Like many things growing focus and concentration is a challenge. Sometimes we may even think that we have this as a skill or not, we are born with an abundance or we were not. This as you know is a trap of thinking and it is one that many of our students fall into on a regular basis, heck it is a trap that I myself as an adult must be ever on the lookout for in all areas of life. It is that trap that begins with the sneaking feeling, the whispers of “I can’t” that creep into one’s mind when presented with a challenge. It is that whisper that stops forward momentum in it’s tracks and asks the metaphysical hands to be thrown into the air with “I am out!” sort of attitude. We have all seen it, likely experienced it ourselves, and our students, our families, our coworkers live it on a daily basis - yet most still “show up” in really healthy ways for themselves, the question is how?
Over the past year I have been ruminating almost, on this concept in my own life, I decided that I would attempt to build my muscle of “presence and focus” with intention to my own self care. Yep over the course of the year, I have experienced lots of “epic fail” moments and some growing successes. Let me explain. I have had a love/hate relationship my entire life with exercise. I love how it makes me feel, but HATE to do it (spend time, get sweaty, hang out, etc - the list is really large). So last summer, I began to take spin classes (again). I figured I could take it twice a week over the summer and then with luck maybe go once a week during the school year. Did it, hated it. However, towards the end of the summer I began to actively work at getting my mind to slow, to hang with my muscles, to control my breathe and a funny thing began to happen - I began to hate it less. Rather than the once a week attendance, I consistently went 2-3 times each week (success). What I found is that when my body was that active my mind began to be curious about what was being experienced. I went from believing that I would fall off of my bike at any minutes (you laugh but it is a really worry for many), to noting that my breathe was becoming labored, closing my eyes and regulating the rhythmic movements of my own air. I was practicing stressing myself out, and then actively calming myself in the midst of the episode. That was the key - practice and it is a skill that can be strengthened and cultivated in all of us - particularly our students.
I see the implications of my lesson for myself, in many facets of the learning environment for my students. My own sweet spot is with middle school students, and the restless, pushing inquisitive, risk taking humans that they are exploring within themselves is a beautiful thing to behold. It becomes a problem though when it gets away from them (like me and every other human), the difference is that they believe that “crisis” is being watched by every person on the planet. The number of times that I have been told that “everyone knows” about….. Is too high to count. So I remind them to start with a small change, one that might miss the observations of “everyone”, and report back on their success. Maybe it is showing up for one class twice a week and bringing all of the class supplies, maybe it is sitting at a different table at lunch once a week, or taking a different route to class and noting what other students are doing. The options are as varied as the students. Most report back a positive experience, so I encourage them to add another success. I remind them that they might hate it in general, it may be difficult overall, but let’s give it a valid time frame to determine if there are positive changes occurring for them.
Yes they backslide, yes they fail, we look for something else and try again - building resilience. This sort of resilience cannot be truly measured, it cannot even be witnessed. It is an internal struggle that comes with the process of hope but with a booster shot. It is the systematic approach of evaluating outcomes, of experimenting with internal processes, and allowing success to be laid down deeply into the soul. Gosh it takes practice and commitment to understand that you are not going to “fall off the bike” - and even if you do, an option is still to get back on.
Happy wishes for successful exploring this summer, rest, recharge and bring something new (even if it is a rested you) back to school with you - oh and let us know how you have done, share your successes (and epic fails) so we can engage in that social learning thing taught to us by Bandura.