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College students can benefit from practicing mindfulness

Adam Sieracki, Staff Columnist

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College is a time and place of transformation. Each year, over 7,000 students from around the country enter the University of Alabama to confront a new type of existence for themselves.

When we exchange our familiar hometowns and high school friends for the prospect of life in Tuscaloosa, we enter into a system much larger than ourselves. UA is a complex network, a large-scale machine with many moving parts. As students, we are the human capital upon whom UA makes its bets. We are both the primary resource and the primary product of this machine. It’s our individual action alone that makes the system move, and it’s our success that keeps it healthy, dynamic and functioning.

Being a part of any dynamic system comes with responsibility, and this responsibility becomes the primary focus of our lives. For the four-plus years that each of us are at UA, our responsibilities come in many forms, but essentially they are all in preparation for the future.

Indeed, college is a transition from the time of the adolescence we have each known to some new type of adult existence we will each come to adopt. Entering college for the first time, students confront not only classes, but many responsibilities that must be met in preparation for adulthood. For the first time, the weight of an independent existence manifests itself in entirely new places. We must manage our academics, our health, our finances, our social lives and our jobs, among other things.

Succeeding in all of these dimensions can be very difficult, and many people succumb to frustration. Many of us know personally the feeling of being overstressed by our expectations and our prospects of failure. We may fall out of the right frame of mind that provides for our success and we may lose faith in the system itself or our ability to succeed in it under any conditions.

In the context of all of this change, responsibility and stress, there must be a successful way of managing these challenges and figuring out how to do the right thing. For this reason, I believe that practicing mindfulness can be a useful tool for improving the lives of college students.

Simply defined, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to one’s thoughts, practiced chiefly through meditation. Having its origins in Buddhist traditions of meditation, mindfulness was originally brought into the secular Western context during the 20th century, but has since been endorsed by a wealth of research in psychology and neuroscience.

Indeed, the American Psychological Association lists some of the scientifically-backed benefits of mindfulness on their website. According to the APA’s list, mindfulness has been shown to lead to a reduction in emotional reactivity, rumination and stress, and an increase in working memory, focus and relationship satisfaction.

How do we account for these benefits? Mindfulness implies directing one’s focus and attention to an observation of the present state of the mind. By eliminating distraction and focusing on the experience of thinking itself, one can become more aware of the way one thinks, and therefore obtain some important self-knowledge about one’s own mind and how to better act within it.

Much like exercise, mindfulness is an activity which, when practiced, can alter performance. Continually making a conscious effort to be more aware of one’s thoughts and their usefulness can lead to greater ease and productivity and decreased suffering in daily life. Mindfulness can motivate us to stay focused on the things we should be focused on to serve ourselves in the best ways we are able.

It can motivate us to cultivate wise habits, form better relationships, and stop doing the things that are harmful to us. By practicing mindfulness individually, we can improve the quality of ourselves, our university and our society.

 

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College students can benefit from practicing mindfulness