Angela Kettle – Mindfulness

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Angela Kettle is a bright young woman who prefers to lead by example rather than be someone’s boss. She has an unashamed love of learning and will accomplish great things in her post-college career.

I got to know Angela when, during the second semester of her senior year, she interned at the museum where I work. I picked up on her love of learning quickly. She’s the type of person you can jump into conversation with about the books you’re reading, how intellectually alive your thesis makes you feel, and all other things nerdy. Learning nerds can recognize other learning nerds when we see them. The true individuals who yearn for new knowledge like that are few and far between, but when I meet one, I always following up everything they say with a “tell me more.”

Angela and I got together a week before she graduated to do this initial interview. She had just defended her senior thesis and was headed off to Turkey in the summer. We talked about classes, about Coe, about stresses, and about determination. For someone who hungers for new knowledge, a liberal arts college like Coe can be a paradise. Suddenly, Latin and Greek, sociology and anthropology, art history and gender studies, English and American Studies, and public history—they are all at your fingertips. You can sign up for any of them. It can be hard to pick and choose between all the options.

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Life Outside the Classroom

And it’s also important to find your social life. Angela made her friends in the Writing Center at Coe. She found her tight knit group of people and they stayed close throughout the remaining four years. And after she found those friends, she started to feel the pull to get out into the community a little bit more. Plus, she gained a new confidence in college as she got close to her new friends. She nailed the theory of quiet-leader on the head, telling me: “I’m still a little bit shy, but I’ve learned to get over that when needed. I think Coe taught me how to use my voice, and form opinions on things that matter. It also taught me how to lead. It taught me how to use my skills and my passions to accomplish collective goals. Before I didn’t think of myself as a leader because I did not feel like I was naturally assertive. But Coe taught me there are all sorts of different leaders needed.”

Oversized Fear and the Power of Mindfulness

She feels at the time her shyness was tied to fears: fear of being overwhelmed with too much to do, fear of failure, fear of making a mistake in school. She handled those fears emotionally when she didn’t know how to nurture them. Angela made a breakthrough when she read about a psychological concept called “affective forecasting errors.” Affective forecasting errors are when you think an event in the future will affect you more profoundly than it does. This effect can occur with both positive and negative events. Angela explained, forecasting errors are moments when you say “if I fail this test, my life is over” and then if you do fail your test, you still move on. On the other hand, it’s moments like “when I pass my thesis, it will be the best moment of my life” and then you defend your thesis and you’re happy, but you celebrate and move on to other things that need to be done. Affective forecasting errors can affect how you treat relationships, how you perform any task you’re focused on, and your major life decisions.

Focalism is one cause of affective forecasting errors. Focalism is the habit of thinking of a target event in isolation without considering the context the event.Because focalism is a cause of forecasting errors, Angela studied whether mindfulness—avoiding focalism— could help mitigate affective forecasting errors. Mindfulness is sustained objective attention to your internal and external environment. It boils down to knowing what’s going on inside and outside of you without being judgmental toward your own experiences. Studies show the amount of mindfulness you display in everyday life correlates with how often and severely you make forecasting errors. Angela’s thesis studied whether you could manipulate mindfulness through meditation to mitigate forecasting error. She had first year students make predictions about how they would feel going home for Thanksgiving, typically a college first year’s first respite for homesickness. Sometimes, Thanksgiving doesn’t turn out to be the pure bliss we imagine as first-years: you find out things back home have changed, you miss your friends at school and miss your new college “home” more than you would have thought. But you don’t always consider these factors when making focused predictions about how you might feel.

Angela claims people base life decisions on how they think they will feel in the future, all the time. People won’t get a cancer screening because of how they think they’ll feel if they get a bad result. People act in corrupt ways to get a promotion because they think it will drastically improve their lives. But people are flawed in predicting what they want and need in their life because of the focalism effect.

She was drawn to the subject because she recognized a tendency to be held back by forecasting errors in her own life. At the same time she began to learn about mindfulness exercises and their correlation to improved forecasting. Mindfulness is a complex idea, she explained, conceptualized in different ways by different researchers. It originally comes from Buddhist religious traditions. Modern day studies on mindfulness adopt many of these Buddhist traditions, while attempting to make them fitting for a society that is trending largely secular.

Thinking mindfully, Angela explained, involves considering all sides of a situation and attempting to contemplate it in a way that is not reactive but is simply curious. In simple terms, to be mindful a person needs to look a situation in a way that isn’t clouded by emotional feelings or memories. If a person feels negative or positive about an experience or situation, they should instruct themselves to look at the situation objectively and watch their emotions pass by. Mindfulness meditation sessions, even in brief stretches, can improve a person’s emotional regulation and cognitive ability.

Using Mindfulness to Deal with Disappointment

angela-3Recently, Angela has put this study to practice in her post-collegiate life. After college, Angela was granted a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Turkey, which was scheduled to begin this fall. Unfortunately, last month Angela’s Fulbright to Turkey was cancelled, due to unrest in the region.
She told me she had thought of this as her opportunity be a cultural ambassador. Loving Turkey’s culture is intuitive to her at this point, and she couldn’t wait to live there. “I don’t have words for how amazing Turkey is,” she said in May, “Turkey’s history and culture are fascinating. In part because of where it is situated geographically, it is a point of convergence for varying cultures, histories, and worldviews. I have learned a lot about Turkey through the application process, but I am most excited to talk to people who live there and to learn what makes Turkey special first-hand.” And about teaching English she said: “having a voice is so important. Having the ability to voice your worldview in more than one language allows you to make a global impact.” Angela was most looking forward to helping students in Turkey discover their English language voice. And to be a positive representative for the United States in Turkey.

We caught up last week to discuss what cancellation of the program means for her now. Here are some thoughts she shared

“Upon hearing the news that the Fulbright program in Turkey had been suspended for the year, I felt a range of mixed emotions. I had just started letting myself finally believe that it was real; I was learning Turkish, researching the city in which I had been placed (Mersin), and even brainstorming some lesson plans. There was an incredible sense of loss. I saw a lifelong dream form in front of my eyes only to watch it vanish. At the same time, I felt relief at having a definitive answer as to whether or not I would be able to go. I suspected that the program was in question following the attempted coup, and I was finally able to exhale–albeit, with sorrow–when I heard the answer.

“Despite the roller coaster that these past few weeks have been, I have continually reminded myself that I am not the victim. I have merely been inconvenienced. The people of Turkey are the ones who should receive our attention. They are the ones who are living through this distressing time. My heart is with them.

“A few months ago, if you asked me how I would feel if I lost the Fulbright opportunity, I would have told you that I would feel heartbroken and aimless. In accordance with my thesis project, though, that prediction was wrong. I still feel a deep sense of grief, but I am moving forward and finding happiness through other means. I feel like I have reached homeostasis again, and through this process, I have been prodded to do a lot of necessary soul-searching. I am moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, this weekend. I have a cute little apartment with a deck that’s perfect for reading in the summers. I have a job tutoring K-12 students, and I am thrilled to retain a little piece of my almost-Fulbright experience by helping students find the joy in learning. There is still so much that’s ambiguous about the next year, but I am pleased with my intentional decisions and excited to plunge head-first into post-college life. Applying for and preparing for the Fulbright showed me that I have the courage to take risks, and I have taken that courage into my new adventure.”

Despite this early setback and disappointment, Angela is smart, eager, and capable. No matter where she goes she will spread her love of learning and cultural-connectedness on to others. Life is full of choices. Though Angela did not get to control this choice, she has the courage to make the best of it.

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Story by Emily Weber, Photos by Hannah White