Many of us think that if our kids have enough knowledge about how the world works then they will be steadily on their way to success. It’s true, as Nelson Mandela has said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
However, there’s an important factor we must consider about knowledge and education – it’s how we use, question, test, and apply knowledge that really matters.
The world is shifting in dramatic ways with artificial intelligence and technology-based living pouring into every crack and crevice of our lives.
Excuse me – Can I have your attention, please?
The natural resource (at least at this moment) that everyone wants is: attention.
Marketers want your kids’ attention. Gamers’ want your kids’ attention. YouTubers’ want your kids’ attention.
Social media, well, it’s destroying our attention.
If you haven’t watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, I highly recommend it.
Have you noticed when you get on your phone, or your kids get on their phones or tablets, we become ultra entranced like the electronic device is a de facto life blood supply that keeps us breathing and alive?
Without it, it appears that we may wither away into the world of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
We open our devices, get alerts, notifications, comments and all the things at faster and faster paces. All the while, our amazing feel-good chemical in our brain, a neurotransmitter called dopamine, is lighting up neural networks in our brain like the National Lampoon’s decked out Christmas decorations, creating behavior patterns that have us going back for more, and more, and more… and more.
It’s a vicious feedback loop. And, it’s destroying our attention. It’s destroying our kids’ attention. But, all is not lost.
There is still hope for an equanimous marriage between attention, intention, and tech. Mindfulness practices can help shift our attention deprivation by training the mind to focus on purpose through breathing and movement practices, which helps us become more intentional with what we focus on, and then we can use tech as a tool instead of tech using us as a tool.
Training our minds to focus is a process, but it works, and when done consistently it works really well. Each time we interrupt the desire to take our attention elsewhere, other than focusing on the thing we want to focus on, we create a new feedback loop in the brain.
Let’s call it the awareness of distraction loop.
When you notice what you are noticing (the practice of mindfulness), like taking your attention elsewhere other than the place you want it to be, you gain a little bit more awareness about your attention deprivation.
That means you can do something about it. You can be intentional about changing the pattern.
This is where the practicality of mindfulness comes into play.
Let me exemplify this with a story. One of my students has a hard time focusing in his class at times, which creates emotional overwhelm, and he bolts the class in those moments.
This is pretty typical of behaviors in elementary school when students feel challenged in some way, and they rather run from the challenge than face the challenge.
As he’s learning to gain awareness in his mind and body of what it feels like when he can’t focus and wants to run out of class. He can identify that undesired pattern, and instead use an alternative to help him manage the mental and emotional challenge.
He uses a mindful breathing tool I taught him, starfish breathing, to refocus his mind and reduce his emotional overwhelm to help him meet the challenge with more ease. In time, instead of bolting in these mentally and emotionally difficult moments, he will gain the awareness of what’s happening and why it’s happening, and instead of running out of class, he will use the starfish breathing method to help him refocus and regain emotional balance.
My student, in these instances, is fortifying his awareness of distraction loop, which opens the opportunity for him to shift his behavior – to something that is more productive and desirable to his ultimate growth and success in and out of the classroom.
We all have thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that create our mindset. It’s the way in which we see the world. Each one of us has our own unique lens in which we filter everything.
This is due to our upbringing, the environment in which we were raised, our parents, religious beliefs, cultural norms, education (or lack thereof) etc.
Sometimes the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that filter all the information coming our way make a positive contribution in how we see the world, and how we ultimately decide to act.
Many times though, the mindset we inherited – both a combination of our gene pool and social environment – can be quite limiting.
These limiting aspects of our mindset can really create havoc in our lives. For our kids, it can really destroy their ability to do well in school in the sense of learning knowledge, processing knowledge, and actually applying it in the world.
If we don’t believe we are good at something, why would we even try? This results in a spirling approach of teacher and parent interventions that may or may not work. It really depends if they get to the root of the problem – mindset.
Helping your kids change their mindset about their abilities to do well in any given subject or content area in which they are struggling isn’t going to magically make them do well. They will actually have to put in the effort, do the hard work of trying, and likely fail several times, but also not give up when things get hard.
Their mindset about challenging subjects and situations will either get them through those tough moments, or it will allow the tough moments to take them down.
Mindfulness practices help us engage our inner dialogue that can either create a strong, positive, growth mindset oriented way of operating in life, or without those practices, we can allow our automatic thoughts to run rampant and continue the cycle of negative self-talk that gets in the way of our kids actuating on their potential.
One of my middle school students shared that his negative self-talk is increasingly becoming a problem because he’s constantly looking at this workload saying, “I suck at this… I always get bad grades…I won’t ever get it right….” The dialogue in his mind goes on and on.
But, with small shifts in awareness of this negative feedback loop, and small shifts in changing our mindset from limitation to curiosity, learning, and growing, we can help our kids break this destructive and self-sabotaging cycle so they can add their unique spark in the classroom, at home, and eventually the world.