But Why be Mindful When I Can be Productive?

Mindfulness is something I think my generation struggles with. Of course, saying someone or a group of people struggle with something infers that they actually know what it is. Frankly, I don’t think my generation (1) knows that mindfulness exists, (2) knows what it is, (3) knows how to practice it, and (4) knows why they should practice it. It’s something that I believe a majority of my friends, peers, and colleagues could benefit from and yet none have any inclination to actively practice it.

As I was reading Ellen Langer’s definition of mindfulness, I realized that it differed greatly from my own. So what is mindfulness to me? I had not heard of the term until I visited my aunt in Oregon (we often refer to her as “the hippy aunt”). She expressed to me her concern with my stress levels during undergrad and suggested practicing mindfulness. I  had rolled my eyes and continued on with what I perceived as the more productive daily activities. I eventually came back to the idea of mindfulness after a bout of anxiety attacks. I realized the power of mindfulness and do my best to practice it at least once a day now.

I personally believe mindfulness is an important part of self-care. It’s the ability to mindfulacknowledge and reflect on experiences, emotions, and thoughts without allowing them to overwhelm or control you. It’s giving positive energy to your thoughts, nurturing them, and allowing them to grow peacefully.

Ellen Langer describes a mindful approach as having three characteristics: “the continuous creation of new categories, openness to  new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.” My first reaction to this is “of course I want to be mindful like that,” but I knew intuitively that it takes an internal calmness to have the ability to practice those three things.

In today’s classrooms, there are so many thoughts running through our students’ (as well as our own) heads. “Am I supposed to meet Bailey at 12 or 12:30 for lunch?” “How long will this paper take me to write?” “Did I let the dog out this morning before I left for my 8 am?” We’re all so scatter brained that our abilities to focus are so diminished that it makes learning and retaining information seem nearly impossible. How do we as instructors combat this? We obviously can’t follow them home and make sure they’re meditating for ten minutes or laying in bed without any distractions. We could make it homework but let’s be honest, maybe 5% would actually do it (and even that’s probably being overly optimistic.) We could have a “No Tech” policy within our classrooms but that still does not guarantee that they’re being mindful or focusing on anything we’d like them to be focusing on.

I think it’s our responsibility as educators to meet our students half way. We need to lead by example and not by lecture. It’s the engagement with our students that will keep them focused, entertained, and feeling like their opinions are respected and valued. Showing our students the benefits of mindfulness is something I believe will benefit them for the rest of their lives. It’s not shoving information down their throats, teaching directly from the book, or death by powerpoint. It’s opening up the conversation to include multiple views, backgrounds, and opinions to be shared in a respectful  atmosphere. Through that we will be able to stimulate new ideas and thoughts internally, acknowledging and reflecting on them without allowing them to control us. It’s taking those new thoughts and ideas and transforming and practicing them with a peace that can be shared.

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5 thoughts on “But Why be Mindful When I Can be Productive?

  1. I unfortunately think you are correct regarding the state of the current generation and their comprehension of the “mindfulness” concept. Additionally, I feel like I can define mindfulness in several different ways depending on the context. I would suppose that for Langer, this would be mindfulness in academia. For your aunt, this would be mindfulness in personal health. That of course is depending on how nuanced you want to go with this concept.

    Everyone wants to throw away lectures like they are some cursed thing. I disagree. I do not think lectures need to dominate, but I think they, along with other forms of class material, have their place in the class schedule. I think providing a multi-faceted class would be best. I think you would adopt a more mindful state as an instructor and a learner if you challenged yourself to provide a multi-faceted course. This not only benefits your students, but also yourself.

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  2. Your last paragraph really resonated with me. We do need to meet our students half way. Now, this doesn’t mean completely throwing lecture out the window. Rather, it means developing lectures to include discussion, examples, activities, and other activities meant to hold students’ attention and keep them engaged. The more opportunities we provide our students to participate and add value to the lecture, the more they are likely to take away from it.

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  3. I really appreciated your post and a lot of what you said resonates with me! It also made me wonder whether or not we can reformulate, or reimagine, the *what* of mindfulness since, while you say in one part we should “meet students half way,” I don’t read the end of your post as a half-way approach. Rather, I read it as an approach that is also open to the possibility that the mutual labor and learning won’t always (usually?) be 50/50 and that the “unequal” distribution isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I hear the “half way” line a lot, and it can sometimes be followed by a “well, they didn’t meet me half way so it’s their problem” which seems contra mindfulness. As such, I think you’ve made a very important nuance in your post that we shouldn’t ignore.

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  4. I appreciate your post. There is also this challenge of students receiving the type of learning experience you outlined in your post, then two hours later suffering through a course of the “navel-gazing” professor. I think we need to get our collective act together in order for the shift towards mindfulness to have a real impact in the classroom. Again, great post!

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  5. First I want to say, hippie aunts, are the best aunts. I like your post a lot, especially the last paragraph. Ellen Langer said, “Presenting prepared content too often overtakes the goal of teaching.” I like what you said about leading by example and not by lecture. It’s important to engage with your room (don’t state at your slides), and read your audience in order to recalibrate and shift focus as necessary.

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