Today, like never before, young people are faced with incredible levels of stress and distraction, which impede learning and, ultimately, their ability to achieve success and happiness. While I’ve spent much of my career as an actress, producer and author, in recent years I’ve turned my focus to more pressing matters and by far the most exciting work I’ve done is helping children to cultivate the skills they need to excel and engage more effectively in learning and life.
Over 10 years ago, I established the Hawn Foundation. Collaborating with a team of neuroscientists, psychologists, academics and contemplative practitioners, we developed MindUP™, a set of tools and strategies to help children learn to self-regulate their behaviour, engage in the focused concentration necessary for academic success and develop social perspective – the ability to understand their own thoughts, as well as the thoughts and feelings of others.
MindUP™ is an evidence-based programme that includes professional development workshops for teachers, a 15-step curriculum, and an integrative approach that embeds the skills to create a more optimistic school, living or work environment. Using social and emotional learning and positive psychology, the programme helps students, educators and employees to centre themselves, handle stress effectively and improve their performance in the task at hand.
Central to our work and our goal of finding solutions to global problems is the concept of mindfulness, a technique for focusing attention objectively on the here and now.
Neuroscientists have concluded that practising mindfulness promotes concentration, emotional regulation and empathy. Helping children and adults alike to control their response to stress, it allows them to absorb information and perform better under pressure. The same techniques also promote positive moods and attitudes while fostering compassion – key ingredients for success in life and work.
The unique strength of MindUP™ and this approach is its emphasis on neuroscience, empowering individuals to avoid the pitfalls of emotional reactivity and to harness their brain’s full potential. Research shows that mindful practice improves the psychological state and reduces burnout while increasing self-compassion. Imagine a world where everyone could access these effects.
MindUP™ is being used in seven countries and the Hawn Foundation is now developing the programme for use with special-needs and at-risk youth, families, women and girls, and health and wellness, as well as for workforce initiatives. These adaptations will serve individuals experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, ADHD, trauma and the impacts of systemic poverty on at-risk groups – answering some of the many challenges to overall global health and wellness.
In the 21st century, the potential for chronic stress and impacts of poverty are acute, and we believe that cultivating mindful awareness is no longer an option; it is essential to our mental health and well-being.
Studies have shown that mindful awareness training can also have a positive impact on physical health, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, improving the immune system and even altering gene expression to reduce inflammation, linked to cancer and heart disease. In one randomized controlled trial, healing was accelerated among patients undergoing therapy for psoriasis who simultaneously practised guided mindfulness meditations.
Many of the world’s top business leaders, from Arianna Huffington and Rupert Murdoch to Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, credit mindfulness in the workplace as part of their success.
The ability to remain calm and focused in stressful situations is central to making positive decisions.
Joining corporate leaders, heads of state, social-change agents, educators and healthcare providers, our team is creating partnerships to explore these principles to impact workforce and youth outcomes at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos.
I firmly believe that by cultivating mindful change and raising awareness, we can ultimately transform our world for the better. I invite you to join me in this important discussion.
Author: Goldie Hawn is an actress, producer, author and founder of The Hawn Foundation.
Image: Goldie Hawn speaks during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich