As the second semester speeds up to a full sprint, the cogs and gears of KIS begin to rotate at a blinding pace, sending students into overdrive. Every person you encounter in the halls look ready to rant about each of their weeks- nerves heighten, hearts grow sensitive, and conversations turn one notch negative. And when complaints abound, it becomes easy to get caught up in the whirlwind until all you want is to give up.
But what if there was a way to be a bit more content? Be calm amidst the raging storm? It may sound like an odd “zen” concept, but mindfulness could be the key. Mindfulness often has the specific definition of taking deep breaths, paying attention and being focused in the moment, but I like to give it a broader meaning. Mindfulness is about constantly thinking and reflecting, knowing who you are and where you’re going, and situating your life within the vast machinery of the world. Life is too important to let slip by caught up in emotional baggage the entire time, without ever truly thinking about it. If you’re struggling to make sense of all that, read on for 7 practical tips on how to go about this journey.
We hate the word “journal” because it evokes the dreary middle school English assignment. But journaling can be surprisingly liberating. This is an activity that is solely for yourself- so there are no rules, no guidelines. In fact, you don’t even need to journal about what happened that day. It’s more about giving your mind a pure moment to take care of what it wants to say. Turn your devices off for twenty minutes, take a pen and a notebook, and see where your thoughts take you.
This can, first and foremost, be an emotional outlet. We are so used to our mental clutter that we decide to live with it, but letting yourself empty your mind can help relieve your stress. Journaling also lets you connect with yourself. What do you fear? What makes you happy? What do you want out of life? These are all important questions we brush away because they are such a long distance from the daily tasks we are trained to prioritize, but certainly ones we should not be ignoring.
We all have things we enjoy doing and subjects we find interesting. But these are not always offered as a part of our school day. Students often complain about how they want to spend time learning something they want to learn but are caught up in schoolwork instead. It’s important to realize that self-development is always an option.
When’s the last time you read a book just because you wanted to? Or researched a topic just because you were curious about it? What about that hobby you abandoned ages ago just because you didn’t see it becoming a future career- a musical instrument, a DIY project, a painting? Let’s be honest- we all have some time in the day to spare, and we all have the choice to spend it on self-development instead of wasting it away.
The very concept probably feels very detached, like something you would never try doing. But just like training your body to learn a new sport, you can train your mind to learn a new skill- meditation. There’s a reason why people who commit themselves to learning how to meditate call it a life-changing experience. You’d be surprised at how many sources are available to you online, with plenty of beginner’s guidelines and videos. Take some time to find what’s right for you, and you may find yourself embarking on a journey that pulls you from the obligatory cyclical flow of school into your own flow. The best part is, this can take as little of your time as you wish for it to- just 10 minutes a day can make a difference.
If you’re still hesitant to try formal meditation, everyday mindfulness can help, too. As you move through different parts of your day, try taking a few moments to look around and notice what you’re doing and where you are. Notice your own breathing and the things you see, hear, and smell. In all that time you spend either zoned out or mindlessly buried in a task, give yourself a few seconds in between to be aware of yourself. Notice that you’re part of something bigger- realize the awe of nature or the vast force of humanity that consists of people like you.
You’ve probably already heard about the benefits of gratitude. It’s one of the best-researched factors that correlate to happiness. It has been scientifically proven that letting yourself be grateful leads to better mental and physical health, enhances empathy and reduces aggression, and allows for a more satisfying work and social life.
Take some time out of your day to think about what you’re grateful for- one recommended method is to jot down 3 items every night before sleep. These may include some lucky circumstances that fell upon you today, the people around you that you often don’t fully appreciate, or even something you were born with in your life. Trust what’s been proven- subconsciously, your mind will focus less on toxic emotions such as envy, frustration, resentment, or regret.
We all find support in those around us, and we all appreciate our friends and family enough to leave them a message on their birthday or congratulate their latest achievement. But with a lifestyle so busy, sometimes we need to consciously remind ourselves of how much those people mean to us. Where would you be without the people around you? How many times have you felt that someone really cares for you, and how did that change your passing mood? When you sit down to join your friends at lunch after two long morning classes, how quickly are you able to forget your troubles and anxieties?
You have the power to change someone’s day- a random act of kindness doesn’t need to wait until KISRAK week. Just a smile and a word of kindness that replaces an eye roll and a “I have so much homework to do” can brighten someone’s day. In the end, you’ll find yourself becoming a happier person by turning the interactions in your life one notch positive. Connect with someone. Have a conversation that doesn’t consist of individual rants or business-related matter.
The way you live your life is a choice. Remind yourself of all the things you could be taking control of. You can harness the mindless minutes you idle away on the bus or while brushing your teeth, and take that time to think about something. You can spend your high school career only doing what’s asked of you, or you can do something completely for yourself. You have the choice to spend time with people that lift you up and cut away the people that you know always drag you down. You can take the steering wheel.
But often, when you take the steering wheel but realize you cannot change what car you’re driving or what the road is made of, you’ll find that the most helpful thing to do is to let go of what you can’t control. Someone out there won’t appreciate you. One of your teachers will refuse to understand you. Sometime in your life, you’ll face unfair discrimination for something. Recognize that everything, in the end, is because humans are fallible- just like you are. You can’t control everything.
So the next time you find yourself struggling with a problem or unleashing a bout of hate and frustration, hit the pause button and consider if the conflict is something you can control. If it isn’t, know how much easier it is to let go. Sift through and spot the things that you can change. By letting go of things you can’t do anything about, you may be surprised at how much power you find resting in your hands.
Personally, even the process of writing this article has made me realize how many changes I can make in my life to be a bit more mindful, and how much I’ve let my workload drag my character down. We all need to take a breath and give our tired minds a massage. It would be such a shame to ignore the shifting complexities of our lives and identities- all the beauty that exists for us to feel.
-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)
Cover image and list headers designed by Crescentia Jung (’19)