Mindfulness has seen a surge in popularity in the past few decades. A number of scientific papers have drawn our attention to its benefits, which include dealing with stress, improving productivity, improving our wellbeing, and even boosting our physical health. University can be a stressful time for students who are trying to balance their studies, social life and often the pressure of being away from home and loved ones for the first time. Mindfulness practices have been suggested to help students by boosting levels of attention and concentration and reducing anxiety.

Despite the recent buzz, as a concept, mindfulness has actually been around for thousands of years as part of Zen Buddhist traditions and as an element of yoga. In its most basic form, mindfulness is ‘knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment’, says Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

The benefits of mindfulness are compelling, but is our obsession with filling every minute of the day with purposeful activity becoming problematic? While we aim to be consciously aware of the world around us, do you sometimes just switch on autopilot? Is it okay to just be ‘mindless’?

Science shows we actually spend about 50% of our time being ‘mindless’ and letting our thoughts drift away from the present. In fact, the half of the time that we spend ‘mindlessly’ is essential for us to function in our daily lives. In today’s society, we often feel pressured to try and spend all of our time being productive – ‘mindlessness’ allows us to disengage from our stressful lives and have some downtime.

To be constantly mindful would require substantial cognitive processing power, which would be time consuming and draining. Sometimes, we just need to run on autopilot and make snap decisions. If we did mull over every micro-decision we made, nothing would ever get done! From a wellbeing standpoint, mindlessness allows for spontaneity and creativity. Allowing ourselves to switch off every once in a while and purse an activity for pure enjoyment is not only okay, but necessary for our mental and physical health.

Like almost everything in life, the key is balance. Whilst mindfulness has its clear benefits, we should not feel guilty for switching off and doing nothing when we need to. Combining mindfulness with mindlessness and being aware of the benefits of both allows us to work to our full potential without forgetting to put our wellbeing first.

Author: Lily Dottore, Executive Assistant