We scientists have this unusual habit of making up words, or – just as often – taking two words with independent meanings and combining them to create something which we believe has a new and different meaning.
One of the most obvious would be the combination of intellectual and property. Both words mean something specific by themselves; but we have decided to add them together to create this new thing we talk about so much…intellectual property!
And our propensity for making up words is not limited to new pairings. We are pretty good at making up new single words as well. For example, we all know what a plan is and we all recognise the importance of having a plan for the work we are doing, or projects we are running. And yes – we all understand that the absence of a plan will not help our progress.
But when did we come up with the idea that we should be more ‘planful’?
‘Planful? That’s not a real word’…is my wife’s response when I suggest we need to be more planful about our summer vacation, or even about our Sunday afternoon. And she is right. It’s not. Planful is just poor shorthand for us needing a plan, or needing a more detailed plan. We have simply taken a real noun – plan – and added an appendix – ful or full – to try to create an adjective. Shame on us. Or do I mean how shameful?
But we are not the only ones. My daughter has now finished her degree and is looking to start her career in journalism and communication. She has an internship this week with one of the UK national newspapers…and she just published her first article this morning. On mindful and mindfulness.
Learned scholars have decided to take a noun ‘mind’ and added two appendices – ful and ness – to create a new adjective ‘we should be more mindful’; and a new noun ‘mindfulness – being conscious of what is happening in the present moment’.
Strangely enough, though, I don’t have any ill will towards the creators of either mindful or mindfulness. They have produced a single word that describes something I believe in and always try to do. Being mindful is all about being present and being focussed on where we are and what we are doing…at that moment in time.
We all can often find ourselves with lots of things going on…at work, at home, personal, professional, family or friends. It can be too easy to find myself sitting in a work meeting or at a family dinner, but to be thinking about somewhere else or something else. My next meeting. Our next weekend. That late submission. Last weekend.
And any time I am thinking about something, someone or somewhere other than where I am and who I am with, then I am not present. I am not being mindful.
Moreover I am doing nothing to help the people I am with or the project we are working on. I am taking up space and adding little value. And worse still…I will be worrying about whatever the other thing is I am thinking about. So not only do I look distracted and absent…I look concerned and agitated.
Being mindful and demonstrating mindfulness takes effort. If I am on a phone conference I will stand up and walk away from my computer to avoid distractions. In face to face meetings I turn off email and block instant messaging. I want to help; I want to add value; I want to be there.
It doesn’t always work. But I always want to be present…to be mindful.