A month ago, I attempted to build a case for margins in our lives — both for us leaders and for our students. We need margins in order to become fully alive and to become the best versions of ourselves. I am not the first to say it, but it’s true: we live in a crowded world today that offers precious little room for space. Noise, clutter, activities. Tweets, texts, posts. There’s just so much in which to respond.
As much as I appreciate our ability to connect through technology today, empathy is only learned when the brain is not being stimulated by external media. We must be still to reflect, to do nothing but think and evaluate. Without this, empathy shrinks. Even bullying goes unchecked by our normal sense of morality because we never stop to evaluate what it might do to the recipient. Margins offer time to reflect.
In fact, neuroscientists are now telling us that without margins in our day:
- Empathy is reduced.
- Imagination is malnourished.
- Critical thinking goes undeveloped.
- Innovation and creativity are diminished.
In a world of noise and stimulation via our phones or tablets, some portions of our brains become idle. The portions that daydream or imagine are not activated. Someone else does our thinking for us. In a culture where our new currency is fame — measured in Likes, Shares, Views and Retweets — we’ve replaced brain development in certain areas with external stimulation. In response, our internal motivation can atrophy.
The Benefit of Margins
Believe it or not, inserting margins in a student’s life (and calendar) can actually offer stunning benefits to their week. Let me suggest a few:
- Reduced Stress.
With margins, our stress levels go down — on the road, in the class, on the job.
- More Empathy.
With margins, we have mental capacity to empathize with and relate to others.
- Clearer Focus.
With margins, we can focus better on what’s before us and be energized by clarity.
- Better memory.
With margins, we actually have the capacity to remember important details.
- Healthier sleep.
With margins, we can rest and sleep better, which is most critical to our health.
- Less Distracted.
With margins, we can avoid becoming distracted by so much noise and clutter.
Helping Students Create Margins
So what can we do to help students create margins? Here are a few ideas:
They must value simplicity. Keep activities as uncomplicated as possible.
They must value periods away from the connections of technology.
They must value minimizing the clutter, excess and noise.
They must value arranging their priorities so that they align, not divert.
Recently, I met with some college students who refer to themselves as “minimalists.” To them, this simply means they don’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy. They don’t need lots of money, or entertainment, or even people in order to feel satisfied. On the contrary, they can be fulfilled with a few simple resources and friends in life. While this may not be for everyone, I noticed that these students were genuinely content and emotionally well adjusted.
Interestingly, it was because they had and did less, not more. It’s all about margins.