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Wellness Wednesday:  How to "do" Mindfulness

By Sophy Mott posted 02-13-2019 05:03 PM


Thanks to Dr. Kelly Schoonaert, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Human Development at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point for this submission. 

“Mindfulness” is a buzz word invoked to deal with today’s multi-faceted, fast-paced life that generates seemingly never-ending responsibilities
.  But how do you “do” mindfulness so that it is helpful in reducing stress, not just adding one more thing to manage and be aware of?  One way that can help make mindfulness a useful and important practice is to become cognizant of our motivations or reasons for doing something and the choices we make when we decide to take one action instead of another.  According to Carl Pepper, there are three main domains of thinking that link to our motivations.  They are systemic thinking, extrinsic thinking, and intrinsic thinking. 

Systemic motivations are tied to “expert” opinion.  These are also based on the expectations according to social norms.  Think of this as “what I think I have to do because that is what is expected”. 

Extrinsic thinking is based more on those who have direct and indirect influence over you.  These people are your family, friends, and others with whom you share an experience, a time or a place. This is made more complicated with the advent of virtual reality and social media.  It is now virtually impossible to know where the sphere of influencers begins and ends.  Everybody’s a critic, and there is no shortage of people expressing their opinions about what anyone else should do. 

Intrinsic thinking is about answering the question, “What am I wanting?”  Knowing everything I know about this issue, this problem; given the context of all my experiences, at this moment with all these variables, with the options available to me, what am I wanting?  Your intrinsic voice is informed by both the extrinsic and systemic, but ultimately only you decide what see those options are and what to do.

How does understanding these three ways of thinking help us become more mindful?  Identify something that you have done recently such as staying after school to help a student or sponsor a club or organization. Ask yourself, what motivated me to do this?  Did you do it because you thought it was expected of you?  Who expected it?  Where did the expectation come from?  Is it your perception there is an expectation, or do you know 100% the expectation is from a boss, principal, spouse or partner that was directly communicated it to you? You might have thought, “I have to do this”. That is systemic motivation.

Perhaps you thought I “ought” to do it to be a good Samaritan or a positive group member or you wanted to inspire or show the student that you are supportive. These are the “I shoulds”. This internal dialogue is “I ought to do this” for them.  Nothing wrong with that except that now you are not fully invested and present.  I may be here for them, but I am thinking of other things and missing what is beyond the merely apparent.     

Now think about yourself, and the choices that you have. Here in this moment of decision making, I have  choices.  I could say no, I could not show up and go and do other things.  Mindfully saying “I choose to do this, because……” and listing your internal reasons for doing one action over another can help you understand your choice and in-that-moment become fully aware that you are making a decision, a choice to be here and be present and to look beyond the surface to experience fully.  Most people think their experiences show who they are rather than the other way around. It is not the experiences that determine who you are; rather it is who you chose to be that shapes your experience. Change your view of yourself and why you do the things you choose to do, and you change your experience and the way you participate in it allowing you to be mindfully present and aware of the whole encounter.       

Thanks to Dr. Kelly Schoonaert, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Human Development at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point for this Wellness Wednesday. To learn more about applying mindfulness, be sure to register for the AAFCS webinar Dr. Schoonaert is presenting along with AAFCS member Dr.Susan Turgeson, “Mindfulness Mapping:  Cultivating Calm Creativity in the Classroom” on February 27th at 4:30 PM EST. Members can register - for free - using this link