Here is the full transcript of AnneMarie Rossi’s TEDx Talk: Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness at TEDxYouth@MileHigh conference.
Harvard conducted a research study and they tracked more than 1,000 people from birth until age 32, looking for what made someone successful. What common characteristic or trait was seen in a successful individual? It wasn’t their race, what language they spoke, what neighborhood they grow up in, or how much money their parents had.
It wasn’t how well they did on standardized tests, or even their IQ. It was self-control. Those who were successful, who had good careers, financial stability, loving relationships, and physical health, were the ones who could focus, pay attention, and regulate their emotions. They were the ones to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t matter if I give you all the shiniest new iPads, and Stephen Hawkings is teaching you Math, if you can’t focus and pay attention, how well will you do?
Mindfulness is the foundation for all other learning, for all success you will have throughout your entire life. So I ask you, why, if we know that this is the single most important predictor of success for human beings, why aren’t we teaching it to you? Mindfulness exercises are designed to train your brain to have focus, attention, and emotional regulation. There’s mindful listening, eating, breathing, movement; it’s a way of engaging in the present moment, without attachment and without judgment.
Mindfulness is grounded in more than 30 years of scientific study, most major universities in the world, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, just to name a few, teach and/or research this practice. In fact, Oxford has a Master’s Degree in mindfulness. This isn’t religion, this isn’t hippie nonsense, this isn’t some idea I came up with in my backyard.
This is science. There exist literally thousands of studies that show us that mindfulness practice decreases depression, anxiety, and stress; increases overall feelings of well-being, happiness, focus, attention, and academic achievement.
So, I ask you again: why if we know this, why aren’t we teaching mindfulness to you? We are inundated with distractions; our phones, our tablets, all the sights and sounds that surround us. The never ending dialogue our brain is having with itself. The ability to focus on one thing at a time for an extended period is a skill and it requires practice.
You all know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in your class, and you’re pretty sure you heard the teacher say the words ‘important’ and ‘quiz’. But then that girl you met over the weekend texted and while you have to respond, you want to sound cool and interested, but not too interested, I mean you’re not desperate. And then a breeze blows through the window and whoa, what is that smell? Has that girl always been in this class? She’s got pretty hair Man, I like a girl that smells good! Wait, do I smell good? Did I put on deodorant today? Am I sweating? Sweating is weird.
It’s like your body’s crying smelly tears. And then the bell rings and you have missed all of class and you definitely have absolutely no idea what’s important and what’s on the quiz. The ability to turn your attention to the class, to focus on something that frankly might not be that interesting – like algebra – it’s a skill, and it requires practice.
Mindfulness is how we get there. I find it funny when people tell me that they don’t need to practice mindfulness, “Oh, I got this!” Really that is so strange because I’m pretty sure Kobe Bryant already knows how to play basketball, but he’s still practicing.
He also practices mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t just about the ability to focus and pay attention, it’s also able to feel emotions like pain, anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear and not react to them. Mindfulness gives us space between our emotions and our responses, so that we can actually think first. Sometimes we forget that our emotions are ever-changing, that joy and pain come and go like ocean waves. Mindfulness allows us to surf, rather than drown.
And sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ones feeling pain. Look around the room, look at the person next to you, in front of you, behind you. They have all experienced pain. Every one of you have all experienced pain. Pain is inevitable.
Suffering? Well, that’s a choice. We may not be able to choose all the uncontrolled circumstances that life presents with us any more than we can choose the weather, right? But we can choose not to be victims to our circumstances, because we can choose our reactions. Pain and anger, well, they’re just not good excuses because they’re a part of every human experience. If we respond to anger with anger, we only make the situation worse. The harsh truth is that it doesn’t matter how righteous and justifiable your emotions may be, it is irrelevant, because you’ll be judged based on your reactions and not your reasons.
Mindfulness allows us to be reflective and not reactive. It’s not about running from our emotions or not feeling our emotions, it’s allowing us to not be overwhelmed by our emotions. It’s not about controlling our thoughts and emotions, but rather not having our thoughts and emotions control us. I have two teenagers; I teach teenagers and I was once, 900 years ago, a teenager myself.
The struggle to deal with your emotions is real and overwhelming. The part of the teenage brain that regulates emotions, that hasn’t fully yet developed. But the part that feels emotions, that’s the size of a full grown adult. So something small can really easily turn into something big. You’re walking in the hallway and you see your friend, they look right at you, and you’re like, “Hey, what’s up?”, and they ignore you like a Casper.
So you walk into your next class, and you spend the entire time trying to figure out why this person hates you now. You’ve texted all of your other friends, and nobody’s responded, you’ve replayed the last three conversations you had with them in your head, and you still have no idea what went wrong. So you decided that, well, you hate them too, now, I mean, who are they to ignore you, right? Or you decided that, well, gosh, they ignored you and nobody’s responded to any of your text messages, and man, this must mean that actually nobody likes you and really, you don’t have any friends, and no one’s ever going to love you, and you’re definitely going to die alone with a hundred cats. Obviously Right? Clearly.