There has been a lot of buzz about mindfulness in recent years, but the truth is that it has been around for centuries.
Although the theory and practice of mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditative traditions, today mindfulness is a clinically proven approach to developing mental health and controlling stress and pain. Utilising mindfulness for stress and performance has many benefits.
So what is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined as an attentive, observant, and open attitude towards one’s own experience and mental and emotional states.
Mindfulness is a specific set of techniques that can be cultivated either in meditation, or in the context of counselling and therapy. It can be transformative beyond the solution of the specific problems, and can enhance quality of life as a whole.
The 14th Dalai Lama described mindfulness as a “comprehensive platform for developing self-regulation, self-exploration, and self-liberation”.
According to Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn (2003), author of several books and the creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, mindfulness is:
“Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”
Utilising Mindfulness for Stress and Performance Issues
Therapy utilising a mindfulness approach has a vast range of applications, and can be used in the treatment of:
- Depression and low mood;
- Anxiety, worry and the inability to relax;
- Management of pain, especially chronic pain;
- Stress and high blood pressure;
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Low self-esteem, self-critical thoughts;
- Addiction and dependency;
- Unhealthy eating behaviour;
- Work/Sport performance issues; and
- Obsession about the past or future.
Evidence has also revealed that the practice of mindfulness can be a great help in enhancing:
- Your ability to cope with stress and anxiety in the workplace;
- Satisfaction in your day-to-day work and family life;
- Motivation to engage in important activities;
- Immune system function and brain activity;
- The ability to “bounce back” from negative experiences and trauma;
- Experience of “flow” in everyday life (sport, performance, and exercise);
- Ability to focus attention on tasks; and
- A sense of purpose in your life.
Mindfulness techniques can help us to overcome psychological obstacles, to reach our goals and live a fulfilling life.
The aim of mindfulness training is not to block, change, or replace any “negative” thoughts or feelings we may have as a result of everyday life. Rather, the idea is that we develop the perspective that memories, thoughts, or feelings are not harmful directly, and do not always accurately represent reality. What can be harmful is the attention we give to them, and our struggle to control them.
Mindfulness can help us to become more aware of and less influenced by our internal experiences, allowing us to access the present moment and direct our efforts towards our goals and dreams.
In short, mindfulness allows us to become more responsive to others and to our world, and less reactive, thereby gaining greater control of our lives.
Embracing Mindfulness in a Modern World
Many of us lead fast-paced lives, as we try to juggle multiple responsibilities such as work, study, relationships, sport, shopping, modern technology, family, volunteering, etc.
As a result our attention is divided, and we are forced into a confusing and challenging mental juggling act. This limits our ability to attend to what is really important and to enjoy the “here and now”.
We often generate counter-productive thought and emotional patterns as a result of the modern busy lifestyle, withdrawing from the people we love and things we enjoy (hence why success and money do not equate to happiness).
Not surprisingly, the pace of modern life can result in anxiety and depression, as chasing calmness, satisfaction, or happiness becomes an uphill battle in a world where time can seems so scarce. We can easily lose touch with the here and now, the things we can control, the simple joys and fun in life, and the things that are most important to us (family, personal development, exercise, etc).
Many of us have thought of meditation as a form of self-help, and may even have tried it, but may feel that, short of shaving your head and becoming a monk, it doesn’t fit with the “real world”.
Mindfulness techniques however can be adapted to suit the individual and are broader than meditation, encompassing several types of activity.
There are many levels of mindfulness development through which we can progress. Mindfulness enables us to “reconnect” and pursue our goals by cultivating two fundamental skills we all share:
- Choosing where and how we focus our attention at any moment, including maintaining attention on a target;
- Choosing how to evaluate our experiences, thoughts, and feelings so that they don’t cause us stress.
Mindfulness techniques involve concentration, such as assisted and at-home meditation, and sometimes movement. These techniques can be easily incorporated into everyday activities such as exercise, listening to music, and even cooking.
Usually these activities have a calming effect, but they should not be confused with relaxation (although they can be used to achieve this state if that is our goal).
Many of us live mostly on autopilot, and do not exercise these skills. Practicing mindfulness techniques puts us “back behind the wheel”. Cultivating mindfulness requires training and practice, but can be achieved by individuals from any walk of life. And the benefits for our mental health, happiness and effectiveness in life are worth it!
There is a great deal of evidence indicating that mindfulness techniques and meditation (and yoga, which involves both movement and meditation), successfully reduce many psychological symptoms and can also improve some physical health indicators.
Cultivating mindfulness can benefit anyone, from a professional athlete managing performance anxiety or pre-event sleep issues, to the corporate executive struggling to manage stress – in fact, anybody wishing to improve their ability to focus and achieve their life goals.
Whether you are interested in learning how to become more mindful, or want assistance with goal setting, motivation, overcoming anxiety or any issue which is affecting your performance whether on the sports field, in the office, home or classroom, you can make an appointment at your preferred location by clicking here.