Distractions. It’s hard to avoid them in college - from the countless campus events to the neverending emails from professors and clubs, it is easy to be swept away in the bombardment of new information and new opportunities coming your way. It is both a beautiful and oftentimes stressful aspect of the college experience. With so much “new” happening around you (new friends, new classes, new clubs), taking a second to center yourself and be present can be difficult. But the benefits of doing so are insurmountable.
For one, there are the positive mental impacts. Reducing distractions and staying present is correlated with decreased stress and anxiety. In an age where record numbers of people, particularly those around college age, report suffering from anxiety, this is a powerful benefit! Moreover, being present in the now can actually increase academic performance. In fact, one study found that students who meditated for 10 minutes before a quiz performed better on the examination than students who did not. This is the power of mindfulness: you feel better, and your academic performance is better for it.
But what does being mindful actually look like in practice? It is all well and good to understand the benefits of being present, but it is another thing entirely to know how to carry that out in daily life. In the classroom, it often means letting go of everything happening in the outside world. Thinking about internships, grad school, or social events is all important! I encourage you to think about all those things. However, focusing too much on the future removes you from the here and now. It separates us from the current moment and weakens our ability to gain the full array of benefits that the present moment might offer to us.
Try to get into the practice of focusing your full attention on the task at hand, whether that be listening to a professor in class, completing a homework assignment, or engaging in an extracurricular event. Try to put your all into the present moment.
Again, this is not to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about the future - you should! In fact, I recommend having a set time to focus on future plans. For instance, having an hour set aside every Monday to focus on building a resume, updating your LinkedIn, or networking with professors can be a great way to prepare yourself for life after college. Setting that time aside, and being present in that time, actually allows you to make more progress than if thoughts of the future are constantly lingering in your head, taking you out of the present moment and depriving you of the opportunities in the now.
The importance of being present doesn’t stop as you walk out of the classroom either. It is equally important to be present and engaged with the whole of your college experience. I know that fully immersing yourself in the college experience can be scary. There are fears of rejection, of not fitting in, or of being overworked. Just know this: everyone feels that way! You are not alone. And by being present and in the moment, you can hopefully reduce some of those feelings of stress and anxiety.
Being present in the college experience means engaging in co-curricular experiences such as student organizations, community service or service learning events, student employment, and social events. Being engaged in these types of activities is associated with better outcomes in relation to academic performance, cognitive development, emotional well-being, and leadership abilities. Aside from the personal benefits, this kind of involvement has also been shown to increase the hirability of students in future career plans. According to one study by Ohio State University, students involved in at least one co-curricular activity were 2.1 times more likely to report being satisfied with their overall college experience, and 1.8 times more likely to have a job offer at the time of graduation.1Center for the Study of Student Life (2020). Involvement, Leadership and Student Outcomes at Graduation. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. https://cssl.osu.edu/research-projects/involvement-study
So get out there! Being present in the moment does not mean being unprepared or not thinking about the future. Instead, it means gaining more from what you have on hand. You never know; being present in the classroom might just help you learn something new, perform better under pressure, or increase feelings of well-being. And I can promise you that being present throughout the whole of your college experience will allow you to meet and connect with new and interesting people, increase job prospects, and grow as a person.