“Ours is an incredible story,” writes David Eagleman in Cognito, a book on the elusive workings of the brain. “As far as anyone can tell, we’re the only system on the planet so complex that we’ve thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming.”
And just what have we unearthed? “Three pounds of the most complex material we’ve discovered in the universe.”
That “complex material” is the source of what inspires neuroscientist Dave Mochel every day, the internationally recognized teacher and coach who works with schools and companies all over the world on the principles of brain training. Mochel has served as a consultant at CA for the past three years, working with every faculty member and many students with the goal of bringing mindfulness to campus through hands-on workshops. Mindfulness, he says, is recognizing what’s most important and then committing to useful action.
On this particular day, that mindfulness finds itself in the shape of two groups of faculty, all standing within large circles made of small ropes they’ve tied together. The ropes began as small circles themselves, which contained only three to four teachers. After taking up half of those ropes, the teachers figure out they can tie the remaining ropes together to make a larger circle.
“See how much you can do with half the resources when you work together?” he asks.
Mochel consults with teachers at the beginning of every year to lay the groundwork in the community. He then builds on that work with students, where he says the real potentials lies.
“I think the really unique opportunity at Colorado Academy is the huge developmental change — radical from 5 years old to 18 years old. It’s an incredible developmental spread and a real potential to positively impact students’ habits.”
“This is the only Pre-K through 12 school I work with,” says Mochel, who, among other things, also writes leadership curriculum for a school in Japan. “I think the really unique opportunity at Colorado Academy is the huge developmental change — radical from 5 years old to 18 years old. It’s an incredible developmental spread and a real potential to positively impact students’ habits.”
Mochel does that by using brain research to show both teachers and students how they can modify their behavior by acting in the face of discomfort. He calls the source of that unease the Squirrel Brain—the part of the brain we share with the small rodent that prevents us from operating at our highest aspirations. Activated when there is a problem, the squirrel brain jumps to what it knows – it’s habitual behavior – because this behavior provides comfort.
But while certain parts of our brain resist discomfort, another part recognizes it as a means to growth. The WYFLION portion of the brain, a term coined by Mochel that stands for “Whether You Feel Like It Or Not,” allows us to make thoughtful decisions, acting instead on values.
“It’s why the ability to be courageous is a powerful and uniquely human thing to do,” says Mochel.
For students and faculty alike, Mochel uses activities that are intentionally designed to induce frustration in order to draw attention to habitual reactions and offer positive ways to alter those reactions.
According to Head of School, Dr. Mike Davis, this type of work is some of the most important at CA. “There is no question that CA is a school dedicated to developing a strong academic foundation – that will serve our students well in life,” says Davis. “But, we help them more if we can help students be more resilient and more adept at taking on challenge. Our work on mindfulness is an effort to help students practice better behavior and decision-making. It is aimed at helping cultivate the essential emotional intelligence that a person needs to be successful in life.”
By showing students and faculty the possibility and potential for changing the way they think and react, Mochel is helping to further that goal. Already, the effects are apparent on campus, where he says, “There are small acts of kindness that I see all over the place everyday at CA.”