Mindfulness

Some days rest is easy: the sun shines, the breeze blows, and your inbox is empty.

These days are magical.

And Rare.

If you’re a typical PhD student your days are more likely to be spent in a small, windowless office shared with several other graduate students.

Other graduate students in your field, and the connections you form with them, are a vital part of success, and sanity, in your later academic career.

But they can be a heckuva inconvenience when you really need to get some writing done and all of your officemates are catching up on departmental gossip or meeting with students or doing anything else that makes your office feel like Grand Central Station.

This can be truly devastating to your productivity given that it takes over 20 minutes to recover from an interruption in your work.

For me, the spiral of thwarted productivity goes something like this:

Officemates in our shared office; living their lives.

Interrupting me.

Me: [Gets annoyed.]

Me: [Feels bad for being annoyed.]

Me: [Tries to work.]

Me: [Is distracted.]

Me: [Doesn’t make progress.]

Me: [Gets mad at myself for not making progress.]

Me: [Gets annoyed at officemates for thwarting my progress.]

Me: [Is annoyed and distracted and makes no progress.]

Me: [Leaves office hours.]

In the face of this destructive cycle mindfulness can be a lifesaver.

Like flow, mindfulness isn’t so much a form of rest as it is a way of approaching an activity whether that activity be rest or work.

Chances are, you’ve heard about mindfulness before. It’s been touted as a treatment for an impressively wide range of problems and seems to have several different definitions ranging from being present in the moment to observing your responses without judgment.

While there’s nothing wrong with being in the present, we’ll stick to the latter definition of mindfulness: observing your responses (thoughts and emotions) without judgment.

Let’s replay that earlier scenario with a mindfulness practice:

Officemates in our shared office; living their lives.

Interrupting me.

Me: [Gets annoyed.]

Me: [Feels bad for being annoyed.]

Mindfulness: [I’m feeling bad. Why am I feeling bad?]

Mindfulness: [I’m feeling bad because I’m annoyed at my officemates for talking even though this is their office and it’s not their fault.]

Mindfulness: [Is there anything I can do to improve this situation?]

Me: [Yes, I can enter attendance now which doesn’t take much attention and reschedule writing for after I teach.]

Me: [Takes a deep breath.]

Me: [Feels better.]

The power of mindfulness is that it cuts through that voice in your head saying “I should be doing X!” That voice, while meant to be helpful, is actually a distraction that prevents work from getting done. Mindfulness helps silence that voice and actually get work done.

A mindfulness practice is, well, just that–a practice. The goal isn’t to do it perfectly but simply to do it. Over time, a mindfulness practice can help you feel, if not rested, a sense of peace in even the most chaotic of environments. And after all, what is a grad student office but the most chaotic of environments?

 

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