Mindfulness wooden sign with a beach on background

Workshop: Mindfulness for Academic Success

I joined this workshop to learn how to use mindfulness to improve my focus towards studies. In addition, the programme also can assist in reducing stress and anxiety; stop procrastination; communicate more effectively and to study more efficiently (and with more enjoyment). The session series was conducted by Ms. Rebecca Short and it was run over 5 consecutive weeks from April to May, 2016.

Date: Thursday, April 14, 21, 28, May 5, 19
Time: 10:00am – 11:00am
Venue: B1.22A/B Seminar Room at Caulfield

It was my first time attending any mindfulness or “meditation-type” activity so I was quite eager to get started.

 

Session 1: Introduction to mindfulness (April 14)

This session introduced us to what mindfulness is. From my understanding, I can now define it as being more aware and awake in every moment of your life. It is about intentionally paying attention to each moment, being fully engaged in whatever is happening around you and within you. It involves bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to whatever is experienced, rather than habitual patterns of judgment and criticism.

The session also highlighted the benefits of mindfulness. These included improved:

  • Cognitive and academic performance (concentration, memory & preparedness)
  • Health and well-being (stress, anxiety, depression and interestingly immune to flu virus)
  • Improved relationship.

I learnt that practicing mindfulness literally changes our brains. When we practice mindfulness (ie. we intentionally pay attention to what we are doing and experiencing) , we are able prevent or catch ourselves from mind-wandering and from going into automatic pilot (default mode) – thus weakening the parts of the brain associated with default mode [nature of neuro-plasticity ;- ]  thus re-enforcing sections that improve concentration & consciousness.

We concluded the session with a formal practise: Body Scan. This was a 5 minute work-through “meditation” to feel relaxed and become aware with our body. This same activity was given as a homework activity to be practised twice daily till the next session on April 21st.

 

Session 2: Stress & The Mind (April 21)

In this session, we discussed the “fight-or-flight response” of the mind which makes us become aggressive and reactive. The mis-perception of innocuous situations as life-threatening situations has a lot to do with the default mode. When we are not paying attention we are much more likely to get caught up in stories and mis-perception of the actual situation, and to react rather than respond.

With mindfulness, we can become attuned to the pattern of physical sensations that accompanies our fight/flight reactivity, or the changes to our breathing. The earlier we realise we are reacting, the earlier we can do something different to make sure that we don’t end up in an overwhelming, full-blown reaction, where it is much harder to do anything about it.

We concluded the session with a formal practise: Breath & Body. This was a 5 minute work-through “meditation” to feel relaxed and become aware with our body and breathing. This same activity was given as a homework activity to be practiced twice daily till the next session on April 28th.

 

Session 3: Choosing To Stay Focused (April 28)

In this session, we learnt the importance to intentionally focus your attention, and to let go of anything that distracts you. It is extremely common for us to believe that multi-tasking is important to attain goals faster. However, when we think we are focusing on multiple things at the same time, we are actually rapidly switching our attention between these things. What we are probably getting good at in the process is shifting our attention. However,  research has discovered that it turns out multi-taskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized and they are worse at analytic reasoning.

In addition, operating in this way is inherently stressful. Rather than giving our undivided attention to on one thing we are already thinking of what we will need to do next. So we are never actually focused on anything at all. Therefore, it is important to practice the presence of mind (choosing to stay focused).

For instance, we can choose to move our attention fluidly between different things, but paying full attention to each one in turn, rather than half paying attention to a number of things. For example, if you start on an email and the phone rings, by all means answer it, but then give your full attention to the phone call. When you have finished, return your full attention to the email.

In my own context, I can implement this by prioritizing tasks and of-course adjust these as necessary. But it is important to start focusing on one thing at a time.

We concluded the session with a formal activity: Presence Of Mind. We were given a task (to choose from comprehension, Soduku or Spotting the difference) and required to make a check-mark on a notepad whenever we catch our minds wondering.

This was a 5 minute work-through to of choosing to stay focus. We were given “Body & Breath – 10 mins” formal activity as our homework activity to be practiced twice daily till the next session on May 5th. In addition, we were required to practise presence of mind.

Make a list => prioritise => do one thing at a time => savour the experience of completing each one => then go on to the next one.

 

Session 4: Mindful Eating & Procrastination (May 5)

This session was of particular interest to me as it focused on procrastination which is a universal problem among students.

The first activity “Mindful Eating” served to bring mindfulness more fully into our daily lives so that we could expand the practice to our everyday activities such as walking, talking and doing household chores. Eating was chosen for this activity as it engaged all our senses (touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing[sound]).

The second activity focused on Procrastination. Procrastination affects an individual negatively in many ways:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Increased stress
  • Weakened immune system
  • Sleep problems
  • Relationship issues

It is a  habit that gets developed over time which means that you can un-learn it. Procrastinating can be a way of regulating emotions such as fear of failure. This can be done by distracting yourself from what you actually need to be doing (by checking emails, waiting for a “better time” etc).

Some tips for identifying and changing the habit of procrastination include:

  1. Just get started – Just to get the ball rolling! Getting things moving is one of the hardest parts. Once you have some momentum it will be much easier to keep moving.
  2. Start using a weekly planner.
  3. Set realistic study goals for yourself.
  4. Bring curiosity to your work. Try to notice new things in your assignments or homework that you hadn’t noticed before.
  5. Notice which thoughts you are buying into (identifying with) that get in the way of you actually sitting and doing work.
  6. Practice letting go of these thoughts and simply returning your focus over and over to the task at hand.
  7. Notice any beliefs you hold about yourself as a “procrastinator”.
  8. Start challenging the belief that you need stress to motivate you.
  9. Focus on one task at a time (and prioritise your work).
  10. Use a yearly planner to anticipate busy periods.
  11. Leave reminder notes or some other prompt for yourself.
  12. Reward yourself (appropriately) with a short break or small incentive.
  13. Really allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of completing each task, and fully enjoy the reward. Savour the experience fully.

Many of these tips will only have an impact if we detract our attention from the distractions and intentionally focus on the tasks at hand. This is where and how mindfulness becomes invaluable in our lives.

 

Session 5: Mindfulness As A Way Of Life (May 19)

The final session in this mindfulness series was on summarising our achievements from the past sessions and ensuring that we continue to follow mindfulness.

What is very important to note is that practising mindfulness tends to spontaneously lead to greater compassion, both for ourselves and for others. It also allows an individual to respond rather than react to difficult situations. Practising compassion also contributes to our wellbeing and learning. Overall, I really enjoyed this five part mindfulness series and have seen how mindfulness has personally impacted or shaped my awareness, curiosity, gentleness, compassion, letting go, communication and self-discipline.

Highly recommended session for others.

Reference:

  1. http://www.monash.edu/health/mindfulness

 

 

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