8 Reasons Why Mindfulness is a No-Brainer

Mindfulness has become a very popular practice for improving wellness, happiness, focus and productivity.

Many major companies including Google, Target, Mindfulness - a No BrainerAetna, Proctor Gamble, Reebok, Starbucks, Unilever, to name a few, provide mindfulness programmes for their employees. And business schools such as Harvard University teach Mindfulness to their students. It is now well-established as an integral part of many therapies for stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders and other mental health disorders, and there is a great deal of research showing the effectiveness of such therapies. So maybe it’s worth considering.

If you haven’t already adopted Mindfulness as a practice, why should you consider it?

1. Mindfulness provides us with a tool for calming our minds and remaining focused in the midst of stressful circumstances. Being able to get ‘out of our heads’ when we have begun to get stuck in a groove of worries about the future or regrets or guilt about the past is helpful. It means we spend less time churning ourselves up. Many people find they spend a lot of time doing things like worrying about what other people think about them thinking about what they could have done or ‘should’ have done dwelling on ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ worrying that others are doing better than they are

Mindfulness gives us the ability to do interrupt such thoughts, and therefore enables us to spend happier times in the present moment instead.

2. Mindfulness helps us to ‘train our attention muscle’ – to improve our ability to keep our attention where we want it to be, and to notice more quickly when our attention has drifted. And it helps us to improve our ability to return our attention to where we want it to be. If you are like most people, you may spend more time mind-wandering than you realize. If you are aware that you can easily drift off into the inner recesses of your mind, getting lost in day dreams or worst-case scenarios then training your ‘attention muscle’ could be useful. The only place we can make a difference to the quality of our life either now and in the future, is in the present moment. Being in our heads doesn’t change a thing!

3. Mindfulness helps us to regulate our emotions – to be less tossed and turned in the ocean of emotional ups and downs. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of our thoughts including our beliefs and interpretations, and our feelings, without getting completely caught up in them. It helps us to avoid becoming overwhelmed by them and means that our emotions are less often going to jump into the driver’s seat of our lives. Mindfulness offers us some really helpful ways of looking at our thoughts and feelings that help us to get caught up in them less often.

4. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our bodies, and therefore more able to respond wisely to signs that we are becoming stressed, frustrated, angry, tired etc. Many people talk about not realizing how frustrated or tired or angry or stressed they are feeling until they snap at some-one or say something they regret. Or they work themselves to a point where they reach burnout, without seeing the early warning signs. Being able to be aware of our emotional state, assisted by awareness of our bodily feelings is important to our wellbeing.

5. Mindfulness helps us to reduce the degree to which we judge ourselves, others and life in general. Often people are not aware of just how often they are making judgments, whether about minor things, or about things that are having a major impact on their lives. The more we judge, the more annoyed, irritated, angry, resentful etc. that we feel. On one level, judging others can feel gratifying – we can feel quite self-righteous and that can make us feel quite self-satisfied and powerful . But self-righteousness has a real killer effect on our relationships and tends to create a drama-filled life. Indulge in it at your peril! Cultivating a non-judgmental attitude saves a lot of emotional energy.

6. Mindfulness helps us to be more fully present with others. You may know what it feels like to be with some-one but feel that they aren’t really fully there with you – that they aren’t really listening or paying attention. We tend to feel uncomfortable, not valued and some-what alienated when this happens. Being fully present with the people we care about is relationship-enhancing.

7. Mindfulness helps us to more fully enjoy the moment, and to savour the good things in life. The more we practise mindfulness, the more we enjoy our good moments, and the more good moments we notice. A positive cycle of appreciation develops, which adds greatly to our enjoyment of life. Many people only notice ‘exceptional’ moments as good. How crazy is that – we have a life filled with so many small blessings and everyday wonderfulness, but somehow decide it ‘doesn’t count’ enough to really notice and enjoy. That strategy is fine if you only want occasional moments of happiness! Mindfulness can help us to experience many moments of happiness, wonder, appreciation, gratitude, awe etc. every day.

8. Mindfulness helps us to be more intentional – about how we want to be as a person, the state of mind we want to adopt in any given situation, and how we want to use our time. Intentionality isn’t exclusive to Mindfulness, but as we develop the ability to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings, urges, bodily sensations etc. we are in a position where we have more choices. In an unmindful state we more easily get caught up in thoughts and feelings to a point where we no longer have perspective and are too lost in our own minds to be able to exercise choice – our feelings end up in the driver’s seat of our lives. Reclaiming our driver’s seat through developing mindfulness and intentionality if a very rewarding journey.

A huge pay-off for a small investment

Pilot research on the ‘Mindfulness for Academic Success’ programme developed by Monash University, and which I have been teaching at Massey University indicates that even as little as 10 minutes of Mindfulness meditation a day significantly improved how students handled stress, and 15 minutes a day significantly improved mood.

Isn’t this a small price to pay for a better quality of life?

But even if this investment of time seems too much or too hard to achieve at this stage of your life, many attendees at my workshops report that just applying some of the principles of Mindfulness in their everyday lives, ‘on the go’ also significantly improves their quality of life. They frequently report feeling less stressed and happier through adopting these practices.

And in my experience, doing both regular Mindfulness meditation practice and using these ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ strategies offers much greater benefit than doing only one or the other – a ‘double-whammy’ in a good way.

 

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)

I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences:  Please add your comment/s below.  

Do you already either practice mindfulness meditation or use everyday mindfulness tools on a regular basis?  Is so, any words of encouragement for those who haven’t?  

Or have you been introduced to mindfulness in the past but not been able to engage with it?  If so, what put you off, or made it difficult for you to integrate mindfulness into your daily life?  It would be great if you could share some of your difficulties and then we (myself and other readers) can offer tips and words of encouragement related to these challenges.  Of course, often other people’s advice doesn’t fit for us, but equally, often one comment or tip in the midst of many may just be the ‘key’ that helps us to find a way through.

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

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The Basics of Mindfulness – The Kiwi No. 8 Wire Approach

The Basics of Mindfulness - The Kiwi No. 8 wire philosophy

What has Wire got to do with Mindfulness, you may well be asking?

As I have mentioned in the ‘About’ section of this website I have an affinity with the ‘Kiwi Number 8 wire philosophy’.

Wikipedia describes the Number 8 Wire philosophy as “the ability to create or repair machinery using whatever scrap materials are available to hand”. As a ‘kiwi’ (New Zealander), brought up on a farm I was very familiar with Number 8 wire, which is the strong wire used to make farm fences.

And growing up in South Taranaki, I was also familiar with the ‘Taranaki Gate’ – a short separate section of wire fence, hinged to the main fence with – you guessed it – more No. 8 wire.   You could say that the Taranaki Gate was the epitome of the ‘Number 8 wire philosophy’ (http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/18612/taranaki-gate).

As an approach to personal development, my ‘number 8 wire’ philosophy is about being very pragmatic and one of the things I love about Mindfulness is that a key question, with regard to what we are doing with our minds is ‘is it helpful’. My ‘take’ on the ‘number 8 wire’ philosophy is that solutions need to be practical, workable, and economical and Mindfulness offers many ‘everyday tools’ that we can work in with our everyday lives to become happier, less stressed and more satisfied with the lives we are living.

So from that practical, workable and economical perspective, and as best as I can do, in ‘everyday language’ here is my attempt to give a brief introduction to Mindfulness. Of course a rich and many-faceted approach such as Mindfulness cannot truly be represented by a few bullet-points. But hopefully this will give you enough of a glimpse to interest you in looking into it further and learning more.

What is Mindfulness?

Being Aware and ‘Just Noticing’

Mindfulness is about being aware. Yep. That simple – but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Being aware of the world around us, the small aspects of our everyday lives (our external world) and being aware of our thoughts, feelings, urges, mental images, sensations (our mental events or inner world). And when we learn to be aware in that way, it means we spend less time being ‘unaware’ i.e. away with the fairies or on auto-pilot.

Mindfulness is about ‘just noticing’. As above – this is simple, but often not easy. Often when we think we are ‘just noticing’ what is going on around us, we are actually interpreting, judging, having expectations, analyzing etc. ‘Just’ noticing is a lot harder than it sounds. But when we develop the ability to do less interpreting, judging and expecting our lives begin to flow more easily. Of course there are times when interpreting, analysing etc are quite appropriate and helpful, but we tend to have that switch turned on all the time, whether it is helpful or not. With Mindfulness we develop an awareness of when to turn that switch on, and we get better at not having this as our main operating system.

Training Your ‘Attention Muscle’

Mindfulness is about ‘training your attention muscle’. Just as you would go to the gym to develop your physical muscles you can do Mindfulness exercises to develop your attention muscle.

Our minds are not great at maintaining attention on what we want to be paying attention to – our minds are ‘scatterbrains’, easily distracted. A strong ‘attention muscle’ enables us to put our attention where we want it to be, and more effectively keep it therenotice more quickly when our attention has wandered (rather than that very common experience of having wandered off in your mind, and when you realise you have been ‘lost in thought’ for ages, suddenly reaslising that you have just wasted a lot of time).
to get better at redirecting our attention back to where we want it to be, once we realise our minds have drifted off.

There are two main aspects to ‘training our attention muscle’. We can put time aside to deliberately practice this skill through doing Mindfulness Meditation. Even as little as 10 minutes meditation practice a day can make a significant difference to how effectively people handle stress. The other way of ‘training our attention muscle’ is to apply some of the principles of mindfulness in everyday life. This is a very practical and effective way to improve your satisfaction with your life and improve your relationships.

Mindfulness helps us to improve our ability to ‘zoom in’ – focus and concentrate, and to ‘zoom out’ – to see the big picture and get perspective on situations. You could look at this as being similar to keeping your camera well maintained so it can zoom in or zoom out depending on the photograph you want to take at any given time. ‘Zooming in’ is important when we need to concentrate on a task and avoid distractions, and ‘zooming out’ helps us to have perspective. ‘Zooming out’ is particularly important in situations where we feel stressed or upset – often we have become caught in a narrow and limiting perspective – in which case it is useful to be able to step back to a ‘zoomed out’ perspective.

Being In The Present Moment

Mindfulness is about ‘being in the present moment’. By being able to direct our attention more effectively we can stay fully involved in the present moment, as opposed to drifting off into our heads and into the future or the past, making interpretations, judgments, predictions, thinking about what we want to say next, worrying about the future, worrying about what people think of us, or dwelling on past mistakes, grievances or losses. Instead, when we are Mindful we simply fully experience what is happening, in the moment, as it happens. Why would we want to do this? Because it is more enjoyable, because we build better relationships when we relate to people in this way, because it is more real (whatever we do in our heads is essentially just some form of fantasy). And most of all, because the only ‘place’ we can improve the quality of our present or future lives is through our actions in the present moment. What we do when we are ‘lost in space’ – inside our heads in the past or the future, does not add to the quality of our lives.

Being Non-judgmental

Mindfulness is about being non-judgmental.   Why would we want to be less judgmental?   Because judging causes unpleasant and unhelpful feelings I us, such as envy, jealousy, anger, frustration, irritation. Comparisons are also a form of judgment, and we frequently use comparisons in ways that are unhelpful to ourselves, for example ‘‘I am not as good at this as he/she is” or “My life is not going as well as it ‘should’”. Comparisons and judgment can lead to despair, misery and depression. That doesn’t mean that we aim to be so chilled and mellow that ‘anything goes’ –– like “Sure, it’s fine that my friend is cheating on her partner” or ‘‘Well I guess a bit of dishonesty is O.K.”. No, it is important to be clear about your values and what is important to you, and to live your life according to your values. And it is OK to have preferences, and it is normal to feel disappointed or unhappy or upset when some-one treats us in a way that we would prefer they didn’t. But judging ourselves, others or our situation as bad or wrong is not helpful. This can be a tricky idea to get your head around – I will blog more on this at some future time. But the take-home message here is that the more judgment we engage in, the less we are likely to be enjoying our lives.

In summary Scott Spradlin, in his book ‘Don’t Let Emotions Rule Your Life’ describes mindfulness in this way: – “Mindfulness is becoming more aware; becoming more intentional; becoming more articipatory in your own life and experiences; becoming more present and alive in each moment you live”. This description gives a good sense of why people are becoming so interested in mindfulness. It has a lot to offer.

As adopted by Western Psychology mindfulness is a series of mental strategies and practices. These ideas were drawn from Buddhist Psychology. Buddhist psychology sought to understand what causes suffering in order that people could be free from suffering. Western Psychology, particularly Positive Psychology also seeks to alleviate suffering.

Mindfulness is more interested in ‘what works’ or what is helpful, than ideas about good or bad, right or wrong – so it gives us some really practical strategies for managing life’s challenges – and hence it very much fits with my ‘No. 8 wire’’ philosophy.

 

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)

I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences:  Please add your comment/s below.  

It is impossible to sum up what mindfulness is in one short article (or even one very long book).  So please forgive me for the many important omissions.  If you are already practise mindfulness, what aspects of it are most important to you?  What are some of the things that I have missed mentioning that you would have included?  Have you got a way of describing it that others might find helpful – if so, please share.  

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

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