What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a term that gets thrown around a lot at the moment and which is often hailed as some kind of ‘solve all’ for every kind of problem under the sun. Mindfulness is part self-help technique, part clinical tool and has lately grown to spawn countless e-books, courses and evening classes. Yet, what precisely is it and how do you define it?
Mindfulness, An Explanation
Boiled down to its essence, mindfulness is the observation of one’s own thoughts and emotions. In other words, it means stepping back and then simply being aware of what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking and what you are experiencing. This can then in turn be used to help treat a wide range of different psychological problems and to generally improve your psychological health.
The reason for this is that it brings more attention to the way that we handle various different events and to how our thoughts and emotions normally control us. This then in turn allows us to anticipate them, to deal with them and ultimately to prevent them.
For instance, someone who deals with social anxiety will likely have a habit of rumination that contributes to their symptoms. These might include worries that they will ‘make a fool of themselves’, that they will be laughed at, that they will stammer.
Many of these thoughts are likely to be inaccurate yet it is only by being aware of them that it’s possible to manipulate them, to rise above them or to suppress them entirely.
Uses of Mindfulness
When used to combat such conditions as social anxiety, mindfulness can be seen as a clinical tool. Specifically, it is an important part of ‘CBT’ or ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. This is a psychotherapeutic approach that involves the practice of essentially replacing and reprogramming underlying thoughts, beliefs and ruminations.
At the same time though, mindfulness has also long been a part of other meditative practices. Here, the goal can often be somewhat different. In this case, the objective is to be more aware of the present moment in terms of the sensations, the sounds and the emotions. By practicing this, they can eventually become more ‘present’ in the moment and better able to react to what’s going on around them without judgement and without the constant ‘brain chatter’ that so many of us experience.Become more present in the moment, without the constant brain chatter that so many of us experience. Click To Tweet
Mindfulness is a broad tool then to be used in a number of different ways. In almost every scenario though, the true end goal is to be aware of the present moment and to find an inner calm that often eludes us.
Why Mindfulness is the Perfect Antidote to Modern Living
As much as many of us choose to overlook it, there is a lot wrong with the way most of us currently live our lives. We evolved in an environment completely foreign to the world we live in now and adapted to gain abilities and traits that in many ways leave us unsuited for our current environment.
What’s more, we are constantly in demand and constantly ‘plugged in’ and ‘stressed out’. Our phones are always ringing, texts are always coming in, we get a new e-mail every two minutes… And even when most of us aren’t working or being bothered, we have a near addiction to technology that means we’re still unable to really decompress.
Is it any wonder that mental health problems are rife?
Using Mindfulness to Escape Modern Stress
This is probably a big part of the reason that mindfulness is so popular right now. Mindfulness simply means directing attention in a purposeful manner. Sometimes this will mean focusing on our thoughts (in an objective and non-judgemental way) but in other cases it will mean simply being more present and focusing on our breathing and our environments.
Either way, the idea of mindfulness is to enjoy a calmness and to stop the incessant chatter of our minds. When you are completely engaged with the world around you, or when you decide to disengage with your thoughts, it provides you with relief from stress and from fear and instead allows you to simply relax and recover.
Mindfulness for Concentration
What’s more, practicing mindfulness is also the perfect tool for improving concentration. Mindfulness forces you to develop a ‘mental discipline’ that is sorely lacking for many of us today. Too often, most of us have 20 things vying for our attention. While we have allegedly become better at multitasking as a result, we’ve also become much worse at focusing on one thing for extended periods. This makes it harder for us to read a large passage of text for instance, or to work without feeling the need to continuously check social media posts.Mindfulness is the perfect tonic for you to improve your own focus and mental discipline. Click To Tweet
Again, mindfulness is the perfect tonic. Here, you are tasked with focusing on your environment, your thoughts or your feelings for an extended period of time. And as such, you improve your own focus and mental discipline.
How to Use Mindfulness With CBT
Mindfulness is the practice of ‘getting out of your own head’ and of simply being rather than constantly thinking, worrying and stressing. While mindfulness is a common part of many meditative practices, it is also an integral part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). More specifically, mindfulness is used for ‘cognitive restructuring’ which is an aspect of CBT concerned with the ‘reprogramming’ of thoughts.
How Cognitive Restructuring Works
The idea behind cognitive restructuring is to deconstruct a patient’s beliefs, their thought patterns and their feelings regarding certain matters in a bid to improve mental health.
For instance then, cognitive restructuring is often used to help combat phobias. When someone suffers with a phobia, often they will find themselves having illogical thoughts regarding that trigger. If you’re deathly afraid of heights then, you might find yourself worrying that you’ll fall off or even worrying that you’ll feel compelled to jump.
Of course in most cases, neither of these things are going to happen. Likewise, we have no reason to be afraid of spiders, even if we do find ourselves worrying that they might ‘jump into our mouths’.
Cognitive behavioral therapy restructures these thoughts and beliefs and replaces them with healthier ones.
Challenging Your Thoughts
The first step in cognitive restructuring is to assess the nature of your thoughts and to identify the specific, damaging ruminations, that are leading to your health problems. This is where mindfulness comes in as an incredibly powerful tool. Simply sit quietly and allow yourself to experience your thoughts as they occur, taking note of what they are and letting them drift by ‘like clouds’.
Likewise, you might assess the kinds of thoughts you often find yourself having when you are in the situations that make you phobic.Allow yourself to experience your thoughts, letting them drift by like clouds. Click To Tweet
From there, you can then begin the process of cognitive restructuring. You do this first by using ‘thought challenging’, wherein you simply ask yourself how likely your beliefs are to be accurate. Are you really going to fall if there are railings to keep you safe?
A more advanced strategy is ‘hypothesis testing’. Here, you simply test your belief through exposure to your fear. If you’re afraid of speaking in public because you think people will laugh, try purposefully allowing yourself to stutter while speaking to a large audience and see what happens.
Finally, use more mindfulness as you go about your day to simply remind yourself of your new beliefs and to keep your heart-rate low and your mind calm.
Mindfulness, No-Mind and Choiceless Awareness
Imagine what it might be like to be an animal such as a squirrel. A squirrel doesn’t have worries about the dynamics of their workplace, about debt or about their relationships. Squirrels don’t have their head in the clouds daydreaming about what might be. They don’t have regrets and they don’t have delusions.
Instead, a squirrel simply experiences the world as it is. Hyperreal across all the senses, squirrels simply take in the world around them as it happens and react on a dime.
This is something that a lot of people aspire to, as they believe that it will make them happier and help them to enjoy the world around them more. But just as important and just as valuable is the incredible benefit that this type of presence and mindfulness has in terms of athletics.
Bruce Lee and ‘No Mind’
An aspiration for many martial artists, including the legendary Bruce Lee, is to reach a state known as ‘no-mind’. No-mind effectively means that you are reacting without thought, purely on instinct. Instead of experiencing your surroundings, thinking how best to respond and then reacting; you instead react without pause or consideration.
In martial arts, this state of no-mind is accomplished through rigorous training. By simply repeating the same block over and over again, you eventually reach a point where your arm moves to block without any need for you to consciously command it to do so. Likewise, by repeating the same punch over and over, the martial artist can reach the point where they’re able to punch perfectly.
At this point, they have strengthened the neural pathways required to deliver the perfect technique and thus it reaches the point where it is really second nature. Many athletes in other sports achieve similar performance when they are completely engaged with what they are doing and this is often called a ‘flow state’.
As you might imagine then, the practice of mindfulness will only enhance your skill as a combatant and as an athlete. In fact, there is a similar term used within the context of CBT: ‘choiceless awareness’.
Being Aware of Your Body
Just as mindfulness and meditation can help you to improve your physicality, so too can being more physical help you to be more mindful. This is because focusing on our bodies will take focus away from our monologue. Simply try being aware of your distribution of weight, of your breathing, of your temperature and you’ll find that instantly you become far more ‘present’ and much closer to mindfulness and choiceless awareness.
Meditation Nurtures and Expands Mindfulness
Meditation is something that we’re constantly being encouraged to use. Every self-help guru, every highly successful individual and even many athletes trumpet its many benefits and the research too seems to back-up its value.
So why don’t more people practice it?When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere. -François de La Rochefoucauld Click To Tweet
The main problem for most of us is that it’s really rather daunting, obtuse and complicated. Meditation is ultimately about reaching enlightenment and an inner peace, right? Sounds a bit heavy for a Friday evening!
The real question for many people then is where to start. This free ebook will provide you with a good starting point and help you with your first meditative experience. From there, you should feel a little more confident to try it again in future.
Some Tips to Begin With
The first tip is to set yourself a timer for 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a short enough amount of time that most of us will be able to fit it into our busy schedules.
The next tip is to sit comfortably in a chair or cross legged. You don’t want to lie down for fear of falling asleep, however, you should be comfortable.
When Your Mind Starts to Wander
The next thing you’re going to do is to focus. This can mean focusing on your breath or repeating a mantra (a word of your choice), over and over. This will be your ‘anchor’ and you will come back to this whenever your mind starts to wander.
If you struggle with these anchors, another option is to watch a flame. Lighting a candle and watching it can be a surprisingly effective form of meditation. For fire safety, perhaps download a virtual candle app.
Now just ‘be’ for 10 minutes. The mistake many people make here is to try and force themselves to have a ‘still mind’ devoid of thoughts. This is almost impossible for a beginner and will lead to nothing but stress.
Instead, we’ll take the mindfulness approach of simply letting the mind wander. When it does, make a note of it and simply focus back on your anchor. This removes the stress and gives you a safe environment in which to practice directing your attention inwards. The same goes for itching and coughing, just let it happen and then return.
Try to repeat this three times a week for a couple of months and see what happens. You’ll be glad you did!
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