Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to the present with a non-judgmental attitude. I understand it as a process because we often need to keep bringing ourselves back to the present in this way – either from past regrets, future anxieties, or (if you’re a neurotic New Yorker like me) some wild combination of the two.
Personalized learning both jumpstarts and revitalizes mindfulness practices for adults and children alike. It achieves this by offering the freedom to choose how we want to return to the present whenever we wander off.
We are often told to count our breath, watch thoughts float by like clouds, or some variation of these exercises in order to become more mindful. And this works for some people. Yet kids (and easily bored adults like me) often find such one-size-fits all imagery mismatched with our unique preferences and learning styles. As a result, we may find a thousand excuses to do something else – anything else – but mindfulness practices.
In light of this, I’ve developed and use the following seven easy steps when conducting personalized mindfulness sessions. These steps have made mindfulness practices relevant to hundreds of administrators, teachers, parents, and students – all while harnessing their intrinsic motivation.
Step 1: Allow Participants to Voice Their Stress
My clients often carry their stress around like heavy weights strapped to their minds and bodies. After all, administrators are responsible for the optimal performance of hundreds of students and teachers – alongside budget constraints. In addition, teachers face increasing numbers of students with a diversity of learning styles and behavioral issues – on top of endless grading and professional evaluations.
For their part, parents must constantly juggle the stresses of work and home life – not to mention the many responsibilities of their children. Students, meanwhile, must navigate their rapidly changing bodies with academic and extracurricular performance, demanding adults, and social anxiety. Whew.
Many people don’t always name all the stress that bogs them down. Yet, as we’ll see in the steps that follow, owning it is the first personalized mindful step toward disowning it.
Step 2: Understand How Stress Relates to Mindfulness
The great news is we are not our stress. We are far more than it. There is a gap between stress and our response to it. In that gap is where personalized mindfulness comes in to play.
Step 3: Appreciate the Multiple Benefits of Mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness are as diverse as those who practice it. Overall, these benefits can address many of the stresses that were voiced in the first step. Here are some of the more common ones:
- An enhanced ability to attune to the present needs of ourselves and others
- Improved self-esteem
- Real-time awareness of emotional reactions/patterns
- The ability to proactively regulate how we respond to stress
- Greater enthusiasm for life, family, friends, and even work
- Overall stress reduction
- Community-building via enriched communication among administrators, teachers, parents, and students
- In addition to the above, there are numerous academic and scientific articles that underscore the benefits of mindfulness in education
For Administrators and Teachers:
The American Psychological Association’s “Mindfulness Training and Reductions in Teacher Stress and Burnout: Results From Two Randomized, Waitlist-Control Field Trials.”
The Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review’s “A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent-Child Relationships and Prevention Research.”
Step 4: Take a Brief Self-Inventory
Personalized mindfulness is based on a concept called “skillful means,” or using our abilities and interests to redirect back to the present with a non-judgmental attitude.
To gauge which skillful means might work best, it is first helpful to take a brief survey like the one below:
- If you could only have three superpowers, what would they be?
- List three of your favorite fun activities.
- What are your genuine interests? (academic, vocational, extracurricular, etc…) List as many as you want.
- What are your three favorite senses?
- Complete the questionnaire located at the following website at literacyworks.com
Based on the results of the questionnaire, answer the following questions:
- What are your optimal learning styles? (give the top two results from your assessment)
- What are your optimal learning environments?
- Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to share?
Step 5: Look for a Main Pattern
To help participants discover a main pattern amidst their self-inventories, I share how many of my responses could somehow be traced to sound. For instance, one of the things I do for fun is attend live music events, a genuine interest of mine is piano playing, and, to top it all off, my optimal learning style is musical in nature.
Step 6: Choosing Our Own Paths to Mindfulness
Based on the main pattern discovered in the previous step, we may now better determine which skillful means can help us snap back to the present when we wander off into the past or future. Since I am inclined toward sound, listening to songs is my major skillful means during mindfulness meditation. I allow the sounds of different instruments to guide me back to the present. As an added bonus, I no longer see mindfulness meditation as some cumbersome chore but as something I genuinely enjoy doing.
This individualized mindfulness method has instilled an intrinsic motivation to meditate – and not just during designated meditation times. I now find mindfulness spilling over into all aspects of my life. When I’m stressing, the sound of a passing car might gently guide me back to the present where I can find some refuge.
I encourage administrators, teachers, parents, and students to uncover the unique skillful means that works best for them. Practically any life-giving sensation or activity has the potential to bring you back to the moment – from mindful eating to dancing. Experiment with what works best for you!
Step 7: Revel in Your Personalized Approach
Schedule at least 20 intentional minutes a day when you use your unique skillful means to stay as present as possible. These 20 minutes need not be consecutive. In fact, I often focus on the sounds of a different five-minute song at four varying times throughout the day.
Mindfulness is too beneficial to be discounted as another annoying thing on our already busy to-do lists. Through these seven steps, we can harness the power of personalized learning to become more mindful. As a result, we just might begin to practice not because we have to, but because we want to.