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Individual and Institutional Mindfulness in Excellence

Mindfulness as used in psychology refers to maintaining a conscious awareness of the purpose and experience of any given pursuit or activity, looking for the novel and constantly questioning previous assumptions. On an individual level it has been shown to impact even such basic things as health and fitness. One study of professional hotel housekeepers showed that once they were made aware of the healthy aspects of their jobs (activity level, weight lifting, stretches) even without a change in behavior, their blood pressure and weight went down (Langer & Crum, 2007.)

Many of our students arrive at college as passive receptors, ready to be told what to do. This sets them up for poor decision making about time management, priorities, and class choices as well as increasing the chance that they will suffer from learned helplessness.

Promoting mindfulness at an individual level would involve tapping our resources to teach them how to develop habits that nurture excellence throughout their lives: prioritizing activities with an eye towards their goals (which extracurriculars actually count when applying to one's occupation, scholarship or graduate school of choice), engaging in study habits based on the neurology of learning (research by Dweck, et al, has shown that simply including a course on the basic neurology of learning in the general curriculum can not only teach better study habits but can serve as a buffer against learned helplessness and promote students choosing more rigorous course loads), including fitness and nutritional practices in daily life such that healthy habits established, utilizing internal and external motivation effectively to maximize educational experiences and developing the habits of the mind (e.g. challenging oneself, connecting with internal values, questioning assumptions, allowing oneself to be uncomfortable, reading more than is required) which will lead to a life of meaningful contributions. Any of these particular areas could be measured some with existing measures others would need to be created; health and healthy behaviors can be measured, we can track the extent to which students are choosing difficult classes and we could measure motivation and study habits.

Mindfulness at the institutional level would involve constantly evaluating all practices and procedures while being explicit with the students about why we do what we do. This could include more encouragement to participate in enrichment programs while being very explicit about the benefits, or looking into creating classes that meet needs not previously addressed at Millsaps, like a class on test preparation. While our students may be prepared and more than ready for graduate school, they also often have little experience with multiple choice exams which can lead to entrance exams being gatekeepers for students that should be in graduate school. A more mindful approach would question the status quo and look for ways to institutionally address such issues.

Contact person: Melissa Kelly

For a PDF of the proposal, click here.

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