You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness in recent years, but like many people, you might not get what all the hype is about — if so, you’re not alone. Hopefully this post will help clarify what mindfulness is and…isn’t.
A dictionary definition says that mindfulness is…
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
In my opinion, this is a pretty good standard definition and key to this definition is the part which says “ while calmly acknowledging and accepting…”
We Don’t Have to Accept Our Negative Thoughts
The reason that I believe this to be a key aspect of mindfulness is because there are many who take the definition a step further and believe that mindfulness requires not just a nonjudgmental acknowledgement of one’s thoughts, feelings and reactions, but also, acceptance of those reactions/emotions/thoughts.
For example, this school of thought approaches mindfulness like this: you’re in a stressful situation at work, your boss is pressuring you, you’re in a meeting and feeling anxious and you think “I really hate this job and I should just quit right here and now!” If we take the approach of being nonjudgmental and accepting this reaction/thought, how will we ever learn, grow or taper our reactions?
My personal approach to being mindful is that it can really best help us if we not only recognize when we’re having certain thoughts/reactions/emotions, but also, why we’re having them. If we simply just have them and accept them, how can we possibly hope to change our way of thinking and reacting?
Consider the approach of mindfulness from positive thinking, as opposed to the traditional tie-in of “positive psychology.” You’re at work, in this stressful situation, your boss is pressuring you and you’re in a meeting, feeling unprepared, inadequate and anxious — if your thought reaction is “I really hate this job and I should just quit right here and now!” and you just accept that as the right solution because you’re not judging your own thoughts, you’ll be doing that in every job you have in life. If however, we respond to that situation and subsequent thought reaction with “okay, I know quitting is not the answer. Maybe instead of quitting, I need to sleep on it and try a fresh perspective tomorrow.”
In my personal experience, harshly judging our self isn’t always beneficial, but not judging our self isn’t the answer either. To grow and develop, self-reflection and self-appraisal is essential. And from a positive thinking perspective, self-appraisal should be from a positive not a negative — “I’m aware of what I’m thinking/feeling and my reactions are valid because they’re my thoughts and reactions, but are they beneficial ones?”
Part of being a more positive person means not over-reacting and not going straight for the most extreme conclusion or “solution.” In my experience, it means taking a deep breath, being aware of my thoughts and reactions and mastering them, rather than the other way around.
“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” – Fred (Mister) Rogers
Being in the Now…
Of course, being mindful means being in the moment and that does directly relate to being cognizant of our own thoughts and feelings. On this one I have a personal approach that may differ from the current wisdom. I find that when I ruminate on the past, it’s usually when I’m feeling discontentment with my present (my now). I tend to remember the past better than it may have been and ruminating on it just makes me feel worse about my present. Likewise, I often find myself stressing about the future — wondering what it will be like. This too usually happens when I’m stressed or anxious in my present. In both cases, I’m focusing my energy on what has already taken place in the past, or what may occur in the future — two things I cannot control or change. So on this part of being more mindful, I force myself to be hyper vigilant on when I’m doing this and I use personal techniques to drag my mind back to the present. If you decide to do more research on mindfulness, look for reputable sources that offer guidance on how to live more in the now and less in the past or future — it really does help one to appreciate life today, a great deal more.
I tend to be cautious about fads that come and go, particularly ones relating to self-help. There are so many different options and opinions out there, including my own, that it can overwhelm and confuse. What works for me may not be right for you, but I found that the very first step in being mindful, was to be acutely aware and committed to wanting a life that was more positive and more fulfilled — after that, the rest started to fall into place fairly well, because I believe I had become much more open to learning new things and having a more focused, brighter outlook on life.
“If you want things to be different, perhaps the answer is to become different yourself” – Norman Vincent Peale