Understanding Mindfulness and Its Relationship With Study
Mindfulness. It’s highly likely that you’ve heard the term mentioned on TV or read about in an article. It’s been quite the craze of late, and there’s legitimate reasoning for that.
With many of the world’s top leaders said to swear by the practice (queue Arianna Huffington, Marc Benioff and Jeff Weiner), it has certainly caught our attention. But, is mindfulness just another buzzword, or can it truly bring some benefit to life during business school?
We caught up with Mia Louca, an Adelaide-based mental health worker and group therapy facilitator at Headspace, to learn more.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is about present moment awareness – it is an evidence-based practice that can benefit anyone who is willing to learn and engage with it,” explains Ms Louca. It involves paying attention to our external environment through observing with our five senses, and prompts us to look within and pay attention to our thoughts, emotions and feelings as they are happening.
For Ms Louca, a Bachelor of Psychology Honours graduate, mindfulness is a core theory in her work practice, and is considered to be an awareness process, rather than a thinking process.
While often linked with the practice of meditation, mindfulness can be practiced in numerous other ways and is therefore a relatively broad concept. It is, however, not a new concept. Mindfulness dates back thousands of years and has been taught in many religions including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. In the 1980s, it was used as a non-religious means of helping hospital patients cope with chronic pain.
“More recently, there has been significant psychological research on the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into daily life, with some really encouraging results,” Ms Louca added.
Essentially, the practice of mindfulness can enable us to be more present and engaged in everyday life, and switch off from autopilot so we can be more purposeful in our daily choices.
Mindfulness for higher education students
For time-poor business school students who are already juggling numerous commitments, Ms Louca suggests bringing mindfulness into your daily routine through everyday tasks, such as brushing your teeth. “Often we are so used to doing these routine activities that we can even forget whether we’ve brushed our teeth for the day,” she said. “During this activity, try to focus on the sense of smell and taste of the toothpaste. Use your sense of touch to feel the toothbrush on your teeth or gums, noticing the different textures.” This simple step can be easily integrated into activities such as eating, showering and breathing – fitting it into your life where possible.
“Similarly, mindful breathing can be practiced for as little as 30 seconds, or as much as 30 minutes if you have the time to spare. Simply notice your breath, focus on how moves your body, and feel the sensations such as cool air entering the nostrils.”
Realistically, though, how will focusing on brushing teeth or breathing help students to achieve more in their studies? Well, practicing mindfulness can significantly reduce emotional suffering, which in a study context could be the pressures of a deadline or the stresses of preparing for a final assessment. “It can help us focus our attention and be more in control of our mind, which leads to being more effective and productive as we are able to stay focused on one thing in the moment,” Ms Louca said.
“Whenever you practice mindfulness, you are strengthening your integrative neural pathways, which can help engage all of the brain under stressful events, like when managing multiple work and study deadlines. This can also be helpful in retaining information, combatting distractions and taming wandering minds when studying starts to become more of a challenge.”
Ms Louca suggests that students try to develop a routine before commencing a study session, such as taking 10 deep breaths to calm the mind. When you sit down to study, spend a minute or two becoming aware of your physical surroundings: the feeling of sitting in the chair; the sounds around you. Take a few breaths, focusing on the physical sensation of the inhale and exhale.
“During study, try to notice your thoughts and self-talk such as ‘This is too hard’ and develop awareness as to how this can impact on your behaviour and motivation.”
Once you notice those thoughts creep in, gently begin to practice refocusing your attention on the study material and continue to bring your mind back to the task.
Prioritise your wellbeing and self-care
Practicing self-care is also an important part of the study experience, and is particularly necessary when feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It helps to maintain balance in life and ensure that you’re nourishing yourself, and not just your brain, when studying.
“Think about the activities you undertake in a typical day – some may feel fun and energising, others may feel draining. Make a list of the energising activities and be sure to engage in a few of these each week. It’s also important to eat well, get enough sleep, and move your body to increase your overall wellbeing,” she said.
Download a mindfulness app today
Mindfulness is fast-becoming a popular practice for leaders around the world, and it’s not hard to see why. If you’d like to begin being more mindful but are not sure where to start, Ms Louca suggests downloading one of the many free mindfulness apps.
Apps such as Smiling Mind and Headspace can be used by people of all ages and involve short mindfulness practices, as well as longer ones. Being a beginner, it is recommended that students start with shorter practices as it can be rather challenging at first.
This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB.