Mindfulness to Close the Gap between Learning and Changing

June 9, 2020 by Nathalie Bougnoux

Learning to change, changing to learn through mindfulness Often when I explain that my job is to integrate mindfulness practices as a pedagogical approach in training, I get suspicious looks. Another fashionable packaging … What does mindfulness have anything to do with learning? Well, it all depends on what you think learning is. Maybe you consider learning as the accumulation of knowledge and know-how, making great room for expertise and top-down pedagogy. But meeting the challenges of today's world requires effecting change. This means first changing what and how we learn through pedagogies that encourage soft skills, experimentation and bonding. In this approach, I consider practicing mindfulness, "the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally in the service of self-understanding and wisdom” as key.

Train the capacity for presence and attention

Between 2001 and 2018, our average concentration time would have gone from 12 to 8 seconds (that of a goldfish being … 9 seconds). This crisis is related to the phenomenon of continuous partial attention and "multi-tasking " with the proliferation of digital tools at hand. However, sadly it is now proven that our brain is not wired to do several things at the same time. Formal mindfulness meditation practices, via attention training, strengthen the pre-frontal cortex and our ability to concentrate and therefore integrate the information that reaches us.

Become aware of our cognitive biases and limiting patterns

To learn, a fortiori as an adult, it is necessary to unlearn. This involves recognizing our thinking habits and our cognitive biases for what they are: a subjective distortion of the reality. By bringing our attention to our habitual thoughts and reactivity patterns, the practice of mindfulness facilitates this identification and allows making space for new ideas and actions thanks to the neuroplasticity of the brain. 

Cultivate curiosity and beginner’s mind towards experience

We remember what we experience 7 times more than what we listen to. However, when we are not used to it, learning from experience requires cultivating qualities that allow this opening. Here again, mindfulness invites us to become explorers of the experience of the present moment: to open to what is here, to be curious for everything, including the unpleasant, and to be patient to let things emerge on their own timing.

Think connection, not separation

Mindfulness is above all a practice of relating to: to experience in all its dimensions – bodily, emotional, mental – to ourselves, and to others. In the same vein, thinking in a complex world requires to connect knowledge and people rather than to partition. This can be supported by trust and empathy, both qualities that have shown to be activated by the effect of a regular mindfulness practice on the pro-social areas of the brain and the release of oxytocin.

Promoting mindfulness practices in learning environments therefore allows for individuals and groups to become more aware of their real capacity to learn, to effect change and to make individual and collective steps in the desired direction.

So, with that in mind, I am no longer afraid to disturb anyone, even top managers, when I take my Tibetan bowl and ask people to pause to feel their breath and their body in trainings. Because I am confident that whatever judgement they might have to start with, I am opening the path for them to get some kind of superpowers if they are willing to cultivate them.


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