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Introducing a New Psychological Strength: Time Shepherds

ending the trite, contrived, and appallingly boring facts about mindfulness

My wedding was unusual. There was a mosh pit to the violent 3 minutes of U Mass by the Pixies that ended with the groom crowd surfing into the chandelier (ensuring the security deposit would never be seen again). We wrote our vows on the beach and my grandmother was amused/disturbed (busy changing her will) when I mentioned how I will adore Sarah's decaying, naked flesh at age 90. We hired a renegade, mercenary Rabbi on the web, as nobody else would perform a Saturday ceremony. Watch the video, take a shot of bourbon each time he shows signs of senility and you will pass out before the rings emerge. But none of these details supplanted the guiding principle that Sarah and I agreed on. A guiding principle that influenced our behavior during the wedding and after-party. A guiding principle that we offer as a bit of wisdom to anyone who has or will get married.

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We agreed to follow our interests and talk to whomever we wanted to without any sense of obligation. This meant avoiding cousins who use their time with us to complain that we don’t call or spend enough time with them. This meant avoiding my stepfather who repeats the story of showing a photo of an 8-year old boy at the Coca Cola plant in Brooklyn, where they thought I was a hermaphrodite (note to other socially unskilled parents: keep these stories to yourself as kids on the cusp of puberty don’t find them amusing). This also meant accepting the wrath of guests who felt $150 gifts entitled them to a 5% time share of the wedding.

We were mindful. We knew our interests, values, and emotions and used them as guideposts for what to do and who to talk to at our wedding. 10 hours and a wedding ends. To truly be present at a wedding, one needs to be selective and even a bit judgmental. When mindful, thoughts are experienced as what they are, events that come and go, rather than what they often seem to be―“things” that are obstacles to effective action. For instance, a self-critical thought such as “If I don’t talk to my uncle then I am an ungrateful person” can be viewed as a passing event and a product of one’s brain rather than a reflection of reality. Mindful people are better at noticing unwanted thoughts and feelings and still push forward toward meaningful goals. People without this mindset are likely to get tangled by negativity and end up deviating from doing what they care most about.

To us, a wedding ceremony is beautiful because it is a public proclamation of love to our friends and family. Being invited is a statement that you are part of the beloved. It is not a contract to spend an equal amount of time with everyone. You can be mindful and discerning.

And then there is the flip side of mindful discernment. Those people that aid us in the act of selectively choosing what to do with time. People that are willing to remove themselves from our space for a specific period of time so that we can do what is most personally enjoyable and meaningful. There is no word for this strength of character in the English language so I am going to name it: Time Shepherding. When we care for another person by temporarily subtracting ourselves from their life because we want them to put themselves first, we are a Time Shepherd. I suspect it is a characteristic shared by the best parents and leaders, and when we choose to stay committed to a friendship or romance, I suspect part of the reason is that we recognize the presence of Time Shepherding. There is an element of mindfulness to this strength. When Time Shepherding, we are attentive to the ongoing conflict between wanting to devour someone else’s time and giving them permission to do what pleases them, the tension that arises from this conflict, and the gentle decision to relinquish our desires to appreciate what they gain from activities that exclude us. The gift of subtraction. Appreciation with a tinge of self-sacrifice.

I spent less than 15 minutes with my twin brother at my wedding. He was the ultimate Time Shepherd, telling me: you see me all the time, hang out with the people that traveled to get a piece of you, the people that would ideally be in your everyday life.     

Mindfulness in the real world. A world where pain, rejection, failure, conflict, and obnoxious, boring people are both common and inevitable. There is a vast reservoir of sexy research on mindfulness that never gets communicated to the world because scientists are too busy talking to themselves. To get this knowledge to the world, my colleague Joseph Ciarrochi and I wrote a book that we wanted to read. We grabbed the leading experts in the world of positive psychology and mindfulness and asked them for their best ideas. We asked them to end chapters with concrete strategies that readers can use to enhance their own well-being. And from this arose a repository of new knowledge and skills for cultivating self-compassion, love, meaning and purpose in life,  perspective taking, and distress tolerance. Then there are the truly mind bending ideas such as a program for “nurturing genius (Chapter 12), how to create a healthy “microculture” in your home or workplace (Chapter 9), and how positive psychology exercises such as increasing kindness or gratitude can backfire and how they can be supercharged by focusing on function (how and where they are used) instead of form (superfifical appearances) (Chapters 7, 8, and 13).

Our book, which hits shelves on April 1st, answers the question: is there anything new about mindfulness and how to enhance well-being? If you are interested in enhancing your own well-being or have a vested interested in helping others, then pre-order our cutting edge book on amazon here- Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology: The Seven Foundations of Well-Being.

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This book is a small part of ongoing work to create a well-being university (George Mason University), and a well-being city (Fairfax, Virginia), with lessons learned to be replicated around the globe. So join this conversation to bring back the intrigue and potency of mindfulness in the context of daily perils and promises. And if you do, please share how the strategies in this book are working for you and those around you. Find me @toddkashdan. 

 

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a public speaker, psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University. He authored Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life and Designing Positive Psychology. His new book, Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology is available for pre-orders. If you're interested in speaking engagements or workshops, see the contact information at toddkashdan.com.

Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at George Mason University and author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your 'Good' Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment more...

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