Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better – to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing the world anew…can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future. – Peter Thiel, Zero to One
In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Beginners come to new experiences not knowing so much and therefore open. This openness is very creative. It is an innate characteristic of the mind. The trick is never to lose it. That would require you stay in the ever-emerging wonder of the present moment, which is always fresh… – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners
For me, these two quotations highlight the importance of mindfulness in embracing openness to the infinite and creative wonderings of the present moment. Our actions must promote open curiosity, so we don’t blindly promote close-minded agendas. More so, our actions must inspire others to be open to their own creative wonderings.
As educators, policy makers, and school leaders, we must consider how our actions and agendas impact our students and our school or organizational cultures. Everything we do must be aligned to holistic student success, and put it first: in educating the next generation of leaders, we must consider what traits these leaders will promote and what habits these leaders will adopt. We must consider how our own traits and habits inform our students’. We must consider what “student success” looks like, and how we recognize and promote it. We must give voice to students whose experiences truly reveal character learning. The education and classroom environment that we create should not be confined to desks, textbooks, or iPads, and should not be as linear as we sometimes make it out to be. The education that we create for our students should be adaptive, reflective, and transformative. It must enable students to be more resilient, cognitively flexible, and intellectually curious through developing self-actualization, self-awareness, self-advocacy, and self-control skills. The rest will follow. The education that we create for our students must inspire them with the tools to make sense of their world and create their future in authentic, purposeful, and meaningful ways.
How do we do this, especially in existing educational settings – whether corporate, healthcare, or school systems related? How do we implement mindfulness and wellness into organizations and leverage individuals’ existing capacities, to build sustainable cultures of wellness? In Discovering Our Mindful Selves, we explore how to discover and develop our own mindfulness and awareness strategies, so that we can model, and help support others in their own development of, these strategies.
For me, one of the most powerful ways of understanding mindfulness and its importance and impact, is inviting my students to journal and reflect on how mindfulness has changed their lives – and showcasing these reflections.
I frequently ask my students to reflect on what mindfulness means to them, and how they engage with it in their lives. The reflection below is from Yudi Tan, a Village alum. He examines mindfulness in the context of identity formation, creativity, and leadership.
Mindfulness is a powerful technique that ignites self-consciousness that stems from within, but has outward implications. The most creative and best ideas often stem from the most quiet and conscious awareness of our surroundings… – Yudi Tan, Village Alumnus, Class of 2016
When I first heard of the concept “mindfulness” as a senior, I thought it was just jargon invented by people who sit cross-legged with their eyes closed to make their practice seem more credible. I was a skeptic of meditation, and the buzzword “mindfulness” made me even more dubious. My ignorance of the practice led me to dismiss it: I’d always thought the only ways to get rid of stress and to “clear my head” were through exercise (biological approach) and proper planning (practical approach). I didn’t believe that a simple five-minute breath practice could bring about the same effects, and I didn’t fully understand what mindfulness truly meant.
Mindfulness is effective as a stress management and self-improvement tool; practicing mindfulness techniques helps us be more aware of our surroundings. I have grown to realize that mindfulness is not just about meditation and practices that heighten awareness. Rather, it is more about gaining strength and grit through conscious recognition of self. Being a teenager is tough: we must learn to juggle different roles and wear different hats. We are sons, daughters, students, athletes, friends, or presidents of clubs or sports teams. As we grow older, we take on more roles, or “wear more hats,” which leads to more responsibilities and obligations. There’s always the issue of trying to balance “who I am” versus “who I want to be.” Our teenage life seems to be a big struggle: a struggle of self-identity and a struggle of fitting in.
What tools do we have to help us stay afloat and recognize our self-worth in a world that is drowning our voices? The technique that I was once so skeptical of turns out to be the most effective tool that I now have to cope with stress and maximize my potential in my various roles. My personal mindfulness practice has helped me develop my sense of self, by enabling me to notice my weaknesses and consciously identify and label them. Instead of letting every problem pile up into a jumbled mess (which was the reason for much of my stress in high school), I now use awareness of my strengths and weaknesses to develop grit to persevere through challenges.
I noticed that in the past, I tended to avoid thinking about problems, primarily because I wanted to avoid the stress. However, this approach backfired and resulted in more unnecessary stress because my problems were inevitable. In retrospect, I was better off solving these problems more proactively and earlier. Now, mindfulness techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises have helped me better cope with the overwhelming amount of tasks I have as a college student. Since starting college, my mindfulness practice helped me realize that the task or challenge is only as overwhelming as I make it. Yes, there are a lot of problem sets and coursework, but awareness of each assignment’s importance, the ability to prioritize each assignment, and the skill of focusing on one assignment or part of an assignment at a time has helped me greatly reduce my stress. This approach also increases my efficiency, because while working on an assignment, I no longer worry about the other assignments at the back of my head, since I have already planned them out.
Mindfulness techniques also help us teenagers with our biggest stressors: tests or exams. As sons and daughters, we often take on the expectations of our parents, while experiencing peer pressure from our classmates. As a result, exams are our largest stressors. After taking Mindfulness at Village, I became curious as to how mindfulness could apply to learning and academics. I started reading about the concept of Deliberate Practice: a technique that integrates mindfulness concepts with learning. Being mindful, in this sense, means being consciously aware of the topics you are weak in and then deliberately practicing those topics over and over again until you fully grasp them. Mindful revision (Deliberate Practice) is a topic-oriented approach that boosts revision efficiencies, which helps reduce tests-related stress.
This approach of Deliberate Practice also applies to my entrepreneurial endeavors. This past year, I founded a startup that provides more connectivity in, and equality to, the education system in China by creating a platform that leverages online learning opportunities. In taking on the role of “entrepreneur,” I began to realize the importance of mindfulness in relation to entrepreneurship and innovation. Mindfulness – being consciously aware – is central to all entrepreneurial endeavors, because the conscious effort of awareness of surroundings yields an understanding of needs and problems for which one can create a solution. According to Peter Thiel’s lecture at Stanford, a startup is essentially an endeavor to solve a problem that no one has solved. This definition of a startup hints at the core concept of mindfulness: awareness. Recognizing a problem that needs to be solved is only the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey: balancing responsibilities, creating prototypes, and managing a team are some of the tasks that follow. Any entrepreneurial attempt is a balance of technical and people skills. Whereas large corporations are known for their office politics, smaller startups are highly dependent on the leadership and vision of the founder. One of the challenges I’ve faced while founding my startup was egoism. I felt that just because the startup was based on my idea, I was able to take on everything by myself. When we were accepted by a startup-accelerator program, I needed to be comfortable letting my co-founders handle the process while I focused on other aspects. At first I was hesitant, but, through my mindfulness and meditation practice, I realized I needed to reflect on my approach in the context of the larger goal. I realized I had to be comfortable not only letting go, but also knowing how to. As a founder, I’ve realized leadership isn’t about hoarding resources: it is about complementing one’s weakness with another’s strength. Integrating mindfulness into my entrepreneurial endeavors led to more mindful leadership, which increased my ability to be comfortable with and trust with my team and myself, which led to better decisions.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the present moment—and your life. US: Sounds True.
Thiel, P. (2015). Zero to one: Notes on startups, or how to build the future (Paperback Edition). London, UK: Virgin Books.