I heard a podcast recently that I thought I’d share. Bryson Berry, host of Pandemic University podcast, interviewed my friend Jane Slentz-Kesler about self-improvement. (You can hear the full podcast at the end of this post).
Bryson and Jane are both first year students at Macalester College, trying to make the best of things during this weird pandemic college experience. I’ve known Jane since she was a tiny tot, and it was a trip to hear her rattling on about how she intentionally cultivates the conditions for creating a satisfying life, one day at a time.
Now, “self-improvement” is not my favorite phrase. It’s pretty judgy. It conveys what meditation teacher Enrique Callazo refers to as a subtle aggression towards oneself, perhaps perpetuating the false idea that you are not good enough as you are.
So, if we set aside the idea of needing to endlessly improve one’s self, we can settle into a different approach. An approach that involves living with intention, actively pondering what will make each day meaningful, taking time to cultivate delight in the present moment, and engaging with curiosity in all that each day offers. I’d say that’s what Bryson and Jane are really talking about.
Bryson got Jane talking about how she tries to live with intention and meaning. She described a few of her strategies: journaling every day, spending time in meditation, and staying away from her phone first thing in the morning.
Staying away from the phone in the morning gives her the agency to set the tone for her day, rather than be hijacked into reacting to Instagram posts or text messages that mess up her headspace.
This makes sense to me. I have a friend who says she never checks the news or looks at her phone first thing in the morning. Her rule of thumb: No genocide before breakfast. Smart.
To keep stress under control, Jane actively cultivates mindfulness so she can “create a bubble around the moment that the future is not allowed to enter.” She notes that when she catches herself starting to worry about the future she just builds a bubble around the present, and this keeps her calm and grounded.
This is one of the main reasons mindfulness helps manage stress. A lot of the stress we deal with on a daily basis is caused by our mind wandering off into the future looking for trouble. What if I get a bad grade? What if I can’t find a summer job? What if that guy I like ghosts me? I’ve got to do this, and this, and this by the end of the week.
All of these worries about what we have to do and bad sh*t that might happen to us is “future thinking”. If you keep your attention grounded in what is happening right now, in this moment, stress levels decrease. So if you are walking to class and you look around, smile at folks, and notice the spring flowers, you are being mindful and will feel less stressed. This is what Jane is doing when she creates a bubble around the moment.
Finding yourself stressed? Take some tips from Jane and Bryson. Practice building a bubble around the present moment. We’d love to hear about the moment in which you created your bubble.
Listen to the full podcast here:
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