As you probably know, mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the present moment. If you are new to mindfulness, mustering up this type of awareness and attention each day might seem difficult--or even exhausting--but there's one simple question you can ask yourself to get started: what is new?
Dr. Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, believes that the difference between mindfulness and "mindlessness" is our ability to notice new things in our everyday lives. Even the things we know best--our friends, our possessions, even ourselves--are constantly changing and can be viewed with greater excitement and interest by simply looking through this lens of curiosity.
As a simple practice, Dr. Langer suggests listing five things that are new about whatever it is you are experiencing throughout the day. This can help you become a more active participant in your life and in the world around you. Studies have shown that students who are asked to look for what is new during instruction rank much higher in engagement metrics than those being told to simply pay attention. An inquisitive and active mindset not only opens the door to more engagement, but also enjoyment; nothing is boring when there is something new to be discovered, new secrets to be unlocked. All parts of life have the capacity to interest and excite.
Looking for the new can also change how others perceive us and can lead to greater innovation. Langer's studies have shown that salesmen who incorporated subtle new elements into a scripted sales pitch were seen as more charismatic. Similarly, symphony orchestra members asked to convey something subtly new in their performances were judged by listeners as having played better.
The impact of our engagement and excitement is not only felt in our own experiences; it also leaves an imprint on the world and those around us. It shows that it's not only what we do, but how we do it that matters. So live life curiously. Live life creatively. Find the new in the mundane. After all, life is short and the world is large, so keep your eyes--and your mind--open.
"It’s the simple things in your life that make up the bulk of it. The mundane is where we live and we end up missing most of it. We find it again in the silence and in attention of everyday life."
― Eric Overby
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Ellen Langer and her studies on mindfulness, you can read Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity in Harvard Business Review, or watch the video Mindfulness Over Matter.
Want to support mental and emotional health in your school or classroom?
Mindfulness exercises provide children with the tools they need to self-regulate when facing difficult or stressful situations. Check out our blog for more tips on how to integrate mindfulness and social-emotional learning into your school community!