The Last Lecture – Mindful Living

Randy Pausch, the author of The Last Lecture, was a Professor  of Computer Science at the Carnegie Mellon University specialising in the design of Virtual Reality.  He died from pancreatic cancer on 25 July 2008 after being diagnosed with the disease in the summer of 2006.

Randy’s book traces his life, his medical experience, giving his last lecture and his life’s lessons and achievements.  His Last Lecture, given on the 18th September 2007, was videotaped and is available here.   The lecture has been viewed by millions of people who admire Randy’s inspiration, insight, humour, intelligence and wisdom.

Randy, even though he was obviously dying from cancer at the time, wanted to leave a legacy for his three young children in terms of the lessons he had learned in life – often the hard way by making mistakes.  Some of his insights into the way to live your life are pertinent to developing mindfulness.

Lessons on mindfulness from Randy Pausch

I can’t recall Randy talking about mindfulness in his book or his lecture, but he did have some insights and values that I think are particularly relevant to mindfulness:

Show Gratitude

Being grateful for what you have and what people have done for you is important, because it is part of growing in self-awareness and understanding how you came to achieve what you have achieved.  Randy also talks about the “lost art of the thank-you note” as a timely way to express appreciation.

He went even further and decided to take his 15-member research team (working on virtual reality) to a week-long visit to Disney World in Florida.  Besides enjoying the entertainment, they were also able to take in some educational activities relevant to their studies and research.  He provided this expensive trip as a way to “pay it forward” his gratitude for the mentoring he received from Any van Dam.

Gratitude requires being present to notice what people have done for you and developing an appreciation mindset through gratitude meditation. Often, we are grateful, but fail to express it.   Through this form of meditation, we become more aware of the opportunities to show gratitude and ways to express it.

Seeking forgiveness genuinely

There are many times when we are hurt by the words and actions of others – it is part of being human on both sides of the hurt dyad.  We hurt others and they hurt us.  We can’t avoid this, although as we grow in mindfulness we become more aware of their feelings and what effect our words and actions have on them.

Randy stresses the importance of seeking forgiveness genuinely – in his own words, “A bad apology is worse than no apology”.  He argues that we should not apologise in such a way that we are not genuineor in a way that is designed only to obtain an apology from the other person.   While hurt can be a two-way street, it does not rectify the situation to actively seek an apology from the other party – they may apologise in their own due time.  If you want someone to change their behaviour, you are more likely to achieve this if you change your own behaviour first.

Forgiveness meditation helps us to develop the readiness and willingness to apologise for the hurt we cause others.  In the process of this meditation, we can ask for forgiveness from others – which makes us acutely aware of the reality that we are not the only one hurting.  Associated with this, is the need to also practise self-forgiveness meditation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and learning from the inspiration of others such as Randy Pausch, we can develop the awareness and mindset that makes us willing and able to show gratitude and to genuinely seek forgiveness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay

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Changing Your Mindset

Shamash Alidina, co-author of Mindfulness at Work for Dummies, suggests that one way to be mindful at work is to change our mindset.  In discussing how to grow mindfulness in a work situation, he identifies two key aspects that relate to our attitude or mental state – self-acceptance and a growth perspective.

The acceptance mindset

Accepting things the way they are in the first instance is a fundamental aspect of mindfulness.  Diana Winston reinforces the concept of acceptance in her definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is about paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity and a willingness to be with what is.

This means being in the moment with “what is”, accepting what you cannot change, and taking steps to address what can and should be changed.  Fundamental to this mindset is self-acceptance.

If we have made a mistake or overlooked something that should have been addressed, instead of “beating up on ourselves”, we can accept the situation and our role in the outcome and move forward.  If something “unfair” happens to us, we have the choice of carrying resentment and consuming wasted energy, or accepting the reality of what happened, however painful.  This radical acceptance does not mean agreeing with what has happened but accepting reality as it is, accepting the things that we cannot change.

This self-acceptance is fundamental to a growth mindset, because it starts with the acknowledgement and acceptance that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, and have some deficiencies in knowledge and understanding.

The growth mindset

While accepting “what is” means not fighting against the reality of our own incompleteness, it does not mean accepting what we can change.  One thing we can change is ourselves – we can be open to developing our knowledge, skills, perspectives and attitudes.

This growth mindset is reinforced by the recent neuroscience discovery in the area of the neuroplasticity of the mind – the ability of the mind to change and adjust throughout our life.  It means that our brains are not fixed in our childhood or adolescent years, but can change neural pathways and connections as our brain absorbs and responds to new experiences and stimuli.  The starting point is openness to this possibility – a growth mindset.

A growth mindset, translated into the workplace, means a focus on continuous personal development, a willingness to learn from our experiences through reflection, a readiness to accept and seek critique of our words and actions, and openness to new experiences and challenges.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and mindfulness practice, we can develop both an acceptance mindset and a growth mindset.  These mental states, in turn, build mindfulness – our ability to be fully aware with “what is” in the present moment.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Overcoming Nervousness through Mindfulness

Everyone experiences nervousness at some time.  It is part of the human condition.  However, it can be debilitating if you let it control you.  If you use it to your advantage and get in touch with the associated feelings, you can actually come out stronger and perform better.

I want to talk about two things that you can do to get nervousness under control – naming the feelings involved and developing a success anchor.

Naming your feelings

In a previous post, we discussed naming feelings as a way to gain control over them – you may recall Dan Siegel’s dictum, Name It to Tame It.  Nervousness will affect your thinking – your ability to concentrate and your clarity.  It can be felt in the body as agitation, tenseness, shaking, pacing sweating , a dry mouth, shallow breathing or any multitude of other bodily manifestations.

Nervousness can severely impact your performance.  I recall chairing one job interview panel for a managerial position and one of the applicants was so nervous that he had difficulty breathing.  I spontaneously started breathing slowly and heavily and he began to pace me with his own breathing and regained control so that the interview could proceed.

Behind the nervousness can be any number of feelings or a group of feelings, such as hesitant, anxious, doubtful, wary, fearful, uncertain, unsure or uneasy.   There are also expectations by others and our own expectations that can intensify our nervousness and our associated feelings.

Ariarne Titmus, 17-year-old Australian winner of the 400 metres freestyle swimming race at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast, Australia), in a Commonwealth Games record, said that she was nervous before the 800 metres race.  When asked why she had been nervous, she said that it was because of the expectations she placed on herself about the result.  She went on to win by a large margin and broke the Commonwealth Games record again.  So, no one escapes nerves, no matter how good they are.  If you care about how you will perform, whether in a sporting event, job  interview or presentation, you will be nervous.  The challenge is to use the energy of nervousness in a positive way to perform to your best, rather than be crippled by it.

I discussed a meditation on emotions practice in the previous post on naming your feelings.  This can help you manage your nervousness.  The initial mindful breathing step slows down your body and reduces your bodily reaction to nervousness.  The second step of body scan helps you identify and release points of tension in your body.  The third step of naming each feeling helps you to get in touch with each feeling and the expectation set that is influencing your nervousness.  Once you name the feelings that give rise to your nervousness, you will be better able to control them and to keep the impact of your nervousness under control.  You can access the list of feelings to help you name your feelings.

Developing a success anchor

One way to help manage nervousness is to recall when you were successful with a similar event that you are nervous about (or even some other successful activity).  Picture yourself experiencing the success event and the positive feelings associated with this success – confident, delighted, thankful, relaxed, energetic, reassured – and absorb those feelings.  Now recall what you did to make it a success – planning, practice, deep breathing, consultation or another precursor activity.

This anchoring process helps you to move to a more positive mindset, and to remind yourself that you were nervous the last time and that you successfully overcame those nerves.  It also helps you to get in touch with the success strategies you used previously, because when we are nervous we sometimes have difficulty accessing these past successful strategies – we are too tense, agitated or anxious to be able to focus properly on what is required.   Revisiting the positive feelings of success reassures you, too, that you can be successful.

As you grow in mindfulness, you develop self-awareness and are better able to name and tame the feelings giving rise to your nervousness and you can more easily access prior successful experiences and strategies.  This, in turn, builds your self-management capacity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of LoganArt on Pixabay

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Recognising Our Emotions and Our Feelings

In the previous post, I explored the benefits of mindful breathing in terms of increased self-awareness and self-management and the capacity to become more in touch with our breathing.  As we develop our mindfulness practice, we are able to move beyond breathing mindfully to recognise our emotions and feeling states.

The emotional roller-coaster of life

Feelings are “part and parcel” of being human.   If we ignore them or suppress how we feel, emotions will take over our lives – we will be controlled and overwhelmed by them.  Previously, we saw the physical and psychological damage caused by suppressed feelings in a toxic work environment and when midwives suffered trauma in silence following a critical incident.

We can allow emotions to work for us or against us – we can learn to recognise them and treat them with loving awareness and kindness.  Too often we attempt to deny or ignore our painful feelings because they cause discomfort and upset our expectation of a pleasant life.  Jack Kornfield, in the Power of Awareness Course, reminds us that we seek to make our life comfortable in so many ways – we seek the comfort of air conditioning or a soft pillow or mattress.  He points our that we try to deny the conflicting reality of being human – lives that engender joy and pain; praise and blame; elation and depression; happiness and sadness; gain and loss.

We assume that things will go along as expected – until we are confronted with a serious illness or a substantial loss or defeat.  Jon Kabat-Zin suggests that it is “certifiably absurd” to assume that things will always go on the way they are now.  He argues that “stress really has to do with wanting things to stay the same when they are inevitably going to change” – the fundamental “law of impermanence”.

Mindfulness and recognising our emotions

Mindfulness meditation can give us the capacity to handle the wide range of emotions that we will have to deal with in life.  This is not to say that we will not experience upsets or “come to grief”, but that we will reduce our reactivity to these emotions and regain balance more easily – we will have the ability to “bounce back” more quickly.  In other words, we will develop our resilience.  Jack Kornfield reminds us that recent neuroscience research confirms the view that mindfulness builds resilience and creates a “window of tolerance” – a greater openness to life events that we experience as adverse or painful.

Matt Glaetzer epitomised this expanded tolerance of adverse events in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018.  Matt was world champion and Commonwealth Games record holder for a sprint cycling event he contested and was also the fastest qualifier for the 2018 sprint event.  Yet he was beaten by the slowest qualifier, Malaysian Muhammad Sahrom, and was eliminated from the race and did not make the quarter finals.  Matt was “gutted” and devastated by this defeat and the loss of a real gold medal chance.

However, Matt had to race the 1,000 metre individual cycling sprint the following day.  He went on to win this time trial race and the Gold Medal.  When asked how he recovered his balance, Matt stated that “I had to regroup, sometimes things don’t go the way you plan them”.   He sought out the support of family, team mates and friends; said a prayer; and reset his mind to get his “head space in the right area“.  This changed mindset involved not wallowing in his utter disappointment but focusing on winning a gold medal for Australia.   Matt faced the depth of his emotions and feelings after the embarrassing loss and focused his mind on his next goal, rather than “beat up” on himself for making a bad tactical error in the first race.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can liberate ourselves from the potential tyranny of our emotions by recognising them for what they are, by understanding their influence on our thinking and behaviour and by taking constructive steps to manage our emotions to  gain self-acceptance and balance and avoid reactivity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of alfcermed on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Be Aware of Your Negative Comments

To grow in mindfulness, it is important to monitor the negative criticisms we direct to, or about, others.  Negativity can become a mindset where we only look for, and consequently see, inadequacies in others.  Before you realise it, your whole stance towards a person, or a group of people, can become negative – you become blind to their positive characteristics.

Negative criticisms can become contagious as you influence the mindset of the people you are speaking to.  People love to hear negative comments about others – it helps to build their own self-image.  This is particularly true of people who have low self-esteem.

There is some merit in the saying, “If you can’t say something positive about a person, don’t say anything.”  If our communication is positive we can help build up others and create a constructive environment.

Clearly, there are times when you have to exercise discernment and identify a person’s strengths and weaknesses, and in some situations, communicate weaknesses.  However, it is important to monitor our negative criticisms to see whether the communication of this “assessment” is desirable or necessary.

As the image for this post indicates, continuous negative criticism of other people sets up a vicious circle that is destructive and difficult to extricate yourself from without awareness of what is happening.

Monitoring our negative comments about others helps us to grow in awareness and mindfulness and gain a better insight into how our communications impact others.

Image Credit: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay