What is Mindfulness

Photo by Sid Leigh

Mindfulness is a term that gets thrown around a lot at the moment and which is often hailed as some kind of panacea for seemingly every problem under the sun. Mindfulness is part self-help technique, part clinical tool and has lately grown to spawn countless e-books, courses and evening classes. But what precisely is it and how do you define it?

Boiled down to its essence, mindfulness is the observation of one’s own thoughts, feelings and sensations. In other words, it means mentally stepping back from the moment and then simply checking to be aware of what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking and what you are experiencing. This pause for understanding and noticing what’s going on “in the moment” can then in turn be used to help treat a wide range of different psychological problems and to generally improve your psychological health.

Photo by Rob Mulally

The reason for this is that being mindful brings more attention to the way that we handle various (typically stressful) events and to how our thoughts and emotions normally seem to control us – as if we were running on autopilot.  This mental space to see and feel and get a sense of what is truly going on in the moment then allows us to respond to these various stimuli, rather than reacting to them. It turns off the “autopilot” switch.

Uses of Mindfulness

When used to combat such conditions as social anxiety, mindfulness can be seen as a clinical tool. Specifically, it is an important part of ‘CBT’ or ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’. This is a psychotherapeutic approach that involves the practice of essentially replacing and reprogramming underlying thoughts, beliefs and ruminations.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

At the same time though, mindfulness has also long been a part of other meditative practices. Here, the goal can often be somewhat different. In this case, the objective is to be more aware of the present moment in terms of the sensations, the sounds and the emotions. By practicing this, they can eventually become more ‘present’ in the moment and better able to react to what’s going on around them without judgement and without the constant ‘brain chatter’ that so many of us experience.

Photo by Chelsea Gates

Mindfulness is a broad tool then to be used in a number of different ways. In almost every scenario though, the true end goal is to be aware of the present moment and to find an inner calm that often eludes us. 

I can say for sure that learning about mindfulness and then exploring (and now regularly using) mindfulness practices has been a “night and day” difference in terms of my outlook on life.

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