My Mindful Week- Day 3: Dealing with Social Validation

You don’t want to be doing this, really, you don’t, but your finger itches and you’ve gotta snap that yummy home-made lunch of yours and post it to Instagram before it’s ruined. It’s great day, gathering up with your close mates, and you feel like you’ve gotta show everyone how great your hang out has been.

Where does this need for social validation come from? The need for others to perceive us as cool, hip, or simply good? These attempts don’t just happen in social media (although God knows it’s compounded in this platform), but it happens in our social life as well.

We fret over our outfit before going to a social event.

We spend hours putting together a cool outfit just to change our minds at the last second for fear of being judged.

Sometimes, we overshare too much of our achievements and accomplishments in a first meeting out of insecurity.

We buy that 5-thousand-dollar bike to impress our biking group members even though we’re pretty sure our old bike did just fine to our liking.

You know, the fear of being judged, the need to impress, to boast, these all stem from our need to be socially validated, to be patted on the head for conforming to a certain norm in a certain group.

And before you get all toasty and claim you’re a hipster who follows no rules, let me make it clear. It doesn’t have to be a norm that the majority follows. Whether you admit it or not, we all do this, but maybe with different groups. Even the hipsters who claim to follow no rules actually follow the rules of hipsters. (flashback to all the hipster mustache, glasses and boots).

Yup. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It’s just in our nature to want to belong to a certain group of people, and it’s useless to claim otherwise. However, it’s helpful to be aware of just which of our activities are being influenced by this need and whether we really truly want to do it or not.

Mindfulness can come in handy and here’s how I’ve used it to weed out the activities I truly enjoy and those that I do to just seem as cool:

  1. Look deep into the nature of the need for social validation. The thing is when you look deep enough into any negative emotions, it usually comes from fear. And when you zoom in enough into your fears, it all comes down to two major fears that every mortal have: a/ the fear of dying and b/ the fear of being alone. Actually, the second major fear, I think, also stems from the first major fear. When you are alone with no one to help you, your chance of surviving is likely diminished, so that’s why humans have this need to fit in, to belong to a group. As you look deep into that fear, continue to breathe in and out and just acknowledge that fear inside you.
  2. Look deep into each action and the group you’re trying to seek validation from. Don’t judge yourself for this. Just look. For example, I, myself had doubts about my enjoyment of painting. I was not sure if whether I did it to appear cool, or I was genuinely enjoying it for the sake of creating. Turns out, most of my works up to that point had been done for the sake of getting them likes on my social media, and that i only wanted validation from my social media followers.
  3. It’s very important to not judge yourself as an attention seeking whore. You have to remember being mindful is all about non-judgmental awareness. If your thoughts are caught up in judgment, don’t judge yourself for that either. Gently nudge your thoughts back to the base of your breathing and continue to acknowledge your emotions and the reasons behind.
  4. Now it’s time for action: you should at this point, find out how needing validation from certain groups (family, friends, neighbours, classmates, strangers on the internet) have driven you to commit certain actions. It’s time for you to decide if that validation is worth having, and to decide whether you want to continue that action or not. With regard to the above painting example, after finding out that I was doing it mostly for the likes, I took a break. Instagram likes were simply not worth the frustration and hair loss from all the hair-pulling of producing each piece of work and the likes would always become meaningless after a few days anyway.
    But something strange happened, after a few months of not painting, I found myself drawn back to the freshness of paint, to the softness of brushes. But this time? This time, as I pick my brush and dab it into the swirling green palette, I know I’m doing it out of pure enjoyment, out of the pure need to record my thoughts in brush strokes instead of a few hollas from internet strangers and painting has never been more liberating. I know it’s hard, especially if you grow up in Cambodia where you’re taught from day-one to seek for social validation. To be honest, I’m still in the process of weeding out the validation-motivated actions and the love-motivated ones. It’s a long and excruciating process and one worth your time because if not, whose life are you going to lead? If you want it to be yours, it makes sense to do what you really enjoy!

This is part of the My Mindful Week series. Read why it’s important here, day 1 here, and day 2 here.

My Mindful Week: Intro

Close your eyes, relax your mind and let your thoughts wander to the happiest memory from your childhood. The image might be a bit blurry around the edges, but you are able sense the distinct sound of rain falling, lightly pitter pattering on the metal roof above your head. You’re 8 years old.
You just got up 15 minutes ago, and you’re enjoying a morning cartoon on your local TV channel. This is a rainy Sunday so you will probably spend it playing pretend in the alleyway with a few of the neighbourhood kids. At this exact moment though, eight-year-old you are not thinking about what you did wrong yesterday, or what you have to do to impress your playmates this afternoon; you’re just contentedly fixate your gaze upon the cheap TV screen.
At that moment, you’re happy to just be.

Your version of a happy childhood memory might be different from mine, but I believe we all have one with much-or-less the same essence. When we were younger, even with perhaps a shorter attention span, we were much more attuned to our surroundings. Everything, from the fluttering of a yellow flower petal in the breeze, to the colorful reflected city lights after a light evening rain amused our little hearts. It didn’t really take much to make us enjoy the moment; sometimes we are entertained just by swinging on our hammock as hard as possible.

But then we grew up.
We became more fixated on the future or the past.

We start to fret about what might go wrong in the future, justifying to ourselves that we are preparing for the worst case possible; I mean, isn’t that what adults supposed to do? Fretting and preparing all the time?

We are also frequently caught up with past events- embarrassments and heartaches. It takes much more to amuse us; as if happiness is a carrot pulled over our heads with an invisible sting, always insight, yet perpetually out of touch.

For the longest time, I’d been searching for a way to get back into that childhood stupor where everything, even the most mundane as a dusty shop sign was fascinating, where one’s senses are highly attuned the happenings of the outside world, where one’s capacity to enjoy life is infinite. Even without evidence to back it up, I have this inkling that the capacity to commit one hundred percent of our mind and body to a moment is the happiest state a human being can attain, with our inner turmoil and flaws. Some philosophers and researchers actually back up this notion.

download“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the famous author of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (which I highly recommend), “and in doing work is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we use this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how use it. And it is an energy under control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”

Further explained in his book is how one can channel one’s attention to get into the “flow” state where one loses consciousness of oneself, and immersed in the experience at hand, not unlike how you forget about your chubby arms and just dance to the rapture of a tune when you were a toothless child.

Susan Sontag, a famous author and speaker has this to say regarding attention in her Vassar College Commencement Speech, 2003 (link here):

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. . . . Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

 

It really doesn’t take well-respected thinkers to convince us that attention is the key to life.

Just take a brief pause and look over your shoulder to the path of your life.

Why do some memories stick out more than others? Yes, because we were paying attention to it.

Why do companies spend billions of dollars devising strategies to grab our attention to their ads, even resorting to using sublime messages? Yup, attention. If they can control where our attention goes to, they can to a certain extend control our decisions.

I sincerely believe that our attention is not made to deal with the bombardment of so many attention-grabbing ads we encounter every single day. A normal city dweller today has enough excitement to last a 10th century Angkorian for a lifetime. Our inboxes are flowing with “urgent” stuff that needs our attention. Our newsfeed is pasted all over the place with injustice, issues, and events that claim to deserve our attention. But in the midst of this chaotic whirlwind of notifications, what do YOU want to pay attention to? What do you want to prioritize? It’s time like this that the practice of mindfulness is all the more vital.

It’s surprising, considering the fact that Cambodian claims to be a Buddhist country, yet it takes me, as a Cambodian citizen, 20 years to get acquainted with this simple concept of Buddhism (from a Vietnamese monk living in exile in the United States nonetheless). Again, just to clarify, mindfulness is not a religious practice. If you’re like me, who’s not all that into religions, just think of it as a life hack.

So why mindfulness? But most importantly, what is mindfulness?

To state it clearly and simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what is happening outside and inside of oneself. It’s a very simple concept; one that is very easy to grasp intellectually, but quite difficult to integrate into our daily lives.

Our heads especially as adults have the tendency to flutter away from our feet. We fret over the reason why someone would insult us in a classroom a week ago, or we are anxious about how our date would go this evening, or what would we do when we finally graduate. What if we fail this class? What if we can’t find a satisfying job? What if we are left behind while all our friends get on with the rides of their successful lives?

We are so caught up with our worries and anxieties that we forget to listen to the chirping of the birds outside of our windows, or the presence of our close friends going on and on about their days right beside us. We always think that maybe some time in the future, we might finally have time to enjoy our lives, but the circular pattern draws on. Once we get to that “future”, we will still be fretting over the future of “that future”.

Until one day, death comes and we’re gone.

 

 

The only reality that is available to us is this moment right here and right now, and if we don’t live here, when can we be alive? In the past where everything is a memory, or in the future which consists of only projections?

To chain our mind down to the present reality, our breathing comes in handy. We don’t need to buy a new gadget, or go somewhere exotic to get in touch with life.

Just breathe.

 

Notice how you are breathing in, and how you are breathing out. Notice the presence of things around you, the people chattering away, the smell of air, the odd chances that we are alive right here right now. Notice the feelings boiling inside you. Maybe you’re scared; maybe you’re contented. Just notice them,

and breathe.

 

If you don’t buy into the above claims, consider this solid research. Several researchers have found out that meditation, and mindfulness practice DO have a physical effect on our brain.

Mindfulness meditation was found to bring about the thickening of some brain regions associated with attention, interception, and sensory processing. It might even lead to the offset of our brain thinning that normally happens as we age [1]. That doesn’t even need a long time practice to take effect, as a matter of fact, another research with only an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program found an increase in their participants’ left sided brain regions which are associated with the reduction in anxiety and an increase in immune system [2].

Relationship-wise,  mindfulness-based programs were also found to increase happy couples’ closeness, satisfaction, autonomy, relatedness, acceptance and decrease their relationship distress. Furthermore, individually, those couples found their optimism, spirituality, relaxation increased and their psychological distress decreased. The effect even holds up 3 months after the evaluation [3].

Research after research has also found that mindfulness practice increase family connection. (I won’t be getting into that today, because let’s face it, we’re all pretty much non-married. However, the reference to the research journals in included just in case you want to dive in further [4]).

Now, onto juicier stuff. Mindfulness training has been found to increase the relapse prevention in substance abuse by enabling people to treat urges as simply urges without caving into them [5]. It’s also believed to actually reduce distress associated with pain; thereby, reducing the perceived pain [6].

Mindfulness practice was also tied to relapse prevention of major depression episode among chronically depressed people [7]. And because of its non-judgemental nature, it also indirectly leads to relaxation and stress reduction [8].

Given the growing track record of the benefits of mindfulness, I think we should all take a closer look at this champion right here. I mean, if there’s proof that this method might just turn your life around, why not give it a try?

That was exactly my thought when I began to dabble into the world of mindfulness a year and a half ago, and directly or indirectly, I believe it has helped to exhilarate many facets of the growth I’ve experienced in these corresponding years. Therefore, I’d like to take this chance to share with you what I’ve practiced and believed to have helped me deal with this crazy thing we call life. However, due to its extensive length, I’m going to break each main practice into a blog post and compile it into a not-so-originally named series called My Mindful Week!

Do not expect to cure yourself of depression, anxiety, sadness and envy all in one week though (because bruh, I’m still struggling), but like I said, I hope it can help you lessen these negative experiences no matter how little. Please be aware that the series is not the final say in mindfulness (obviously). Please, please, if it is not working for you, go out, explore this wonderful practise on your own- visit a mindfulness therapist, ordain as a monk, read a book or nine about it- dig deeper! The series is only meant to be a personal sharing of the practises I’ve found useful and most of them are from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh (go dig deeper about this guy, like seriously).

Also, another thing before ending this nearly 2k word article, mindfulness is a habit; it’s a way of life. It’s taken literally decades for Thich Nhat Hanh (a monk) to be a master of it, and  me one year and a half to realize the little change I’ve experienced. My point is that you will grow very frustrated and bored and probably doubtful of these practises, but please please hold on out until you are sure you can’t take it anymore and then hold out some more because it’s literally changed my life and no doubt many others’ around the world throughout history.

Well, that’s all for now, fellas! I hope you have a great sleep today, because our training will start tomorrow morning and it’ll be simple but not quite easy (it’s pretty hard). Good luck on your journey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prep for College Part III: How to Study

In the previous posts, I’ve touched upon the subject of what to have and what to generally do in college for those who are just fresh out of high school, and here is the last post of the series which aims to give you some tips on how to study more effectively.

Now, I’m no expert on the subject, and without saying, here are just suggestions. You are more than welcome to adopt or scoff at them, but I urge you to at least give it a try because studying right makes matter much easier in college. That’s for sure.

  1. you need to plan your time and energy efficiently. In high school, you pretty much have your days planned out by either your school’s schedule, or your parents. However, in college, you’re given more freedom to choose how to use your time. I believe with great freedom comes an equally great responsibility. And nothing is as liberating or as challenging as our attempt to control how we spend our time. Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives,” and God knows there are a few struggle more challenging, or more rewarding than learning to spend our lives correctly.

Here are some of the few tools I’ve found helpful in helping me to plan my time:

  • Have a calendar: you can either note your schedule down in your pc, phone or the good-old notebook and pen. I find myself being more motivated if I note down my days on paper, but try them all out to see what you prefer the best.6e7b076c7b89acb59bb379a4211abf07
  • Block time for the most important things: In his book, First Things First, the legendary self-improvement guru, Stephen Covey said if you had a bottle and you put small stones in first, you won’t be able to fit in the bigger ones. However, if you put the bigger ones in, and put the small ones in later, the smaller ones will disperse and find nooks and crannies to settle into. When you schedule your time, block solid chunks of time for your most prioritized tasks. Since this is a post about studying, I’m assuming you’d like to get better grades or study more efficiently, so yeah, block time for your classes. I’d encourage you to show up in classes that are worthy of your time.
  • Block off time for your reading time: your lecturer wouldn’t be able to cover an entire subject in the span of 40+ hours assigned for their courses per semester, if you want to really attain knowledge, read the textbooks, recommended readings, and whatever the hell you can grab your hands on. I like to read the night before class. Reading before actually studying it in class also helps you question. Write your questions down and ask your lecturer during the class.
  • Block off time for review and note writing: after each class, it’s ideal if you can just review the notes, and main points in the lecture. See if your pre-class questions are all answered to your satisfaction, and if not, aim to ask your lecturer later. Also, if you regularly review your notes, it will make it way easier when the exam comes. The material sticks better than being crammed in a short amount of time, say, 1 night before the actual exam.
  • Set smaller deadlines: you’re not in college if you don’t get big group assignments. Talk to your teammates as soon as your group is formed. Set the final deadline on your calendar, then reverse engineer the project by dividing the tasks. For example, if it’s to write a paper that’s due in three weeks. You should set smaller deadlines for brainstorming, researching and draft writing. Say, you will have to finish brainstorming in a week, and researching in two weeks.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique: basically, it’s found out that we can’t possibly pay attention all the time. Most people find it effective to pay solid attention for 45 minutes, then take a 15 minute break, and repeat the process. I find it helpful myself to pay attention for 30 minutes at a time, and take smaller 5 minutes break between the 30 minute chucks. It’s all about trying and finding out what’s best fit your attention span. I like to use Tide because it’s just all sorts of wonderful in customizing your focus time without needing you to be connected to the internet.
  1. Now that’s all the time management thing you have to deal with, on to the real study.
  • Before class:
    • Read before class. Don’t just read passively and highlight half the text though. Practice active reading by asking questions all the time. A useful technique for me is pre-brainstorm before the actual studying. I like to ask myself what I know of the topic beforehand. For example, if the topic is about ancient philosophy, I would spend a couple of minutes just trying to recall what I know of ancient philosophy. With these fresh knowledge in mind, reading makes it easier for me to detect any new knowledge and add it to to the existing store of information.
    • Learn to skim. Skimming is essentially reading fast to get the general idea of something. Of course, you will have to practice it wisely because some courses require slow and critical reading. This comes in handy when you have to read long texts from a boring book that won’t really give you any new information except for its bold headers.
    • Read notes from your previous class and highlights from your reading just to make sure your brain is prepared for the actual class.
    • Do you homework: of course, it’s up to you, really, to do the homework assigned or not. If the class is easy, you don’t really need to do it. However, for classes you find difficult, doing homework and asking your lecturer where you went wrong will help tremendously.
  • During class time:
    • Attend the lectures: again, this is not absolute. Maybe you are already well-versed in a subject, then there’s really no reason to show up. For classes you’re struggling with though, show up! Show up and pay attention to what the lecturer teaches.
    • Sit in front: I can’t stress how much this is ignored. If you sit at the back, you have the chance to slack off. Sitting in the front of the class will 1) make sure your lecturer actually know who you are, especially in big classes. This might come in handy when you need their help either in class material, or for, say, reference for a project.
    • Take notes: take notes of the important information during class. If you’ve read your chapter before class, you should know which info is in the book and which is extra info from your lecturer.
    • Ask questions: if you have any doubt over anything at all, ask questions to your lecturer. Chances are, they are more than happy to answer.
    • Grab chances to discuss: discussions can be boring, or it can be mind opening; it just depends on the people, to be honest. Take initiative in discussion by trying to put your thoughts as eloquently as possible, ad also try to listen and understand other people’s arguments. This is what you can’t get from reading books alone.
  • After class:
    • Revise your notes: put together your book notes and lecture notes. If you have the time, it would help tremendously to combine the notes and write them down neatly. It will surely help prevent cramming for exams.
    • Talk out loud: it’s actually very helpful to recite out loud what you’re learning with your own words. Bonus if it is to teach another person. If you can’t make something simple, you don’t understand it yet.

Well, these are all the tips I’ve tried and found helpful! Tell me yours in the comments! Have fun studying!

Complimentary reading on: how to be more productive  and how to deal with challenges.