Embracing Your Pace

Imagine this scenario — You are silently reading a book and every few minutes, you hear sounds of turning pages. You look up – your friend is on page 16. You look down at your book – I am only on page 14! You try to read faster. Now, you are on page 15. But there is an issue – you read so quickly that you missed the meaning of the entire 14th page. Frustrated, you wonder whether you should re-read page 14. Just then, you hear another page turn. You look up, and you see another friend on page 17…

I often observe my math students in a similar situation. A student who is diligently and eagerly working to gather his observations (see previous post Art of Observation) looks around and sees another student who has already begun tackling the problem. Right away, I sense some anxiety and slight embarrassment in the student’s face. This is when I step in and remind my class: First, observe what is in front of you. Work at your own pace. It’s okay if you do not reach an answer! Engage in the process.

But – it’s not as easy as it sounds. Some people are able to redirect their focus to their own work and feel comfortable working at a slower or faster pace than others. For most of us, however, being “behind” is anxiety-provoking and being “ahead” excites us.To counteract this tendency, we need to practice trusting and embracing our own pace. If you are a young student reading this, I assure you – you are not alone! Most of us (yes! that includes adults) lose composure and focus when we feel slower or faster than our colleagues, friends, classmates, and peers. In moments of frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety almost everyone loses focus. Let’s embrace our pace so that we can keep composure, focus, and continue to learn when we feel like we are not keeping up with others! Click on the link below for a reflective meditation on Embracing Your Pace  (background “Piano Meditation” music by Chris Collins).

This entry was posted in Focus & Clarity, Metacognition, Non-Judgement, Observation, Preparing the Mind, Self-Regulation, Stillness and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Embracing Your Pace

  1. marcbalcer says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post! The discussion of how we compare and judge and analyze (which was pretty helpful when we were running away from tigers, not as helpful now) is very powerful. I was thinking about it in the context of a meditation practice. I like what Jon Kabat-Zinn has to say about the early discoveries/insights as one embarks on a practice. He says pretty much to keep it to yourself! Part of his point is that when you share how great it is working for you with others, it changes. When we see others not responding to our excitement, we start to question it in ourselves! Best, Marc


    • Payal Patel says:

      Hi Marc, Thank you for sharing your insights. Your thought (in parenthesis…”(which was pretty helpful when we were running away from tigers, not as helpful now”) on the role of evolution on our mental habits are so interesting. We are wired to survive among possibilities of imminent danger – and now, with the removal of constant impending danger, we are left with a tendency to treat safety as if it is danger. Anxiety arises even when there is no need to fear harm.


  2. Neel Patel says:

    The concept of pace you have described here is extremely important. I have always found it more important in my mathematics research to focus on understanding the material deeply rather than quickly.

    But what can students do if the pressure to keep up with other students (or colleagues) is not self-imposed? For instance, what if they are being asked to work at a certain pace but they are not able to handle it?


    • Payal Patel says:

      Hi Neel, Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights as a mathematician! The scenario you propose (which often happens) is very challenging to deal with. All of us are subject to external pressures in many different ways. You are right – more often than not, the pressures are not just self-imposed but come from messages internalized early on in our society – ie, messages that erroneously lead young children to thinking they are “not good at math (or any other subject)” because they don’t grasp something in the first few tries. I am going to be addressing this in a post very soon as well, so I’m so happy that you brought this up!
      Now, “…what if they are being asked to work at a certain pace but they are not able to handle it?” This is a huge and important question, that opens up discussions of how to deal with feelings of failure, individualize teaching and learning, habits of mind, grit, among so many other topics, which I will be covering. I hope that this blog begins to cover answers to this question over the next few months!


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