Promoting MindfulnessThe concept of "mindfulness" has numerous definitions in writings on psychology, business management, and self-help.1 While I'm interested in any useful insights people have to offer on achieving "mindfulness" through meditation techniques, or through following such suggestions as, "When you are stuck in traffic, pay attention to your breathing, or the sky, or the sights around you,"2 etc., what I want to focus on here is the notion of mindfulness developed by Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard.
Langer defines mindfulness as "a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context" (The Power of Mindful Learning, 1998). As an example of how this type of mindfulness can be cultivated, you can have a look at the report (pdf) on training of tourism managers that Gianna Moscardo, a professor of business studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, published in the Journal of Tourism Studies in 1997.3
Moscardo investigated whether she could use exercises aimed at increasing mindfulness to produce more flexible thinking and effective problem-solving in students.
Her experiment involved four groups, which ultimately became three when the two experimental groups were combined. The experimental groups were given the following exercise:
I would like you to think of yourself as the manager or director of a regional tourist authority whose responsibilities include promotion and development of the tourist products available in your region. You have been asked by your board of directors to consider opportunities in your region for the “seniors” market, that is people over the age of 65. The following questions are about the development of activities for this group of visitors.
1. Make a list of tourist activities or experiences that you believe could be appropriate for “senior” travellers.
2. Can you think of any advantages that “senior” travellers have over other travellers for enjoying their holidays? Please list them below.
3. Can you now list below any restrictions that might exist for “senior” travellers.
4. Finally, I would like you to imagine yourself as a “senior” traveller and I would like you to write a paragraph which describes your ideal holiday. Remember this is your ideal holiday for when you are 65 years or older.
The experimental groups were then asked to:
consider the region that you have been studying in the previous practicals and I would like you to design a two day tour in your region for a small group (8-12 people) of “senior” visitors. Write out the itinerary below and include information on the type of transport you would use, the accommodation, the places to be visited and the activities that would be available.Three further tasks were similar. One involved identifying problems a group of disabled travelers and their families "might have in enjoying a holiday in your region." The next asked for solutions to these problems. The final task was to mock up a brochure with suggestions for how tourists could spend their time enjoyably if they were caught in a spell of bad weather.
The control group was given the same set of four tasks, but without the preceding exercise.
There was also a comparison group that was asked to "design a two day tour in your region for a small group (8-12 people) of visitors." Their responses were used to garner "baseline data on the range and type of activities on offer in the regions [the students were studying] for tourists in general."
Though the results did not uniformly support the hypothesis that "mindfulness training exercises would encourage more flexible, less stereotyped thinking about a range of tourist situations," the overall pattern was consistent with the hypothesis.
The moral of the story is that you can expect better results in terms of flexible thinking and creativity if you take active steps to get learners to think afresh about what categories are appropriate for sorting information in a particular situation, and to consider the issues in the situation from the perspectives of all relevant parties.
1 You can get an idea of the range of definitions of "mindfulness" from a 2008 post on Delany Dean's blog.
2 See, for example, sourceline.ca/organizations/mindfulness.asp.
3 Gianna Moscardo, "Making Mindful Managers: Evaluating Methods for Teaching Problem Solving Skills for Tourism Management," Journal of Tourism Studies, Vol. 8, No., 1 (May 1997), pp. 16-24.