Research shows that the average person has more than 50,000-70,000 thoughts a day (Davis). That’s about 35-48 thoughts per minute! Imagine if we fixated, focused, or acted on each thought we had, not only would we be overwhelmed, but everyday tasks would become more difficult and almost impossible. Interestingly, “nearly 50% of our awake life is spent mind-wandering. Yet, mind-wandering is associated with lower levels of happiness, possibly through pathological forms of self-referential thought focused on the past or future, such as rumination [that is, repetitive focus on negative emotions and events,] or worry” (Marusak). Regular mindfulness practice can help adolescent boys control these wandering thoughts and decrease anxiety, depression, maladaptive behaviors, and impulsive behaviors (Marusak).
Over time, consistent mindfulness practice can lead to the formation of new habits and healthier ways of thinking or dealing with our emotions. This “rewiring” of the brain is known as neuroplasticity. Students at Open Sky learn that through mindfulness practice they can gain control over the dysfunctional thoughts that contribute to their anxiety, depression, impulsivity, etc. Being present in the moment, focusing on breathing, labeling thoughts as they enter the mind, and letting thoughts go are tools we all can use throughout our lives no matter the situation.
As a Clinical Therapist in a team of adolescent boys, I see first-hand the ways many them struggle with managing their thoughts. Failing to let go of certain thoughts can cause boys to spiral into a depressed or anxious state or react impulsively with disruptive behaviors. Routinely, I work with adolescent boys who meet their need for power and control by sabotaging relationships and sacrificing values that are important to them. We teach the boys mindfulness practices to help take power and control over their thoughts, feelings, and emotions so they can nourish healthy relationships and decrease their destructive, impulsive behaviors.
Wilderness therapy provides a safe environment to practice mindfulness with instant feedback and support. Mindfulness practice is inherent to Open Sky programming and is incorporated into our daily routines. Guides and senior students lead yoga and meditation every day before breakfast and all teams gather weekly at Base Camp for Group Meditation. The Field Team and Clinical Team guide students daily in the skills of being present, acknowledging our thoughts without judgment, and understanding how our thoughts affect our mood. Therapists also utilize a variety of assignments and tools to assist students in becoming more aware of how the body connects with the mind.
Parents also have opportunities to practice mindfulness skills through the Family Services we offer. These are skills that parents and students can take with them beyond their Open Sky journeys. Together, they can use these skills to enrich the entire family system. It is exciting to witness my students and their families develop practices that will ultimately lead them to more fulfilling lives and relationships.
Davis, Bruce. (2013).There Are 50,000 Thoughts Standing Between You and Your Partner Every Day. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-davis-phd/healthy-relationships_b_3307916.html
Marusak, H. A., Elrahal, F., Peters, C. A., Kundu, P., Lombardo, M. V., Calhoun, V. D., . . . Rabinak, C. A. (2018). Mindfulness and dynamic functional neural connectivity in children and adolescents. Behavioural Brain Research, 336, 211-218.