You hear about and see mindfulness everywhere. The people at the top of Google, LinkedIn and CocaCola are doing it and their employees as well. What is so special about it? And how does it work?
You probably know the feeling that you are in your car or at you bike on your way to an appointment. And when you arrive, you notice that you were completely caught up in your thoughts and haven’t seen anything the last 30 minutes. When this happens, you turned on you automatic pilot. There is nothing wrong with that, it comes in very handy that you can ride a car and figure out what you have to get from the grocery store at the same time.
However, for a lot of people, the automatic pilot dominates in a lot of situations. The thoughts are constant in the past or future. And that means that you miss out on something very important: the here and now. This is the only moment in which you are living and also the only moment in which you can achieve things. There is a lot going on in this moment, things you miss out on when your mind focuses on how you could have done things differently and how things might work out in the future.
In some way it is a shame that you miss out on things that actually happen while you are in your fantasy world thinking about a worst-case-scenario. Of course your mind comes in very handy to plan and to solve problems. But you have to learn how to master the mind. This does not mean that you are in charge of all of your thoughts. Many thoughts pop up in your mind without asking for it. And this is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is an attentiontraining in which you learn how to be conciously aware of this moment. Every time you get distracted by thoughts, you train your attentionmuscle to come back to the experience of this moment. That is the practice. A misunderstanding I often hear is that you have to try to have no thoughts. This is simply not possible. Thoughts arise, whether you like it or not. The moment you notice you are caught up in thoughts is the moment to get back to the experiences of this moment. For example, these experiences could be sensory experiences, breathing or sounds. Easy, right?
‘That is great, but what is the point?'
When you practice this (focusing attention, noticing distraction, bringing back the attention) you can perceive the thoughts and emotions that arise from a distance, scientists call this detachment 1. It means that when emotions or thoughts arise, you don’t automatically get caught up in them. You also learn to see that thoughts arise in every situation and often don’t speak the truth. How many times have you thought that an event went a certain way, while in reality it worked out totally different? I experienced that a lot. You can see a funny video about this below.
Research shows impressive results. Mindfulness can lead to an improved imunesystem2 and lowered levels of stress3. Besides, the results often are for the long term because it causes changes in your brain. You can find an interesting article about this from scientificamerican.com here.
You can practice mindfulness in every moment. You don’t have to sit in a difficult meditation or yoga pose. You can practice it while you are driving, doing the dishes or even walking. However, it is important to practice it more than once. By only reading this article you won’t get the positive results. You can compare it with training biceps, it only works if you work out.
The smartest thing you can do is following a course, because you receive extra information, a workbook and real-life contact. Will you take the challenge? Press here for times and prices of the courses I give.
1) Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of clinical psychology, 62(3), 373-386.
2) Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M. A., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, 564-570.
3) Chang, V. Y., Palesh, O., Caldwell, R., Glasgow, N., Abramson, M., Luskin, F., ... & Koopman, C. (2004). The effects of a mindfulness‐based stress reduction program on stress, mindfulness self‐efficacy, and positive states of mind. Stress and Health, 20(3), 141-147.