Friday, August 31, 2012

Flow is Not Just the Name of Your Secratary

There are times when we are so consumed with what we are doing that time seems to let go of its hold on us, are bodies are in-sync and our conscious flies on auto-pilot. No... I'm not talking about walking up the stairs to your bedroom after a night of drinking, I'm talking about being in the moment or what I call "driving in your lane, with the windows down." This may come to a teacher when they are deep in a pedagogical moment with childrens' eyes fixed on them in wonder. It may come to a tennis player, when they are no longer thinking about what shot they are going to hit next; driving a backhand cross court. Or it may even come to a mother as she scaffolds her daughter through the moment of riding a bike for the first time without training wheels.

We can call this moment of full immersion: Flow. This concept was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (huh?????? yes he is almost as famous for his name and is generally just know as Mr. C) and really provided the basis for the Positive Psychology movement. Mr. C talks about Flow being "a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990)." He writes about this experience in his book "Finding Flow" :

I find this idea of Flow very similar to the mindful awareness that is fostered through a daily mindfulness practice. With the practice of mindful meditation and yoga we are able to influence our capacity to experience Flow in our everyday lives and increase the wonder and happiness of the fulfillment that accompanies it. Mr. C writes "To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)." I believe this is an over statement. When we make focused attention part of our daily experience, Flow will become part of our reality no matter the challenge level of the task at hand. Acknowledging this feeling of Flow helps us make meaning in our lives. It also helps us be confident in our life's lane (or purpose).

I was listening to one of my favorite rock bands the other day and could help to think that this song not only represented the wonder of being in the moment, but also how we can reach the feeling of Flow from focusing our attention on even the simplest daily activities.

The full lyrics can be found here, but I found this verse to be particularly germane to the post above.
Like a tropical forest
Like a cop on the beat
When all is in order
You get lost in the heat
With focused attention and a mindful approach to life we can stay in the moment and experience Flow in the world around us. This will help to increase our ability to enjoy life as fully functioning human beings. It will also give us the keys to the ignition so we can drive in our lane with the top down and the wind blowing through our hair!
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. Basic Books
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row


Quick Links - Hispanics twice as likley to have Developmental Delays??

  • Hispanic children twice as likely to have Developmental Delays.... Yikes, however looking at the study they may need to do a little more research regarding the effects of Second Language Acquisition
  • However it appears that becoming bi-cultural increases creativity
  • This school in suburban Philadelphia is teaching kids with Asperger's Disorder how to use effective communication through broadcast journalism. They are watching themselves back and working on their communication skills.... Love it

  • Love this idea for character development in the classroom.... Have your student write their end of the year legacy today... Imagine yourself at the end of the year assembly... What would your principal say about you??? Plant those seeds of intention.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

4 Steps to Prevent Unhelpful Narratives

As I sit in my office and review a file for a meeting I will have in the next half-hour, I am making every effort to use non-judgement to prevent pre-conceived notions about a parent. I have not met the parent. I have observed their child for a concise 20 minutes. However,  I have been exposed to a narrative that has come from everyone from the teacher all the way to the janitors... "Oh you are meeting with her?" "You better bring a Lawyer with you." "She is a piece of work." "I think she just want to make our lives hell."

Working in a school constantly exposes you to narratives and assumptions from personnel regarding parents, students and other teachers. Listening and processing these narratives feeds our left- brain.The left brain is responsible for logic and is in charge of verbalizing internal thoughts and feelings. The left hemisphere is also responsible for creating our life story, or autobiographical narrative. As such, when we process negative verbal information that we also begin to create our own narratives e.g. "Ugh I don't want to talk to that teacher", "That parent doesn't care about their child", "This student is just lazy".  You can't fault your left brain for stringing together this verbal information, as its doing its job. The left brain is really amazing and gives us novels, movies and the ability to put our feeling into words. However, the left brain's drive for giving verbal context to sensory information is so strong that it can often confabulate a story, taking cues from what it knows and putting them together in an answer that makes sense, even if it leaves out important information.  For this reason alone we must be able to stop serving it and call it a cab before it gets drunk on power. Not doing so can create opinions or judgments about things that may not take the whole picture into account.

Creating false narratives can be a disadvantage in a field that requires empirically based observations and data based decision making. The word empirical in its self implies that which is acquired through sensory experience, rather than left brain concocted theories. Therefore when making decisions, completing observations or going into a situation that already carries a narrative (most meetings), it is imperative to take these steps to stay in the moment and making informed observations about what is happening in the now.

  1. Take a 3 Deep Breathes: Mindfulness and breathing are inseparable, and deep breathing is suggested ad nauseam  as a means to anchor yourself. Well it works and focusing on your breath will help you prepare to identify those pesky narratives with they jump into your head.
  2. Take a quick body scan and notice how your body is feeling in the moment. Are you nervous? Is your heart beating faster than normal? Are your shoulders or jaw clenched. Noticing these somatic triggers will help you stay aware of the mind body connection. If your body is in a state of stress it will more likely grasp for any narrative it can in order to explain why you are feeling as such, even if this narrative has no basis in what is actually happening.
  3. Notice the narrative when it arises: Here is where non-judgement comes into play. Notice judgments,  preconceived notions and assumptions when they pop-up. Acknowledge them as such and move your sensory awareness back to the task at hand, whether it be listening, writing or observing what is happening in the moment. 
  4. Creative a new narrative: In the moment of acknowledging a toxic narrative it can be helpful to label it and creative a new narrative in a non-judgmental fashion. For example if a teacher says something along the lines of "I don't think this student's parent cares about school, he never returns his homework." Instead of using this information to create a theory of why homework is not returned, you can just repeat to yourself "listening", or "helping". These anchor words will help to create space between what is actually going on and what the toxic narrative is explaining is going on. I had a teacher same something similar to me once. We later found out that the student was doing all the homework; however he wasn't turning it in. Weeks of homework and assignments were crumbled up in balls at the bottom of his back pack. 
By having a consistent mindfulness practice we are better able to create the awareness necessary to not only notice maladaptive narratives when they arise, but also use our sensory experience to gain empirical information about what is actually happening in the moment. We can become better practitioners, consultants and team members if we stay in the moment and work with what is actually happening now, rather than continuing a story that our drunk Uncle Left Brain started weeks ago.

Quick Links

  • Stress reduction approaches like mindfulness and biofeedback could be as important to your physical fitness as crunches

  • I appears that Classical Conditioning works while your asleep as well ...

  • It appears that personality traits such as self-control and procrastination may have a stronger impact on grades in school than say....cognitive ability . I always knew that Type A captain of the debate team wasn't really that smart....

  • Exergaming (I guess that's a thing now), you know the whole idea of exercising while playing video games, appears to help task performance in children; specifically the ability to process interference from conflicting  visuospatial stimuli. Practical Applications???? Maybe Dance Dance Revolution may help children become better proof readers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Morning Poem

Along with starting the day off with an intention, I like to start the week off with an overarching manifestation. This one comes from the  book Tao Of Jeet Kun Doe, by Bruce Lee, which among technical martial arts instructions, lies zen musings and teachings. People and athletes who are at the height of their craft often speak about being in the "zone." They intuitively feel and respond to what is happening around them with little cognitive mediation. This awareness is what being in the moment is all about. Thanks to Pocket Mindfulness for the link. The author is reportedly a Tao Priest and the poem has no title.

Into a soul absolutely free
From thoughts and emotion,
Even the tiger finds no room
To insert its fierce claws
One and the same breeze passes
Over the pines on the mountain
And the oak tress in the valley;
And why do they give different notes
No thinking, no reflecting,
Perfect emptiness;
Yet therein something moves,
Following its own course
The eye sees it,
But no hand can take hold of it -
The moon in the stream
Clouds and mists
They are midair transformations;
Above them eternally shine the sun and the moon
Victory is for the one,
Even before combat,
Who has no thought of himself,
Abiding is the no-mind-ness of Great Origin

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Links for the Day

  • The Pulvinar, described as a "mysterious part of the brain" appears to be behind selective attention and how the brain transmits information... Is it just me or does this sound like some doomsday device from a James Bond movie

  • Here are 10 ways Yoga makes you cool .... but if you were really cool you would have been doing Yoga before it was cool
  • In a related note it appears that Hipster Ariel may really be ahead of the curve as spirituality is linked to better mental health....

  •  A new line of Jewish Yoga know as "kabbalah Yoga"  is beginning to gain popularity

  • Yoga and deep breathing being used to fight PTSD in soldiers

Mindful Consultation

The previously posted quote "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are" is a great example of why Mindfulness is important in the area of School Based Consultation / Instructional Consultation (IC). The above video halariously shows how school based problem solving can go terribly wrong. As School Psychologists we also serve as  instructional consultants. Effective collaboration skills are imperative for providing school-based service delivery that enhances academic achievement in students.

In general School Psychologists enter into a consultee-centered relationship with school staff and parents that usually has the basic goal of enhancing academic achievement in students (this may also include increasing or decreasing behaviors which impede upon this goal). School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice III (Ysseldyke et al., 2006) identified interpersonal and collaborative skills as foundational competencies that are "indispensable for school psychologists" (p. 15). As a Consultant you possesses some piece of knowledge that a consultee inherently seeks. This knowledge is the foundation of the data -based decision making and problem solving process. However, it should be noted, that  psychological consultation consists of a problem-solving, interpersonal relationship that develops through periodic face-to-face contacts between consultant and consultee (Erchul, 2003). This  interpersonal relationship is just as important as whatever knowledge the consultee is seeking. Building a positive relationship is imperative and must be approached in a nonherarchical manner in order to resolve a problem. This may be difficult for some  Psychologists (like our friend above) or other porfessionals that have sacrificed 6 years of their life on a PhD that ultimately screams hierarchy (the below graph is by no means scientific)

This is where Mindfulness comes into play and can inform how we build and maintain interpersonal relationships. Practicing Mindfulness not only helps us acknowledge our own thoughts and emotions, but it can also foster compassion for those around us. Practicing Mindfulness actives neural integration of the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC). When activated, the specific area of the PFC know as the "medial prefrontal cortex", supports our ability to take in communication signals and be influenced by that information (Siegel, 2007). This area of the brain is also responsible for Empathy, which helps us stay open with others during difficult times.

By increasing awareness of what is happening in the moment we can acknowledge our emotions or assumptions that may impede on what is trying to be communicated. This ability is at the heart of Mindful Listening. Some of the ways one can listen Mindfully include:
  • Body Awareness: Paying Attention to your body and facilitating openness during listening (e.g. arms not crossed, relaxed shoulders)
  • Eye Contact:
  • Listen for Significance: Why is the person saying what they are saying, what do they need from me in this moment, Do they need advice? or just need to share without feedback? Many times teachers and other school personnel just need to vent and do not need your expert opinion.
  • Ask for Clarification: Clarifying questions help you better understand what a consultee may need. This is especially important in with regards to Problem Identification within the IC framework.
If Listening skills are necessary with regards to building interpersonal relationships then Mindfulness of Speech is the other side of the same coin. Before any verbal exchange one should take a moment to establish what their intention is in this exchange. Marshal Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, breaks intention down to two categories, the intention to create connection or the intention to create separation. With regards to IC the intention should always be to connect the consultee to information that helps resolve a problem they are having . Acknowledging preconceived notions or judgments that may impede upon this intention are a crucial part of engaging in Mindful Speech. This includes paying attention to how and why we say things. This may be difficult during a heated exchange, or a conversation that involves unresolved feelings (the Speech/ Language Therapist above may have a previous negative history with the Psychologist); however, with a Mindfulness practice that includes staying in the moment and creating space between thoughts and actions this ability will soon become part of your communication style.

Therefore, when talking about Instructional or Behavioral Consultation within the context of School Psychology, one must not be primarily concerned about problem solving (or declaring who has a greater knowledge base). It is also important to build and maintain an active and healthy personal relationship that has foundations in Mindful Communication skills which foster intentions that include collaboration, empathy and connection.

Erchul, W. P. (2003).  Communication and interpersonal processes in consultation: Guest editor’s comments. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 14, 105-107.

Siegel, Daniel J. (2007) The Mindful Brain. New York, New York: W.W. Norton Company

Monday, August 20, 2012

Morning links

  • Test-based promotion policies can be successful (i.e. grade retention ) if  those retained are provided with research-based instruction in reading funding for said instruction. 

  • Gratitude in children is linked to positive life outcomes such as a lower probability of abusing drugs and alcohol as well as behavior problems in school. Start those gratitude journals....

  • Are we sure she wasn't just playing Words With Friends ??

  • It appears confidence intervals are the new Emergency Pardon on death row. However, not sure if IQ testing correlates with moral/ethical aptitude...discuss....

  • Human Genome project now appears to have a Neurological counterpart in the Human Cennectome Project... If anything it provides some beautiful visuals

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quote of the Day

"We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."
- Anais Nin

Psychology today has a nice article about ways to enhance Emotional Intelligence. This quote stood out to me along with this piece of advice: When we avoid personalizing other people's behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective on the situation can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding. The practice of Mindfulness inherently "widens out perspective" on situations and provides the space between thought and action for us to "see things as they are."

Nice Graph

This graph is not specific data with regards to Mindfulness; however, it is a nice visual about the successes of meditation in schools. These numbers appear to come from both Trancendental Meditation (TM) practices as well as Mindfulness traditions. Although it also has scientific backing, the TM movement may be a more difficult path for school implementation as it is sometimes stigmatized as a cult. Nonetheless, this article shows the positive aspects of school based TM programs, specifically the Quiet Time Program, created by the David Lynch foundation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Interesting things here and there.....

  • It looks like a light bulb does go off in your head when you have an "Aha" moment
  • A new study suggests that Yoga could help pregnant women cope with Depression       
  • 3 simple ways to relief stress in Kids
  • Football teams have started using Hot Yoga as a means of training
  • Good example of getting "lost" in parenting

Quote of the Day

"Mindfulness is the process of observing how mindless you are in whatever present moment you find yourself in"

Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

Well it looks like people are starting to catch on and mainstream media outlets(is PBS mainstream media?? ) are beginning to bring the benefits of Mindfulness in K-12 education to a larger audience. This is a great video that exemplifies the growing movement of not only the practice of Mindfulness, but also its application as a Social/ Emotional curriculum in schools.

As it has been painfully reported, America lags other industrialized nations in academics including below average results in Mathematics. Out of 65 industrialized nations we are 14th in Reading, 17th in Science and 25th in Math; however, where do we rank in self-regulation? Where do we rank in emotional control... where do we rank in self-awareness.... what about interpersonal awareness? We can hammer the 3 Rs into the heads of our future generations, but if they are unable to utilize these skills for personal growth and the interpersonal skills necessary to fulfill the basic social contract, then we have ultimately failed. Luckily, it looks like the 4th R, self-Regulation is starting to gain momentum as a viable learning foundation in K-12 education.

This segment from On Point with Tom Ashbrook does a great job of showing the importance of character development and Mindfulness, as well as the science behind it within educational settings. With Fox News reporting on Congressmen Tim Ryan's (D-Ohio) promotion of Mindfulness in his own life, we are starting to see an encouraging movement that is reaching across red states and blue states.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bits and links

  • Apparently meditation decreases the duration of the common cold

  • Meditation (mantra-centered) as an intervention for the sensory processing deficits seen in Autism seems to be growing.

  • Good news you don't have to drag the family to go see Grandma in the old peoples home anymore, as Carnegie Mellon found that an 8 week MBSR course reduces loneliness

  • Recent research has shown that heart and lung health has been linked to better reading and math scores in middle school students. This is great because it just so happens that meditation and yoga may also help fight acute respiratory infections and asthma

Back to School.....

Alas back to school has a arrived. After swim lessons and sports camps students line up outside in their new shoes and shiny book bags in order to start a new year of learning and growth. Or, if you are a teacher/administrator, to start a new year of budget cuts, angry parents and ballooning class sizes. Just as its important to start every day with an intention, it is also a good time to start a school year off with an intention. The cacophony of politics and opinions can often be so loud in education that it may cloud your perception of what exactly it is you are trying to accomplish. I'm going to take this first week of school to embrace the dynamic nature and events of a school system and set a goal of what I want to accomplish this year. Whether its being more organized, staying motivated, or remaining patient in the face of adversity, I'm going to set this intention as a "north star" for my year.

Taking a moment to ground yourself and set an intention helps you to be confident in your actions and prevents you from straying from your path (which you ultimately created). Remembering this each morning before students and staff come hurling through those school doors will not only help you stay in the moment, but will also provide peace and steadfastness in moments of stress.