Mindfulness​, Mindlessness, Flow, and Wonder

In our special summer series on rest we have covered why grad students are bad at resting, and what activities definitely do not count as rest.

In the next part of this series, we are introducing four essential types of rest. Like a well-balanced diet blends your macro-nutrients so a well-balanced schedule will mix your types of rest. Each of these types of rest has their advantages for your brain and for your work.

In this post, we will go over each type of rest and in the next week we will take a more in-depth look at why need these types of rest and how to get them.

Mindfulness: You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness. It’s touted as a panacea for the ills of our modern age. Hell, incorporating mindfulness is part of our mission statement because there is some promising research and what it can do for the anxious and overworked. However, Mindfulness is sort of like the aspirin of mental health: in certain conditions it’s good to have some every day but it’s a preventative measure or temporary relief–not a cure.

Mindlessness: You may not have heard as much about mindlessness but it is what it sounds like. It is the state in which you zone out and you’re not thinking of anything. Mindlessness is, in my opinion, the type of rest graduate students in the humanities are most desperate for. If I had a dollar for every time a humanities graduate student told me they couldn’t have fun anymore (e.g. enjoy video games, romance novels, movies) because they couldn’t turn their brain off, well, then I wouldn’t be working on this site–I’d be relaxing mindlessly in Hawaii.

Flow: When I think of flow I think of math and the pleasure of losing myself in a problem. The flow state is that magical time when you are working on a difficult, but solvable, problem and you lose yourself in it. Writing feels best when you manage to get yourself into a flow state. If you don’t like math you may be familiar with flow from an absorbing workout, a crossword, a puzzle or some other endeavor that involves pleasurably losing yourself in the moment.

Wonder: Wonder is the rocket fuel of graduate study. Without wonder completing the degree relies on determination and willpower. Unfortunately, willpower doesn’t really exist so that’s a difficult and doomed endeavor. Wonder is the state of seeing yourself as a small part of a very big universe. It is perspective and it is vital to graduate study. Every graduate student I have ever met became a graduate student because they had wonder–they saw a big puzzle that captivated their attention and they wanted to be a part of solving it.

These forms of rest are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible that a mindfulness exercise could induce a state of wonder. You might indulge in a bit of wonder leading to mindlessness. A little bit of wonder might help get you into a flow state, and so it goes.

Come back next week when we’ll go into detail about what mindfulness is and what it can do as well as what it isn’t and what it can’t do.

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