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New Year’s Goals: Tips to Stay Motivated

Snow Berries by Laura McKelvie

With the new year comes a desire to do something different. It might be a fitness goal, a habit to break, or hobby to pursue. There’s an excitement to tackle this challenge and motivation is high.

And then…it’s February and we realize we’ve already fallen short of our goal. How did that happen? Many of us, myself included, often start with a big thing we want and don’t map out how to get there. Here are five tips to help you get there.

Assessment

The first step is to assess your life and what will make it easy or difficult to achieve your goal. Let’s say, for example, your goal is to increase the amount of time you practice mindfulness. Ask yourself some exploration questions. What motivates you to practice? What obstacles might prevent you from practicing more? A busy morning getting kids to school? Feeling really tired after work? What attitude will you take if you don’t achieve your goal for a day or two? Anticipating possible roadblocks helps us plan ahead and then be creative with how to meet the challenges.

Take Small Steps First

Many of us forget to practice what we ask our students to practice: set positive and realistic goals. Goals like, “I’ll never eat sweets again!” or “I’ll exercise an hour every day,” sound great at first, but they are too big if we are starting from scratch. We can’t run a marathon if we can’t yet jog a mile.

We need to build up to larger goals by finding success in a series of smaller, easier steps. For example, perhaps your goal is to practice mindfulness for 30 minutes a day. That would be great, wouldn’t it? But maybe your assessment revealed that mornings with the family are very busy and it’s unlikely you will have a block of time to yourself. Or perhaps you are too drained after work to practice. Can you commit to practicing in your car for just a few minutes before or after work? What about setting aside just 10 minutes during lunch to do mindful walking? (That could help you meet your fitness goals, too.) Focus on accomplishing these smaller goals and feel good about completing them.

Once you are able to gain consistency with smaller steps, then you can use the momentum to expand the goal.

Accountability

An accountability system helps us keep goals. Are there other people who have a similar goal you can check in with? Can you ask someone to follow up with you about your progress? Some people try announcing their goals to family and friends to create motivation to live up to what they said. You can also try setting reminders on your phone. Take some time now to sprinkle the reminders throughout all the months of 2016 so they’ll be there to support you consistently.

Get Creative

Think about creative ways to support and motivate yourself when you don’t feel like doing your goal. With your mindfulness practice, for example, how could you bring to mind your reason for practicing? Could you hold an object representing your motive or look at a photo of people you love and want to help with your practice? These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many ways you can make mindfulness, and your other goals, fun and creative. Adding fun and other positive emotions makes goals less daunting, thus allowing us to stay motivated.

Gentleness

As the weeks go by, you’ll notice triumphs and setbacks. If you fall short of your goal, it can feel very discouraging. But if we use the same attitude we have during a mindfulness practice, and treat a setback like we do a distraction, we are open to moving forward. If you notice your mind has wandered, or in this case you haven’t meet your goal recently, congratulate yourself for noticing. Then gently bring your intention back to meeting the goal at the next opportunity. If we view a setback as a fresh chance to start again, then it’s not really a setback but a growth opportunity. With this kind of mindset we can maintain the motivation we have in January throughout the year.

Take a few moments to think about your goals for this year and how you can work with them. See how you can break them up into smaller steps and get creative about how to accomplish them. Work on those steps and congratulate yourself as you succeed. Find an accountability system that works for you. Be gentle on yourself if you have an off day. These tips will help you keep momentum going and then keeping your goals becomes more and more automatic.

Changing Seasons

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Here at our headquarters in Johnson, Vermont, we are witnessing the change of seasons.The vibrant colors of New England fall have faded into forests of empty grey trees. Though some plants are stubbornly holding on to their green, not yet willing to change, many of us are ready for this transition. There’s a sense of slowing down, storing up energy to last us through the upcoming months of cold. It’s clear winter will unfold at its own pace and all we have to do is wait for it.

 

How nice would it be to have such relaxed, seamless transitions in the classroom? It’s true that sometimes one activity flows smoothly into the next and before we know it, the bell has rung and everyone leaves satisfied with their hard work. Other times there is a lot of disruption moving to new activities or classrooms. Students and teachers can feel like those stubborn green plants in November, slow to embrace the present moment and the current subject of focus.

 

One way to approach classroom transitions is to accept that sometimes they will be bumpy and that doesn’t mean something is wrong. As teachers we have such high expectations of ourselves. If students are sullen or goofing off, we often feel it’s a reflection of us, of something we aren’t doing well. But when we open up to variability, we start to see that it’s natural. It’s not possible that everyone will be on the same page all the time. Accepting that there is this fluctuation can help us stay calm during difficult transitions and truly appreciate the times when class time flows effortlessly.
Learning to hold space for students to transition at a different pace is a great challenge AND we can find strength in our mindfulness practice. It’s been said time and time again, but taking a deep breath helps us slow down so we can be present with what is actually happening as opposed to what we wish were happening. We can use this pause to consider that there’s something admirable and beautiful about students showing their color, so to speak, when the world around them is demanding they move into a new phase. Maybe they are still digesting something from a previous lesson, or maybe they want to express their individuality. The practice for us is to learn how to breathe and dance alongside them. 

Teach the Teacher:  Schools use Modmind to inspire student leadership in the school and community

Students Lead Mindfulness aWhat’s an effective way to learn new skills? Teach it.

Several educators across Vermont are empowering their students to learn mindfulness through leading, not just in their classrooms, but throughout the community. Jerry Cassels, a guidance counselor at Northfield Middle High School completed the 9-week Modmind exercises with his students. Their mindfulness education continued as he taught them how to lead mindfulness using the Modmind teacher training videos . The students took this training into the community where they led mindfulness practice at the senior center and local elementary school.

After using the 9-week program, Nan Johnson, a teacher at JFK Elementary in Winooski, VT, invited her students to be “the voice of Modmind.” She broke the mindfulness lesson up into 4-parts: The Breathing Part (“breathe in and straighten up, breathe out and settle in”), The Talking Part (leading the technique), The Chimes (to begin and end the practice) and the Mindful Message. Nan draws a popsicle stick and asks the students which part they’d like to do; that way students can participate at the level they feel comfortable. “I couldn’t believe what they came up with when they were leading the exercises! It was amazing,” she said.

At JJ Flynn Elementary School in Burlington, VT students as young as 2nd grade lead the exercises and ask the leader of the day questions with genuine curiosity, “Did you focus? Did you relax? Good job!”

Sharing leadership can be simple. Invite students at the start of a class, during a transition or anytime throughout the day to lead a simple guidance: “Breathe in and straighten up, breathe out and settle in.” Simple and easy. This starts the class with a short practice of relaxation and focus and gives the students an opportunity to put their practice into action. Invite them to share it with family members or friends and have a discussion about what it was like to lead. What did they notice?

Like Nan Johnson discovered from her class, our students are filled with wisdom and eager to express it when they’re given the opportunity.

 

(Pictured above, two middle-school students from Winooski Middle School (WMS) leading a mindfulness exercise at the Winooski City Council meeting.)

Back to school, back to heart

Kindergarteners Practice

I first began teaching eight years ago in Nepal. I’d never taught in a classroom before. Two weeks before the school year started, the principal told me I was going to teach science. I was excited, made all kinds of elaborate plans and developed grand visions for what my classroom was going to look like. And then school started, and the next couple of months was a lot of flopping on my face and getting up again. As I look back, I’m impressed with how fearless I was, or naive; maybe a little bit of both.

After about six months, the novelty of a new country and new class started to wear off. I became homesick and felt very lonely, but every morning I showed up and was willing to learn. And then slowly, slowly something started to shift. I stopped showing up for me and started showing up for them. By watching my students closely and learning what interested them, I became more creative, and the lessons started to create themselves. I was inspired to do the best I could because I loved my students.

As teachers, our greatest strength is the love we have for our students. This school year, practice directing that natural care and attention towards yourself.

Teaching is one of hardest jobs in the world. And so often, we make it even more difficult by being hard on ourselves. This is the part we do have power over. You can’t always change what is happening outside your classroom or your mind, but you can change what is happening inside. How?

One practice that helps when I get frustrated, down on myself, or just can’t relax, is to imagine the people I care about being happy. Try this practice.

Close your eyes and bring someone you care about to mind, someone that’s easy to love and say, “May you be happy.” In your mind, watch this person become happy. Notice what it feels like in your body to see this person happy. Repeat the words, “May you be happy.” After a couple of minutes, start to direct that attention to yourself and say, “May I be happy.” Repeat these words, and watch yourself become happy. Notice what it feels like in your body to see yourself happy.

You don’t have to be perfect. Your students, your classroom, your plans don’t have to be perfect. You’ll flop again and again. And that’s okay. This is why we practice. You can practice using the natural compassion you have for your students, friends, family and pets to develop that same care and attitude for yourself. Some days it’s easy and some days it’s hard. Just as we encourage our students: we encourage ourselves, “keep going.” No matter what happens throughout the year, you can always return to this practice.

May you be happy.

Mindfulness in Kindergarten: Who is teaching whom?

Liz Mariani, a Burlington teacher, shares her mindfulness story about celebrating small gains with kindergarteners. 

After undergoing two levels of training at the Center for Mindful Learning for implementing mindfulness into the school curriculum, I embarked on a journey of unknowns. I had never taught mindfulness, period, let alone mindfulness to Kindergarteners. My position at Burlington Kids at C.P. Smith Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont as the Lead After School Kindergarten teacher afforded a distinct opportunity to work repeatedly with the same group of children five days a week. Thankfully, included within the grandeur opportunity was the opportunity to mess up. I was free to simply make mistakes and so I took risks. This was thrilling.

Children are really here to teach us, as far as I’m concerned. These mindfulness activities were powered by the enormity of wonder and curiosity churning in each child’s eye. Mindfulness activities for these amazing Kindergarteners fit perfectly into other circle time activities. Activities sandwiching circle time activities included options for individual storytelling and exercises in gratitude.

I knew the very chances of teaching mindfulness based on a foreseen goal was simply, myopic. I couldn’t chart success if I was attempting to measure attention spans in minutes. Seriously, could I get a Kindergartener to sit for minutes at a time or even one minute straight? Probably not. I just wanted to lead the way, to clear a space, so that they, these bright children, could teach us and themselves their own way to be present. Time was never goal.

With each mindfulness activity, I stressed the importance of posture and breath. Sometimes we’d work on our breath separately before and after the sitting portion by encouraging children to stand and lift their arms to a T inhaling and drop their arms to their sides slowly exhaling. I found that showing them the power they had to control the pace of their individual breaths worked. In addition, to loosen up their bodies, we’d practice a modified Uttanasana pose by pretending we were actually weeping willow trees blowing in the wind. Children have vivid imaginations. This is great news when teaching mindfulness.

I encourage all after school programs to provide opportunities for mindfulness exercises. I found these activities to be especially useful in providing alternatives to the restless energy fueling cabin fever during the winter months. It’s a way to bring their minds outdoors and turn their breath into the wind. These young children looked forward to their daily mindfulness activities. They expected it and talked about it. Many times, after a brief sitting session, I’d ask students, “Do you feel different? Do you feel better?” Happy, affirmative nods would domino through the circle.

*I’d like thank Dacia Ostlund, Director of Burlington Kids at C.P. Smith for the openness in embarking on this journey and the CML for training and support.

-Liz Mariani

 

 

Mindful Cities on the News


WINOOSKI, Vt.- What began as a way to help grade school students have better focus has turned into a city-wide initiative in Winooski.

The Mindful City Project is being made possible through a $20,000 grant given to the Center for Mindful Learning by the Vermont Community Foundation.  On Monday night, Winooski city council members experienced how to practice it first hand, before their meeting.

“You pick a focus, so in there we were doing relaxation,” says Lindsay Forman, Program Director at the Center for Mindful learning.  You notice your tension going to something else and every time that happens, you bring it back to relaxation.”

The Mindfulness Project started two years ago at JFK Elementary School.  Its success caused the project to branch out to The Winooski Middle High School.
Arica Bronz is partly to thank for the start of the initiative.  She, along with another mother, asked the Center for Mindful Learning to teach the practice to Winooski students.

“If we don’t have training on what it means to be ‘present,’ then more and more we’re going to move off of something that’s scary, or sad, or challenging, and we miss something there,” says Bronz.  “We miss part of our humanity and our ability to connect with each other.”

In a world of technology and stress, Bronz wanted her daughter to have an escape.

“It’s a really nice way to relax,” says 11-year-old Linden Bronz-Russo, Arica’s daughter.  “Everybody just seems a lot calmer.”

The council members are in support.

“It’s a great community builder,” says Winooski City Manager Katherine Decarreau.  ”It’s kind of weird to think about if you sit in a room and breathe all to yourself it builds community, but trust us, it does.”

Lindsay Forman is in the process of setting up a mindfulness practice session with the Winooski Police Department as well, which is one of three partners in the project, along with the Winooski school district.

What’s Taught in the Classroom

Getz Class Practice

Post by Soryu Forall

I have visited many classrooms to teach mindfulness in schools. I have paid close attention (paying attention is my specialty, after all) to what the teachers tell the students. I’ve noticed a pattern, something generally true in all the classes I’ve joined. By and large, teachers teach the same two points most often. They ask the students to focus, and they ask the students to relax. They teach these two subjects more often than any others.

“Focus” is voiced with the phrases,“Pay attention,” “Let’s begin,” “Eyes on me,” among others, and also simply by saying a certain student’s name who isn’t concentrating.

“Relax” is voiced with the phrases, “Settle down,” “Calm down,” “It’s okay,” among others, and also simply by saying a certain student’s name who isn’t calm.

I was very happy to find that mindfulness is already the most-taught subject in public education.

But tellin’ ain’t teachin’.

Teachers rarely teach their students how to focus and relax. No teacher would merely tell their students to understand math. Mindfulness, the basic skills required for learning, must be taught like other subjects, with careful instruction and time for practice.

Students need instruction in order to learn how to focus and relax. They need time to master these basic skills. They need time to practice these basic skills exclusively.

If we give students a chance to learn the foundational level of learning, all learning will be more effective.

There are two levels to teaching any subject.

The first is teaching the students to focus and relax. “Focus” means that students are able to pay attention to what’s most important to their learning at a given time, and then investigate it. “Relax” means that they are able to settle their bodies and calm their minds in order to work with the various challenges that school offers.

The second is teaching the subject, whether it is language arts, mathematics, science, or any other.

Students who have not yet learned to succeed at the first level will never succeed at the second.

Never.

Teachers know this. That’s why they tell their students to focus and relax, or some similar message, more often than they tell them anything else.

When we practice mindfulness, we concentrate on only the first level. As is the case with every subject, the students will not suddenly be able to succeed. They will not magically be focused and relaxed, able to concentrate, deal with stress, and listen attentively and sympathetically to others. They will need practice and time, just like they do for any other subject. Mindfulness is not magic. It is the opposite of magic. It is good old hard work, so it is highly effective.

Give your students a chance to learn the foundational level of learning.

 

The Power of Kindness

Post by Intern Mika

 If I have the power to change one person’s day I could do something to change many peoples’ lives.

After my first full-time, week-long, mindfulness retreat this summer, I felt refreshed.  A little before then, I had an insight about growing up and I had a strong sense of fear.  The retreat helped me relax and directly experience my emotions.  After that, I didn’t have those big boulders of fear on my shoulders and that’s the way I started school in the fall.

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I thought I could be different in school because I practiced a lot over the summer, but I’ve become distracted by my daily life and became busy.  Even though I have an internship at CML, having a consistent practice has been a struggle.  Even though I need it, I haven’t been able to use the practice to be as mindful as I want to be…

This morning, my mindfulness instructor Soryu told me the story of a king who, like me, is so distracted by his responsibilities that he forgot what was really important.  When he was asked what he would do, the king’s answer was, that, all he could do is be kind.

There are many things, even in the past week, that I could say that I regret because I didn’t live or react to things the way I want to.  This has been bugging me, and now after my conversation with Soryu, I am more aware of that.  Soryu told me that I can change how I live, easier than adults can, and I have to find how I want to live my own life.  I understand that I could easily forget what’s important.  I want to be kind to people.  It’s been hard to keep it up.  The first thing I can do is to try being aware of the truth.


Other Steps to take:                                                                               1. Controlling emotions

I sometime lose my temper and forget how to be kind.  Especially when I’m with my friends, I tend to be “myself” more than other people.  So, I can get selfish and pushy even though I don’t want to be.  One way I can change this is to become aware of how I feel and to really show who I want to be, so I can treat the people I care about the way they should be treated.

 

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Happiness, I think, is a form of being kind to yourself.

2.  Being kind to myself

When I think I did bad at something or if I think I can’t do certain things, I just lose self-confidence and I get depressed.  This is really hard to control and I could think of many problems I’ve got from this.  I told myself in these situations that I could work harder to be better at it or I could find something that will make me happier.  Giving myself these options made me feel like I wasn’t lost.  If I do this and tell myself positive things, like the fact the I can accomplish challenges, I could learn how to succeed in things that make me happy.  Happiness, I think, is a form of being kind to yourself. IMG_0115

 

..if I practice.. I’ll be able to automatically feel that for anyone, even strangers.

3. Being loving to everyone

I’ve felt the sensation of love before.  It’s a warm feeling in your heart that makes you smile.  When I joined cross country running, I didn’t expect people to be nice, because I didn’t have good experiences in sports team in the past.  Everyone ended up being really nice, and I came into practice smiling and giving hugs to everyone.  I also feel that if I practice the other two levels, I’ll be able to automatically feel that for anyone, even strangers.  If kindness can spread through the world by me controlling myself and being kind to myself, then why not?

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Kindness is like a feedback loop; if one person is kind to a person, then the person would feel good and would want to do something good for someone else, and that pattern keeps going. This can change the mindset of other people to make powerful, kind decisions for the world.

4. Power through kindness

From being kind to other people through my practice, I can make people happier. When I decide to do something that is important to me, I have to remind myself if I’m doing something then its because it is kind to me or someone else.

I love the feeling I get when I’m nice to someone and they tell me it “made their day”.  If I have the power to change one person’s day I could do something to change many peoples’ lives. Kindness is like a feedback loop; if one person is kind to a person, then the person would feel good and would want to do something good for someone else, and that pattern keeps going. This can change the mindset of other people to make powerful, kind decisions for the world.

For example, if a powerful politician has a kind mindset, they’ll use what they (and the citizens) believe is kind and good for the world.  If the citizens believe that the government should take more action in world hunger – because they want to be kind and do something good for the hungry – the considerate, caring politician will promote that idea and show his passion for why he is making these decisions.  He’ll make plans and strategize how he will set up to accomplish this goal of ending world hunger.  He can help the citizens be kind to other people around the world anddo good in their lives, and also encourage them stand up for what they believe in.

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-Steps To Take-

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