Spinning Mindlessly

*This is the first in a series of blog posts about Mindful Learning.

Two days ago, I found myself on my hands and knees on my kitchen floor.

No–I was not cleaning up a sticky mess, nor was I praying to the cooking gods, asking for a sign as to what I should fix for dinner. Instead, I was digging through my cupboard looking for my salad spinner . . . again.

This was the sixth or seventh time in the last two weeks that I had found myself in this position.

This is the one I actually own (but mine's red), and I love it!

At this point, you might be thinking, “If you use your salad spinner so often, why the heck is it so hard to get to? Are you crazy?”

These are good questions. You are right to ask them. It is RIDICULOUS to spend that much time looking for something I use all the time. (And yes, at times, I AM going crazy.)

So when I finally found the spinner and climbed up off the floor, I asked myself the same question (about the spinner, not about going crazy!)

I realized that when I had first organized the kitchen a year and a half ago, we almost never ate salad. Maybe once or twice a month. And even then, I often didn’t wash the lettuce if it didn’t have visible dirt clods clinging to it. (Shhh! Don’t tell my family!) So having the salad spinner tucked out of the way wasn’t a big deal.

But recently, we’ve made some drastic changes to our diet and have started eating salads several times a week. Now I use the salad spinner all the time. BUT I never got around to thinking about where I stored the spinner. I just kept mindlessly putting it back in its “hard to reach” place over and over again.

Did you know the opposite of doing something mindlessly is being “mindful”?

Recently, I read two fascinating books on this subject–“Mindfulness” and “The Power of Mindful Learning,” by Ellen J. Langer. Both these books have so many interesting ideas that relate to inspiring learning that I’m actually going to take several blog posts to cover them all. But today, I just wanted to explain what the basic concept of mindfulness is.

Mindfulness is a way of thinking and perceiving the world. When you are in a state of mindful thinking, you do the following:

1. Create New Categories You create categories throughout your life to organize and make sense of your world. However, as you get older, you tend to stick with the categories that you have already created. Mindful thinking asks you to examine the categories you have created and be open to re-categorizing information or creating new categories if it is necessary or useful.

For example, when I was little I had a terrible experience with spinach (you don’t want to know!) and spent years categorizing it as a vegetable to be avoided at all cost. It is only in the last few years that I was open to trying spinach again, and to my surprise, found that I could easily categorize it as a vegetable that I loved eating.

2. Open Yourself to New Information As a human being, you are constantly bombarded with information. And much of the information coming in relates to activities you do over and over again. When you act mindlessly, you automatically respond to your activities without thinking about what you are doing. But engaging in the same activity in a mindful way can lead to new insights.

The other day, I was explaining to my daughter how long division works. Because I have done so many problems in my life, long division has become an automatic activity for me. But because I had to explain HOW long division worked to my daughter, I became mindful of the process, and I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of the math.

3. Become Aware of More Than One Perspective When you consider something, you can become trapped into always thinking about it the same way. But if you open yourself to more than one point of view, you make it possible to see new options and seize opportunities that might otherwise have stayed hidden.

Last week, I engaged in a power struggle with Bok Choy. I wanted him to go to bed. He wanted to play. Initially, I could only see one perspective–the tired, worn-out, very-ready-to-be-done, bedtime mom perspective. But in a mindful moment, I saw the situation from his perspective. He didn’t just want to play . . . he wanted to play with me. Realizing this, I chose to take five playful minutes to strengthen our relationship.

Being mindful means really stopping and thinking about the world around you. It means asking questions, re-examining long-held beliefs, and opening yourself up to new information. I find that pretty exciting.

But what, you might ask, does that have to do with inspiring learning? A lot!

I can’t wait to share it all with you soon!

But first, you might be wondering what I did about my salad spinner.

I rearranged my cupboards a little, moved a few rarely used baking dishes, and placed my spinner within an arm’s length of my sink and counter.

Ah, mindful thinking at last.



Filed under Theory Behind It All

3 responses to “Spinning Mindlessly

  1. Carolyn

    What a novel idea! My salad spinner is in the same unknown, hard-to-reach place :) I think I’ll follow your example and find a handier place for it.

  2. Michelle Anderson

    There is another great book that I recently read. 10 mindful minutes, by Goldie hawn.

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