Years ago I took a Social Psychology class at the Harvard Kennedy School and was introduced to Ellen Langer’s work about mindfulness — and its counterpart — mindlessness.
What I learned then — is relevant now.
Here is what stuck with me.
Being mindless can be dangerous. Being mindful can positively impact health.
We are all mindless sometimes. A great case in point is when we drive and arrive somewhere — but can’t quite recall how we got there. The drive is so routine — that we can kind of — check out — even though we are still technically present.
This type of mindlessness is rather benign.
The extreme danger of mindlessness, though, we learned, was underscored by a case of airplane crashes that were later attributed to the ‘mindless’ state of otherwise well-meaning pilots who checked the ‘deice’ box on their safety checklist (without deicing the wings.)
As the case study demonstrated — they did so — mindlessly — even on days with extreme weather events — when the deicing needed to happen.
The checklists had become too routine, too regular — the implicit danger of mindless thinking.
On the flip side, we learned about a group of senior citizens confined to nursing homes whose health became ever better when they were simply given a plant to care for.
The hypothesis? Taking care of the plant and watching it grow helped the seniors to become mindful about something — it gave them something to be present for and that seemed to make all the difference.
The pandemic crisis happening now is unnerving in many ways. The sheer enormity of immediate consequences and their future sister consequences loom large every day.
It has, whether we like it or not — busted all of our usual routines — inclusive of the mindless routines.
This can present us with an opportunity to make a shift.
Those mindless habits of ours — although not particularly dangerous — may not have been taking us forward either.
Rather, we now have an opportunity to be mindful about what takes their place. We can create new habits in order to spur personal growth for us and for the people and institutions around us.
Many of us are naturally learning and growing as we adjust to new work realities — including new work from home setups — but there is also room to grow in other areas of our lives.
The possibilities (both large and small) to invest in new growth are endless now.
Here are a few ideas. . .
- Children | ‘The years fly by like the blink of an eye’ — so, participate in a child’s growth now. Learn with them by taking a walk, reviewing homework assignments, teaching something, or reading a book, playing a game, participating actively in their activities with them. There was a funny ‘twitter’ post recently from a PhD that was perplexed at the homework assignment of her kindergartener. The truth is that many of us are not as close to seeing what our kids are investing in as we’d like to be. Now is the opportunity to invest in what they are up to as they grow.
- Community | Specific community needs will vary, but growing community investment is possible everywhere. Conduct virtual non-profit board meetings, do local take-out, shop local grocers for local food supplies or participate in online faith services.
- Compassion | Compassion is a deep concern for others — consider who needs your attention now more than ever, and grow your time for that.
- Faith | Faith is one of the 4 ‘F’s (including family, friendships and finding meaningful work) that Arthur Brooks’ research says we need for happiness in life…. so consider what you can do to invest in your own spiritual growth. What friends or family might be interested to converse about this, what books can you read, what online services can you participate in to grow this?
- Fitness | As schedules shift, perhaps the absence of a daily commute means that doors are open to take on a new activity that can make a difference in your physical wellness. Grow that!
- Friendships| Remote reunions of one or many are reigniting forgotten frienships. Video makes growing relationships — even at a distance — somehow more feasible to do.
- Gardens |Oftentimes gardens are planted in the spring and then they are harvested in the late summer without an eye to all that happens in-between. They go from sprout to dry leaves without noticing their daily transformation. A kitchen garden outside — or even herbs in a pot — will do to watch these natural things bloom and grow!
- Knowledge | Grow what you know! MOOCs, company sponsored learning initiatives, subscribing to something new, reading new material and connecting with new experts are all ways in which you can grow too.
- Networks| Social media makes connection possible — even when confined by space. Growing your personal network of experts can mean uncovering new things for YOU to learn and grow from too.
Add to this list and keep going until you find what is right for you.
Everywhere you look there will be an opportunity to invest in new growth.
And, as you shift from mindless habits, to mindful actions, each investment you make — whether large or small — is likely to have a multiplying effect — that will make a difference far beyond just what you personally help to grow.