In a well-known scene in “The Dead Poets Club”, Professor Keating (Robin Williams) whispered insistently two words behind his strange pupils, as they watched a display case with photos and trophies of their predecessors: “Carpe Diem” “seize the moment”.
Today we have our own version of the Latin exhortation. It is the appeal to the practice of mindfulness, or in other words, techniques to focus on the present moment, oriented to give full attention to the thoughts, emotions, feelings and internal and external stimuli to which we are exposed in life Everyday life.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to meet again in Salamanca with one of my teachers of the Degree, José Ramón Yela, a sort of modern Mr. Keating, more scientific, but equally capable of inspiring and transmitting his passion for knowledge to his students. We are talking about the new developments in psychology today, and especially the consolidation of what are known as third generation therapies, including approaches based on mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy. But above all, I want to rescue two ideas that I learned in that meeting.
The first idea is that our mind wanders, has an irresistible tendency to wander, to go from one thought to another, to stay hooked in a course of emotions, sensations, phrases, images, etc. Which often have nothing to do with what is happening here and now.
In fact, practically 50% of the time we spend awake, our mind is wandering (1). José Ramón Yela summarized it in a very didactic way.
A great part of our time is immersed in expectations about the future that are uncertain, and that many times are not even realistic or grounded; Another great part of our lives is spent revolving around what happened in the past, how things would have been if events had developed differently, or yearning for a past time that we thought was better.
In the meantime, what about the present? Where is your mind now?
The second idea has an even greater scope: a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Professor Yela referred in this case to an interesting investigation by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, in which they found that, in general, we are more unhappy when our minds are vagabonding, compared to those moments in which we are centered in the moment I presented.
And something even more striking, this is true regardless of the type of activity in which we are immersed, even if it is an apparently less pleasant activity.
As evidenced by the research of these authors, to digress into negative or neutral thoughts is clearly more unpleasant than being attentive to what is being done. But even more, people do not seem to be happier when their mind is engrossed in a vagrancy of positive thoughts as opposed to being focused on activity that is ongoing.
You never fail to learn from your teachers and a good teacher is always able to convey something, even in an informal conversation outside the classroom.