“Mind over matter” is a simple expression describing the ability to use our minds to self-regulate in those moments when situations seem out of our control. Under normal circumstances, the mind processes information through the prefrontal cortex region of the brain, the area responsible for executive functions that allow us to control our behavior and make choices that lead to positive outcomes. But when situations arise that we can’t control and our executive functioning is compromised, implementing a mind-over-matter outlook is difficult.
When we experience intense or uncomfortable emotions, the amygdala, a small almond-shaped area in the brain responsible for emotions, “hijacks” our reasoning skills and interferes with our executive function (Goleman, 1995). We then enter fight-or-flight mode, obscuring the path to making rational decisions. In these current times when students, teachers, and their families may be experiencing anxiety, anger, and stress, this “amygdala hijack” can diminish our self-control and negatively impact our self-regulation abilities. One way to interrupt the fight-or-flight mode many of us may be operating from right now is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a powerful practice for becoming aware of one’s emotions and learning to manage those emotions that are uncomfortable and make us feel like we’ve lost control. We have the ability to be present and control our reactions to our emotions, but like any other skill, it needs to be practiced.
Mindfulness principles are ways of readjusting our attitudes or beliefs about someone or something, allowing us to modify our reactions when sudden and profound changes occur in our lives.
The seven principles of mindfulness that help us to manage our behaviors and emotions are:
- In the Moment – Acknowledge the moment for what it is, whether positive or negative
- Have Faith – Believe in yourself and in the capabilities of your body and mind
- Reality Check – Align your plans and expectations with real-world circumstances
- Reset Experiences – View every experience through a new lens
- Suspend Judgment – Let go of what is no longer serving you without judging it
- Put It in Neutral – Become unbiased in your experiences through stillness and observing where you are
- Take It Slow – Allow situations to unfold in their own time by following nature’s lead
Many of us now may be dealing with a new dynamic, shifting routines and altering the ways we teach and learn, and it may be difficult for both students and teachers to focus and remain calm. Remember to take a pause, either on your own or together with your class, and practice mindfulness. For your students, create role-play scenarios. Use visualization and reflection strategies to draw students into discussions about what they may be struggling with as they transition to online learning. For yourself, practice cleansing breaths and grounding techniques to reset when you’re feeling stressed.
As we practice these mindfulness principles, they will come more naturally, and we will find that we are much more comfortable and empowered to teach our students and ourselves the skills needed to name and manage all of our emotions.
Download our mindfulness journal to begin putting the seven principles into practice in your own life. You can also share it with friends, family, and parents. As we practice these mindfulness attitudes, they will become more natural and comfortable for us, and we will find that we are more empowered to teach our students the skills they need to name and manage their emotions.