A mind is a terrible …

Do you know the final three words for this well-known phrase? If you were alive in the 1970s, you probably heard the tagline in this article’s title. Depending on which website you choose to believe, The United Negro College Fund’s slogan is one of the top advertising slogans of all time. If you are unfamiliar with this slogan, it is “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

None of us like to be accused of wasting anything, often remembering Benjamin Franklin’s even more famous line, “Waste not, want not.” But do we know how to keep our wits about us throughout our lifetimes? How can we be assured that we are using our minds to their utmost potential?

There is a movement called “Mindfulness” that suggests that if we spend time being aware of ourselves in the current, present-tense moment, we will then be more in-tune with our surroundings. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a teacher of mindfulness meditation at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, has the following definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The advice here is to find time each day to take some deep breaths, and focus on our breathing and our thoughts in order to be aware of ourselves. This process helps one to increase awareness throughout the day.

Additionally, Ellen J. Langer, a noted researcher and professor at Harvard University, has written a book, “Mindfulness,” in which she gives several suggestions for increasing our mind’s capacity and our memory retention. Indeed, if we follow her advice, we will feel and act in a resilient way when encountering stresses in life. She advocates asking your brain to keep active by being more aware of the mindless activities we all do and doing those activities in a new or different way. My favorite suggestion from this category is to try to brush your teeth with the hand opposite of what you normally use. Try it! You may experience this mundane activity as a whole new experience!

How can we become more mindful in our lives, and create more success and vitality in the process? According to an interview in Forbes Magazine, Langer suggests we take these 5 critical steps:

Seek out, create, and notice new things.

Realize how behavior can be understood differently in different contexts. (Remember the tooth brushing activity? Get more activities by reading “101 Brain Boosters,” by Minot State University professor Terry Eckmann.)

Learn how to reframe mistakes into successes.

Be aware that stress – indeed, all emotion – is a result of our views about events.

Be authentic (true to yourself).

As the saying goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” YOUR mind is a terrible thing to waste, too. Try a little mindfulness activity every day to help your brain stay alert and active.

(Louise M. Tegtmeier is a North Dakota State University Extension Service intern in the Ward County office.)