The term ‘mindfulness’ comes from a school of psychology known as ‘CBT’ (that is cognitive behavioural therapy). This is a tool they use to teach clients and patients a highly effective and productive form of meditation that they can use to change their own thinking and so have more control over their life and their emotions. This is the favoured form of therapy by most health organisations today, and is celebrated for its ease of use and its quick application.
What is meant by ‘mindfulness’ is an ability to be aware of what is going on in your own mind and thoughts. This is where the mediation comes in as patients are taught to take a back seat to their mental ‘chatter’ and listen from the perspective of an outsider. While other forms of meditation aim to completely still that mental chatter, with mindfulness you are only trying to become aware of it and to observe it without changing its course. The metaphor used by lots of cognitive behavioural therapists is that you are watching your thoughts go by like clouds.
To do this then, find a quiet place and sit with your eyes closed and then just see what comes. Allow your mind to wander as it normally would but pay close attention to what you are thinking. With practice this mindfulness should start to come naturally as you engage with your thoughts during the day but then also observe them to analyse them from the outside.
Where this becomes highly useful is for those trying to change their thought patterns, and this is why it is so effective in therapy. A large proportion of psychological disorders come from ‘damaging thoughts’, or are at least correlated with such thoughts, so to be able to observe these yourself is to be able to identify a possible route of the problem and then make a positive change.
For example, someone who has agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces and crowds) might find themselves having thoughts such as ‘everyone’s looking at me’, ‘I’m going to have a panic attack’ and ‘I can not breath for all the people’. What a cognitive behavioural therapist would then teach would be to listen to these thoughts with mindfulness and to then go about changing them for more positive thoughts like ‘no one’s looking at me’, ‘there are plenty of people to help’, ‘I can step into a shop at any time’. This way they can control their reaction and gradually begin to change the way in which they see the situation and themselves.
While this is very useful though for those with agoraphobia, this is still rather a rare condition. Of course the same mindfulness techniques will apply to any phobia, but they will also apply to those who do not necessarily have a phobia at all. For example, someone with depression can benefit from mindfulness – as their depression is likely to be connected to a series of negative and damaging thought patterns. Common negative thoughts for a depressed individual might include ‘I’m no good at anything’, ‘there is no point in carrying on’ or ‘nobody likes me’. Again you would simply replace these negative thoughts with positive affirmations such as ‘I am a worthwhile person with a lot to give’ or ‘I have a wonderful family and friends who love me for who I am’. Over time by replacing these thoughts consciously you then change your habits and the positive thoughts become the ones you think of automatically and which dominate your thoughts.
Taking this mindfulness further you can then apply it to a range of situations – to make yourself less nervous on a date or at an interview, to improve your performance in sports, or to help yourself achieve your goals. In this way, you can change your thinking on both the big things and on the smaller moments. In a sense then you are ‘programming your mind’ and can change everything about the way you think to improve yourself however you see fit. You can become invulnerable to insults and more calmly analyse any situation. You can even learn to control your anger and fear responses. All you have to do is recognise how you think currently using mindfulness and your brain becomes yours to design. From there the possibilities are limitless.