exhale. Once it’s gone, return your focus to the activity in which you are Present. Later, reflect on how you felt while being mindful. Okay, that’s it for today.
I wish you the very best and look forward to connecting in whatever way we can, tomorrow.
Until tomorrow, best wishes,