A Simple Exercise That May Help Children Become More Successful Adults

It strengthens their prefrontal cortex.

For as much as we tend to focus on children's academic performance and expanding their intellect, there's an important factor of success that isn't measured by traditional test-taking. It's called grit.

Grit, says scientific journalist and Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, cannot exist without the presence of "cognitive control," the ability to delay gratification, control impulses, manage emotions and remain focused. As Goleman has witnessed firsthand, any child of any background can be taught to develop cognitive control. He shares a powerful example with Oprah during an interview for "SuperSoul Sunday."

"I was in a school, a second grade classroom in Spanish Harlem. These are kids who live in the projects ... worst conditions you can imagine," Goleman begins.

The teacher of that classroom had a very specific exercise she had these children do.

"Every day, each kid goes to their cubby, gets a little stuffed animal, finds a place to lie down on the rug, puts that animal on their tummy and watches it rise on the in-breath and fall on the out-breath," Goleman says. "Count one-two-three on the in-breath, one-two-three on the out-breath."

Spending a little bit of time doing this exercise, according to the teacher, had benefits that would last throughout the school day. 

"[The] teacher says this keeps them calm and focused all day long," Goleman says.

But, Goleman points out, the long-term benefits are even greater.

"From a brain point of view, what you're doing is strengthening the prefrontal cortex, which is the mind's executive center -- it's the boss. It's the one that learns, it's where we plan, it's where we decide and where we become mindful," he explains. 

In other words, the exercise in part helps foster cognitive control, which Goleman says is a powerful indicator of a child's future success.

"It turns out, if you take kids [age] 4 to 8, measure their ability in this, and pick them up in their 30s, it predicts their financial success and their health better than IQ or the wealth of the family they grew up in," he says. 

"SuperSoul Sunday" airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.



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