By Lizzie Stevenson (Mental Health Advisor)
Three useful effects of mindfulness
As mentioned in Part 1 , mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Mindfulness can help us to notice when our mind has wandered off, so that we can bring it back to what we need to focus on.
Every time we practice being mindful, we are exercising our attention muscle.
Mindfulness helps us tune into ourselves, becoming aware of what we are thinking and feeling. This provides us with an opportunity to notice when we are upset or stressed and choose how to react, rather than getting caught up and reacting automatically to emotions.
One of the most useful effects of mindfulness is that when we become aware of the patterns of our thoughts. This can help us to identify unhelpful thinking patterns that may be causing us distress, such as noticing when we worry about what others think of us.
If we can learn to observe these unhelpful thoughts without judgement, we can learn to move past them and stop getting caught up in them.
There’s a big difference between accepting your thoughts as facts such as “everyone hates me”, and noticing them as thoughts based on how we feel that day “I notice right now my brain just had the thought everyone hates me”.
So, how can you start?
A typical mindfulness practice consists of focusing your full attention on one thing, typically your breathing. As you focus on each breath in this way, it allows you to observe any thoughts or feelings that come up for you, notice how they come and go.
With practice you can learn to let go of struggling with the meaning of thoughts, and just observe them. You come to realise that thoughts come and go on their own. It is important to realise that you are not your thoughts.
You can then begin to choose whether to act on or engage in these thoughts, or not. By focusing your attention on these you can identify the negative thought patterns, and then consider what you can do different to move forward. This way you can prevent them from tipping you into a downward spiral.
There are two types of mindfulness practice: formal and informal.
A formal practice might involve listening to recorded practice, such as a five minutes mindful breathing or a body scan.
You may want to incorporate this into your everyday routine, for example, first thing in the morning. Or maybe try using this when you are feeling particularly stressed such as before an exam or presentation.
An informal practice might involve simply getting out of auto-pilot for a minute. Maybe trying to walk home without any distractions, with no music or talking, just walking and being aware of the environment and the thoughts and feelings that come up for you during the walk.
Maybe you could try having your morning coffee in silence and practise just paying attention to the taste of the coffee, observing the thoughts and feeling that come and go as you drink it.
You can find a five minutes mindful breathing exercise on the Life Tools Blackboard course.
Blackboard Life Tools course
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are. New York: Hyperion
Siegel, D., (2007) The mindful brain: reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York: Norton
Williams, M., Penman, D., (2011) Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus
Hanson R. (2009) Buddha’s Brain –The practical Neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.