• Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Help Us Focus on What Matters Most To Us?

    Our modern world is filled with many distractions, making it hard for us to identify and focus on what really matters.

    This is true when trying to prioritize and complete our daily tasks, as well as when trying to determine, set, and accomplish our long-term plans and goals. This is true for adults and children, but it can be especially daunting for kids. 


    Our students are faced with an increasing number of choices as they get older, and by the end of high school many are expected to make decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. But making good choices is difficult to do in a world filled with technological distractions. Mindfulness can offer children (as well as the adults in their lives) a strategy to help them pause and orient toward those things worthy of their attention. 


    Part of what mindfulness can do is help us identify what distracts us.

    Practice can help us notice the internal and external distractions that sometimes make it nearly impossible to focus on the task at hand—whether it’s writing an e-mail or trying to sit and meditate. Daniel Goleman, in his book Focus, explains that there are two main distractions: sensory and emotional. He describes that our brain can be adept at fighting off sensory distractions, such as when our brain ignores the blank spaces on a page we’re reading or the noises in a busy coffee shop when we’re texting a friend. 


    But our brain can also be overtasked by the burden of sifting through all these sensory distractions. We can all probably recall an instance when we or our kids had a hard time focusing because of too much noise in the classroom, or because we were distracted by the flashing, vibrating, or beeping alerts on our devices. Most of us probably go out of our way to find a quiet place when we need to reflect, meditate, or work on an intricate task. Some of us may even avoid going to busy malls or noisy cafeterias, where the sounds, smells, and sights prove to be too much stimulus for our nervous system to handle.


    Goleman warns that “the biggest challenge for even the most focused…comes from the emotional turmoil of our lives…intruding into [our] thoughts.” He explains that this happens for good reason: “to get us to think through what to do about what’s upsetting us. The dividing line between fruitless rumination and productive reflection lies in whether or not we come up with some tentative solution or insight and then can let those distressing thoughts go—or if, on the other hand, we just keep obsessing over the same loop of worry.” In other words, in addition to fighting off the external sensory distractions around us, we’re also having to filter intrusive ruminations. This can be extremely difficult to do. 


    Mindfulness helps us bring kind and curious awareness to what distracts. And then, through practice, we can choose to let those thoughts go or act in the moment, if appropriate. We can learn to anchor our attention to the moment, which can be extremely valuable when we are lost in thought and worry. Rumination and worry are normal parts of our lives, but, when we can’t face them with equanimity or can’t let go of them, they can get in the way of seeing a way forward and of completing our tasks and goals.

    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    Let It Go: The Importance of Reflective Teaching
    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude
    From The Field: The Empowerment That Comes from Understanding the Brain
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