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An expert's take on how to ace your exams through mindfulness.
05 September, 2019
- Being here and in the present is a necessity, if you want to excel in any situation.
- Author Logan Thompson explores in his new book how mindfulness is one of the most important aspects of test taking.
- Mindfulness is something that anyone can take up.
<p>Mindfulness is one of the most powerful modes of thought we can harness. It's quite simple too. In short, it's a state of mind where we are conscious of the now and embrace our full range of experience in the present moment. That may be a rush of emotions and thoughts, or it could be the flow we find ourselves in when conducting a task. </p><p>The power of this simple state of mind cannot be understated. It's an untapped mental space that we're all privy to. While yogis and mystics have harnessed this practice for millennia, nowadays a great deal of people are also finding the benefits in applying mindfulness. </p><p>The application for this mode of thought is endless. That's why author, Logan Thompson, decided to start teaching his test prep students how to capitalize on it. He details this in his new book: <em>Beyond the Content: Mindfulness as a Test Prep Advantage, </em>where he explores his methods for banishing test anxiety, acing exams through awareness and accepting all order of emotions that arise in the flurry of everyday thought. </p><p>Big Think recently caught up with the author and got an inside look into the magic of mindfulness.</p><h2>Beyond the Content</h2><div class="rm-shortcode amazon-assets-widget" data-rm-shortcode-id="V0M1KC1567622073" contenteditable="false"> <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Content-Mindfulness-Test-Advantage/dp/1506248470?SubscriptionId=AKIAJGTABWIBL2VADPUA&tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=1506248470" target="_blank"> <img src="https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41ZwDsL9dkL.jpg" class="amazon-assets-widget__image"> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__description"> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__title" style="display: block;">Beyond the Content: Mindfulness as a Test Prep Advantage</div> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__by-amazon"><!-- <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Content-Mindfulness-Test-Advantage/dp/1506248470?SubscriptionId=AKIAJGTABWIBL2VADPUA&tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=1506248470" target="_blank">by now at amazone</a> --></div> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__list-price"><span class="grey">List Price: </span><span class="list-price">$14.99</span></div> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__new-price"><span class="grey">New From: </span><span class="new-price">$9.62</span> <span class="grey">in Stock</span></div> <div class="amazon-assets-widget__used-price"><span class="grey">Used From: </span><span class="used-price">$10.46</span> <span class="grey">in Stock</span></div> </div> </a> </div> <p>Thompson sets out the idea that the hardest part of taking a test stems from the stress, anxiety and self doubt we harbor. Academic instruction focuses on what he considers the other half of test prep, which is the standard content and strategy. That is, learning the material and applying it. Thompson doesn't believe that lack of proper studying or not comprehending the material is where the problem lies. </p><p>"Students keep talking about being a bad test taker. I really push back against that. I don't think that's true. What's most often happening is that students understandably have only been studying half of test prep, just the content and strategy part."</p><p>Thompson has created a metaphorical framework in the book where he explores how to tackle this other half of the test prep – the mindfulness and mental performance aspect. </p><p>Much of the problem stems from the stream of thoughts and emotions which are detracting students from performing their best on the test. Thompson labels these distracting feelings and thoughts as "passengers." </p><p>"We have thoughts that are frequent visitors and tell us we're not good enough, or if we fail this problem we'll fail the whole test. We all have passengers, like those in a car that are trying to take the wheel."</p><p>Thompson's solution is to unlock the "driver" of ourselves, or the parts of an individual's psyche that can bring about calmness, wisdom and intelligence. Passengers never go away. The goal isn't to get rid of them either, but to embrace the thought and put in its place for what it is. </p><p>Our minds are a cauldron of activity. When we start to practice something like mindfulness, sometimes conversely we can begin to get more anxious. We're realizing these negative thoughts are there and now we want to get rid of them. But the more we think and try, the more tangled it gets. </p><p>Thompson puts down the gas pedal on this metaphor through the whole book. When there is a synthesis of mindfulness and an interplay between our drivers and passengers, our mind gets us to where we need to be.</p><h2>Methods of mindfulness for test prep</h2> <div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="U7LGIyO3" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="588d17477ec756dbb8a2db5c2a0587a1"> <div id="botr_U7LGIyO3_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/U7LGIyO3-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/U7LGIyO3-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview"> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/U7LGIyO3-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Logan was first drawn to the concept when he was in his early twenties. Books like <em>The Power of Now</em> and <em>Wherever you go there you are</em>, radically changed his perspective on life. After spending years meditating and attending mindfulness retreats, he realized that this way of thinking could be imparted on students, especially those anxious test takers. </p><p>"When I first drew a contrast to the 'present moment' and the past and future moments; and became aware of that potential distinction – it was intellectually mind blowing." </p><p>On the subject of the receptiveness from the students to this method, he spoke about how quickly they took to it. There was no resistance or defensiveness to try. </p><p>Thompson often uses paradoxical observations to detach the students from the outcome of worrying about what's going to happen. By planning to not be worried and to be calm during a test, students are actually preparing themselves to be anxious. </p><blockquote>What our bodies and minds do now tends to form habits on what they're going to do next. </blockquote><p>"if I want to be relaxed, calm, focused in this next moment, then I have to surrender being worried about the next moment and practice being within the now. The best predictor of how we're going to be in the next moment is this moment."</p><p>Awareness is the first step towards realignment. </p><p>"[Lack of awareness]... is like someone being behind the wheel and not realizing they've gone beyond the path. First open your eyes and see where you are. Then you have the choice to either stay on that path or jump on the path you want to be on."</p><p>These paths could be the choice to daydream or the choice to stay focused on the task at hand. </p><p>For teachers and parents that want to impart this onto their students and children, the best way to start is just to listen and open up a dialogue. Let students share with one another about the "passengers" that they hold in their minds and have them realize they're not alone. </p><p>They're not bad test takers. There's no reason to blame themselves. It's lack of awareness and the fact that they've never been taught the other half of the equation. </p><p>Once students get beyond the content, the state of mindfulness will bloom into so many other countless areas of life. And this goes for everyone, regardless of whether they're a student or not. </p><p>Pay attention to the mind, you might end up liking what you find</p> <div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Iaud9pIL" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="757f3149293f572b10c884503b76166c"> <div id="botr_Iaud9pIL_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Iaud9pIL-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Iaud9pIL-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview"> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Iaud9pIL-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
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Existential dread, meet astronomical wonder.
03 September, 2019
- The universe is huge, and we're not. This fact has given rise to countless existential crises.
- You don't have to be left in dread after looking at the night sky, however.
- Astronomer Michelle Thaller has an excellent meditation on why the vastness of space can be revitalizing.
<p>Who hasn't looked up at the night sky and felt small? The vastness of space and the sudden realization of our own insignificance is enough to spark anxiety in anyone.</p><p>It doesn't have to leave you in a pit of existential despair, though. Just ask NASA Astronomer and the star of Big Think's Ask an Astronomer series, <a href="https://bigthink.com/u/michelle-thaller" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Michelle Thaller</a>.</p><p><br></p><div class="rm-embed embed-media"><iframe scrolling="no" src="https://art19.com/shows/meditative-story/episodes/9dc0a5ea-e8cb-4747-982d-eeabd76a52ff/embed?theme=dark-blue" style="width: 100%; height: 200px; border: 0 none;"></iframe></div><p><br></p>
A meditation on cosmic insignificance.<p>Dr. Thaller recently appeared in an episode of the Meditative Story <a href="http://podcast.meditativestory.com/p/11?_branch_match_id=679689092651647577" target="_blank">podcast</a>. For those who haven't heard of it, it is a series that combines guided mindfulness meditation with a well-told story about a transformative experience in someone's life. In this episode, Dr. Thaller explains her childhood interest in the night sky and how she balances living a full life with the knowledge that the vast cosmos above us dwarfs us into irrelevance.</p><p>She then discusses the joy she finds in looking at the heavens by describing a typical night at the observatory:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I walk back through the woods and look back up at the sky, I feel unequal to the task of even trying to understand what that means. In one evening, a dozen star systems, complete with any planets or life around them, came to a violent and sudden end, blown to bits. A dozen. In a few hours. This goes on around us every night, every day, every hour. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">And from the debris of that death comes every thing, literally every atom, we need for life. Spreading their nuclear-furnaced debris back into space, the galaxy now has more of the stuff of life to work with. I wouldn't be here tonight had many millions of stars not died before. Some atoms in my body were formed, literally, a hundred thousand trillion miles away from where I sit tonight. I am vast. Me. And I am alive. And I'm soaked to the core of my existence in death; unimaginably vast death. Birth and death bonded together cheek to jowl, so tightly that one leaks into the other, across a galaxy. That is what I am. That is what you are."</p><p>Of course, even an astronomer can be overwhelmed by the cosmos. Dr. Thaller offers us some advice for when this happens:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Often, I feel overwhelmed with even my small, limited perception of the larger universe and my deep connection to it. Sometimes, I honestly can only deal with it by letting go. At this scale, so large and so small, there are no expectations. Everything can drop away. Everything about you has been here for the entirety of time, and everything that you are will utterly vanish in the blink of an eye. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">This is what you are; there is nothing to do about it. To be so significant and yet so insignificant all at once is the essence and the balance of what it means to be alive."</p>
Can meditation really help deal with cosmic anxiety?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GtLhWYmp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="5444e414dcd7a79547013ac75259b152"> <div id="botr_GtLhWYmp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GtLhWYmp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GtLhWYmp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GtLhWYmp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Yes, and it can help you deal with regular anxiety, too, as David Goleman explains in this clip.</p>
Who else has touched on these ideas?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="3yxnUril" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="98b505477623b4e52d192535deeb08e3"> <div id="botr_3yxnUril_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/3yxnUril-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/3yxnUril-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/3yxnUril-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Besides Thaller, plenty of other thinkers have looked up at the heavens, considered how small we are compared to it, and written about the anxiety it can produce.</p><p>Carl Sagan, the ever-loved educator of millions, knew as well as anybody how tiny we are compared to the vastness of space and somehow managed to make this anxiety a source of inspiration:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The size and age of the cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky."</p><p>The French-Algerian philosopher <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/" target="_blank">Albert Camus</a> understood that the heavens could be the cause of a person suddenly feeling small and meaningless. In the novel <em>The Stranger, </em>he has the main character explain:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe."</p><p>Camus' philosophy of Absurdism centers around human attempts to find meaning in an utterly meaningless, indifferent cosmos that accidentally foils our efforts to make sense of it. While the vast heavens aren't out to crush our attempts to find meaning, considering the vastness of space is a pretty easy way to conclude that nothing you do really matters. If that doesn't cause anxiety, nothing will. </p><p>Camus suggests that we embrace this conflict between our desire for meaning and the indifference of the heavens. How to go about doing that is another problem. </p><p>Not everyone has seen this vastness as a good or even neutral thing though. H.P. Lovecraft used the vast, uncaring cosmos as a source of horror and madness in his <a href="http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/sources/hplcf.aspx" target="_blank">stories</a>. His characters often find themselves face to face with the cosmic insignificance of humanity and rarely come out of it whole.</p><p>Contrast his <a href="http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/quotes.aspx" target="_blank">quote</a> with Thaller's:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes."</p><p>Not quite as optimistic, is he?</p><p>The universe is unfathomably vast, filled with ageless stars that will live for uncompromisable eons and then die in cataclysmic explosions. We are small creatures that will live for the cosmic blink of an eye, and yet we are connected to the universe that at once thinks nothing of us and comprises us. </p><p>If these thoughts don't help ease the anxiety of being so small compared to everything else, I don't know what does. </p><p>To hear the podcast, follow the link <a href="http://podcast.meditativestory.com/p/11?_branch_match_id=679689092651647577" target="_blank">here</a>, or press play at the top of the page.</p>
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