This recent article posted on CNN had the catchy heading of “Can you train your brain to make better decisions?” If it were only that easy, right? Assuming that catchy title lured you in, the article goes on to talk about mindfulness and how it can be used to become more aware of your thoughts and actions. What is mindfulness though?
The term mindfulness refers to a particular state of mind, one that is alert, aware and fully present to what is unfolding on a moment by moment basis in the mental and physical landscape.
We all live busy lives, running from one place to another, doing something, going somewhere and rarely taking the time to be. With that, it feels like everywhere you turn, mindfulness and meditation is the new “thing.” It used to just be something for “those” people but it’s being incorporated into the medical and psychological fields more so and being infused into our pop culture. Celebrities such as Katy Perry, Russell Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, and countless others all practice some form of mindfulness. Why though? Well, as the article states…
Not only does [mindfulness] allow individuals to clearly see the intentions and reactions underlying each and every action– learning when an action is arising out of fear of uncertainty or rejection and becoming better able to detect a “sure thing” via bodily signals.
I think we can all agree that we all have triggers in our life. It may be a physical trigger or an emotional trigger. You know what I mean, right? It’s those times that you say…”every time that person does something like that I get so upset!” A physical trigger might come in the form of an allergy, but it might be harder to articulate what an emotional trigger is. Well, what mindfulness does is that it’s meant to tune you into the present moment and help you become an observer of these triggers. So when something does trigger you, you can create this space before you respond. That space might sound like “I’m about to get upset about this, but let me just pause for a second” Or you might take it a step further and ask “Why is this so upsetting to me?”
By repeatedly training the mind to pay attention to the sensations of the body as they enter the brain, mindfulness training uses this information to build up an exquisitely sensitive understanding of our reactions and responses in the world — both at work and elsewhere in our lives.
By the time someone comes into therapy, it’s usually the case that something has gotten way out of hand and whatever the situation is has just become too overwhelming. Part of how these tools can be used in therapy is that it can help you understand what it is that is exactly bothering you and learning the signals that tap into those troublesome moments. It takes the abstract and brings concreteness. But what it can also do is that it can help create a space of separation between you and the problem. As humans, we easily personalize things and make false attributions. Someone may tell us that A=B and B=C then we go on to think A=C, B=A, C=B, C=A and every other combination. Our minds gets distracted in thinking of every combination of events that can happen and part of what mindfulness can do is…
The route to mindfulness is through attention training. In our general understanding, attention is something we direct outwards into the environment — something pleasant catches our attention and we turn to look, something annoying distracts us and our mind wanders.
I know what you’re thinking…where do I start? The answer is that you start wherever you are. You don’t have to sit down for 20 minutes if you can’t yet, but start with 30 seconds and see where that leads. The biggest aspect is don’t put pressure on yourself and end up creating more thoughts in your head. See your thoughts as objects and let them pass as if they were a cloud in the sky. The mind will constantly generate thoughts (even if you’re a seasoned mindfulness pro), but the difference is, you can learn to not attach to those thoughts as much. As the article goes on to describe,
In the early stages of training, similar to when we first go to the gym, there is frustration and annoyance with our inability to stay focused and the effort required. This is because we are training these neural networks for the first time and the wetware of the brain is floppy and the mind undisciplined.
At the heart of all of this though is to learn a greater sense of acceptance with your thoughts and feelings. If you find yourself often struggling with a decision or a dilemma (be it work, family, or friends), then try out mindfulness. Research it a little bit more. Start where you are and do what you can. Start noticing that space of awareness between your thoughts and your actions. If there is one thing you should take away from this post, it is that thoughts do not equal actions. So begin to create that awareness.
This awareness includes an element of acceptance, not judging whatever you discover in the process…Improvements in attention are a happy side effect of mindfulness but the real changes occur when we are able to embrace fear in an accepting way.
What this is saying is that engage with your body and mind and listen to what is at the core of what it’s trying to say. As I said, we go through our lives going somewhere, doing something and rarely check in with ourselves to see how are we actually feeling about the state of our personal union. Be willing to sit with yourself and check in with where you are and notice what’s around you. Engage with your body, engage with the positive and negative emotions. Denying an emotion does not take it away, it sits there until it bubbles to the surface. So acknowledge what is in your life and move forward with this greater sense of awareness and acceptance.
Go on to read the rest of the article (click here) and let me know what you thought! Have you tried mindfulness? What worked? What didn’t work? Was it harder or easier than you thought?
- Lessons in the art of living
- Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
- Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Part2
- Quote Therapy – by Dr. Russ Harris
- Incorporating mindfulness into your life
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – Bringing Psychology to the 21st Century
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