John Allcock, author of FORTY THINGS I WISH I’D TOLD MY KIDS: Mindful Messages About Success, Happiness, Leather, Pickles, and the Use and Misuse of Imagination (a Morgan James paperback, on sale March 2018).
LISTEN to today's conversation with John Allcock!
Allcock has seen first-hand how mindfulness can transform our lives. As the co-founder of Sea Change Preparatory - a school that incorporates mindfulness into it’s curriculum - he has witnessed how this essential practice has helped students achieve the unthinkable. Continuing to break records in swimming, students at Sea Change Prep have learned to use mindfulness to overcome fear, dismiss limiting beliefs about their abilities, and achieve the goals that they set for themselves.
Now, these mindfulness concepts are outlined in FORTY THINGS I WISH I’D TOLD MY KIDS to help adults and children alike achieve peace, self-acceptance, and self-realization. Practical, universally-applicable lessons cover:
• How to let go of the “I’ll be happy when…” fallacy
• How to identify the false narratives that prevent us from achieving our goals
• How to drop the mental habits that do not lead to genuine happiness
• How to change our thoughts, not control them
• How to separate our intrinsic value from our achievements
• How to become a student of pain, not a victim of it
About the Author:
John Allcock has dedicated over 15 years to the practice and instruction of mindfulness. He is the Co-Founder and Director of Mindfulness at Sea Change Preparatory, a trailblazing academy that regularly implements the practice of mindfulness in it’s curriculum. The school’s emphasis on mindfulness set the foundation for the success of it’s students, including world-record-breaking swimmers, which were featured on NBC Nightly News. John is also a Harvard-educated trial lawyer and has been the Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper’s Intellectual Property Group. He lives in Del Mar, California with his wife and co-founder Cheryl. Together they have four children.
In Conversation with John Allcock
Author of FORTY THINGS I WISH I’D TOLD MY KIDS
1. What inspired you to write 40 Things That I Wish I'd Told My Kids?
I was going through a challenging time in my life (a divorce and associated difficulties) and I was introduced to mindfulness. I read widely, went to retreats, and listened to literally hundreds of talks by some of the leaders in the field—Jack Kornfield, Gil Fronsdal, Joseph Goldstein, Thich Nhat Hanh and others. I wanted to pass what I was learning onto my kids, but could not find a single book that I thought explained the concepts and practices in an easy-to-understand manner for a Western audience. Thus, I wrote emails to my kids over the course of a few years, which ended up being forwarded to many people who had a favorable reaction. So, I wrote a book that I think accomplishes the objective I first had in writing to my kids.
2. Why do you think that so many of us aren't exposed to these concepts until later in life (if at all)?
Those of us who grew up in the United States (or the West in general) have been taught for generations that you need to change the externals of the world in order to achieve happiness and success. So, we are very focused on “doing” and “getting”—in other words making things happen in our external world to achieve success and happiness. Other cultures focus on how we are, and how we react to the externals, rather than trying to change those externals to meet our desires. It was not until relatively recently that these concepts of mindfulness been introduced to Western culture, so many of us have not had the opportunity to be exposed to them.
3. What changes have you seen in children who have been able to internalize some of the lessons that you've outlined in your book?
We see an increased ability to pay attention and to focus on a task or an intention, and not get distracted by unhelpful mental habits. In addition, we see an increased self- awareness of how our actions impact others, and more attention on self-care as well as care and concern for others.
4. The students at the Sea Change school that you co-founded have achieved multiple athletic firsts—like swimming a 42 mile open ocean relay. How did their training in mindfulness help them achieve these records?
Mindfulness allows students to recognize those internal thoughts and beliefs that get in the way of such achievements, investigate whether they are actually true, and then release those that are false and impede their ability to achieve their goal. For example, with proper training, a student can swim one hour in the open ocean. It is only fear of the unknown, or doubt in their abilities, which would prevent them from achieving this very significant accomplishment. Mindfulness allows the student to recognize that fear and doubt are not real - only figments of their imagination – and to free themselves from them. We find that this concrete use of mindfulness teaches our students that mindful practices can be very useful in overcoming similar obstacles standing in their way of achieving many other goals in life—like doing well in academics or going to college.
5. You encourage readers to change, not control their thoughts. Does this mean that you advocate for positive thinking?
Yes, but I would think of it as balanced or realistic thinking. Much of our thinking (and core beliefs) have a bit of a negative bias. Our minds have the same basic characteristics and make-up as they did when we were cave people—and in that circumstance, being fearful of your environment made good sense. In other words, erring on the side of being fearful or negative about the external environment helped to avoid tigers or warring tribes and to propagate the species. But we don’t need this negative bias in the modern world. Mindfulness allows us to recognize those thoughts (or core beliefs) which are unrealistically negative, investigate them to discern their accuracy, and then replace them with more accurate (or positive) beliefs and intentions, which allow us to live a happier, fuller, and more meaningful (and productive) life.
6. Are there ways to recognize false narratives that prevent us from reaching our potential?
Yes. The most basic way is to learn to do nothing. In other words, to learn that we need not be captured by any narrative that comes into our head, and recognize that much of our thinking is a self-created narrative or story that is not necessarily true. Basic mindful meditation—doing nothing when we are confronted with such internal stories—teaches us that we do not have to actively buy into the story. Rather, we can simply recognize it for what it is, investigate it, not buy into it, evaluate it, and ultimately choose a different, more realistic and more positive narrative to guide our lives.
7. How can we teach our children - and ourselves! - that our intrinsic value has nothing to do with our achievements?
This is a tricky one. There is an ancient saying that goes something like: “We are perfect just as we are but there is always room for improvement.” So, the idea to convey is that all people are born with a unique set of capabilities and characteristics. Not being “perfect” according to some external standard does not mean you are deficient—it means you are human. But, that does not mean that we should not try to drop those unskillful or unhelpful behaviors that we have adopted—like we can dispose of that dirty old sweat shirt that we are holding onto long past its usefulness. But realizing that it’s a behavior we have adopted, rather than a core aspect of who we are, actually makes it easy to dispose of it.
8. Why is it more important to have goals than to achieve them?
The short answer is that goals are very important because they give us direction and meaning to our lives—so it is very important to have them. But we can look at them as climbing a mountain: once we get to the top, there will be another one. Or even if we don’t get to the top, we made a lot of progress in climbing as far as we did, and as long as it was a worthy mountain to climb we have done something meaningful with our lives. But more important than reaching our goals, is approaching the task of achieving them with wise, daily intentions—like being kind, generous, and grateful—so that we maintain our moment to moment happiness as we trek up the steep path, regardless of how far we get.
9. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I hope readers will be inspired to learn more about - and adopt - practices of mindfulness in their own lives; and for parents to share these notions and practices to their children. I really believe that the practice of mindfulness—learning to pay attention in a non-judgmental way to our internal and external experience without being captured by that experience—is transformative, and can lead to a more successful life filled with genuine happiness. My book is intended to promote that kind of transformation—and then it is up to the readers.