Making Time For Mindfulness

Take a deep breath. 3 seconds in. Pause. 3 seconds out.

There is currently quite a buzz around the concept of mindfulness. I can’t be the only one seeing it pop up on nearly every screen. Whether it is the results of a recent study or the best new app for your phone or smart watch helping introduce you to the practice of meditation. I find myself a consumer of a few of those apps. I’ve read a number of research articles about how people who regularly practice meditation are both happier and at lower risk for certain diseases. Sign me up!

Side note. As I was writing this, my phone just alerted me that it was time to meditate again. Oh, and I need to drink water (Thanks phone). Do I really need to be reminded to do those things? I suppose.

Here’s the thing; meditation and mindfulness have both been around for a while. Like, a long time. It seems that the state of the world today - where we wait with baited breath for the next time our phone buzzes telling us the latest news or update, as we hit refresh on our inbox to make sure we don’t miss a thing - many are realizing that we have forgotten what it means to live in the moment, and how healthy it is to do so. We live in a constant state of what was or what will be that we’ve lost appreciation for where we are right now.

As I assess my own need to reconnect with the present and experience the now on a daily basis, I find myself challenged to reflect on whether or not I am encouraging others to do the same within the work that I do. In the midst of the (organized) chaos that can be an experiential learning program, am I doing enough to encourage people to simply pause and breathe? I’m not sure.

What are the implications of mindfulness and it’s application to lessons we introduce or teach as educators? Sure, we slow down a bit between games, team challenges, or lessons. We have a moment for reflection and discussion, but does that give learners enough time to truly process and be ready for the next item? There is plenty of research that would tell us no. One example is the theory of the Primacy-Recency Effect as noted by David Sousa in his book How the Brain Learns.

When it comes to ensuring the most information possible is moved from our working memory into long-term storage, there are two times, or prime-times, when our brains can easily make this transfer: at the beginning of a lesson (primacy) and at the end (recency). The time in-between, often mistakenly packed with additional learning, is when learners have a more difficult time focusing and an even more difficult time committing information to memory. Depending on the length of the learning session there are different numbers of prime times available and the amount of downtime needed increases significantly the longer a lesson lasts. The chart below shows how a 40-minute lesson is broken down.

Does the most recent lesson you gave follow this format? How close were you? If I’m honest I tend to save the downtime for the very end when I feel like I’ve sufficiently met the planned learning objectives.                                                                                                                      

So the next time it’s your responsibility to deliver new content to a group of learners, keep the primacy-recency effect in mind. Instead of trying to cram in that extra nugget of information into the day, try taking a break and allow students to digest the material via reflection, practice and review. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

If we truly desire for learners, whether in a classroom, boardroom, or grass field, to increase retention and transfer of knowledge then we need to take a good look at how we are encouraging them to be mindful, to slow down and let it soak in. Remind them to breathe.

3 seconds in. Pause. 3 seconds out.

-Micah Delong



Sousa, D. A. (2012). How the brain learns [Kindle].