“Watch Your Friends”

That’s today’s challenge on my mindful awareness app. But it’s not a paranoid “watch your friends,” it’s a re-see your friends. The challenge is worded “Today, look at your friends like you are seeing them for the very first time. Rediscover them. What makes a person a friend? Can you be friends with the stranger passing on the street?”

So I’m several hours into my day, and am realizing how hard this is to do. I have seen friends/students/colleagues all day, and I clearly bring a set of responses to the interactions with them that are based on history. My feelings in approaching (or not) the people around me are often tinged with emotion based on specific past interactions. Obviously, this is in some ways adaptive–my whole dissertation was on issues related to automatic cognitive processing in social contexts–but at the same time, I see how it is constraining, and how it tends to encourage relationships to stay stuck in ruts. My body language in encountering someone I know certainly is likely to trigger their complementary response.

I guess I am saying that this could be a really useful practice for me to adopt–since a calm, welcoming openness to who someone is in a given moment would likely be a great invitation to a positive interaction. Yeah, ok, this mindfulness stuff is cool. The irony is that I am typing this 5 minutes from teaching a personality class, which would certainly typically send my processing of people in the other direction by default.

When I first looked at the challenge this morning, I actually responded sort of negatively to it. I think it was related to the question about what makes a friend, which feels like it could pull me into a lot of analysis. But coming back to it now, I’m even a little more open to that part. Joining it with the last question, it begs an open curious attitude about what concepts like “friend” or “not friend” do in terms of foreclosing options for interactions with people. Or at least that is how I am viewing it right now.

And my humorous response to the last part, was “well, yeah if you are as ADHD and almost hypomanic as me, probably so….”

In general, I am liking downloading this app. I have set it to go off a few times a day, and I like being pulled out of whatever I’m doing briefly to refocus and breathe. I actually may set it to go off more frequently.

I’m also getting very excited about the journey I will be taking with my students as we try to become a more mindful group this semester. I’m easing them (and me) into it slowly, but in the weeks leading up to their somewhat stressful qualifying exams, they will be doing some serious daily meditating, and I’m hoping that it will actually be grounding for them at that point in their graduate experience.

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About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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