December 9th, 2023
Common Misconceptions About Mindfulness
- The main goal of mindfulness is not relaxation. Many people associate meditation and mindfulness with relaxation, but although relaxation can be a side-effect, especially for those more advanced in mindfulness practice, mindfulness also implies accepting uncomfortable emotions.
- Mindfulness is not religious, even if it is rooted in spirituality.
- Mindfulness is not a way to change thoughts or to empty your mind of thoughts. It is observing and accepting thoughts while understanding you are not your thoughts and not all thoughts are to be believed or helpful.
- Mindfulness is not hard. Mindfulness is not something that is only achievable with thousands of hours of meditation. Some studies have shown that mindfulness can be applied to youngsters, and many kids have a very high level of mindfulness. Thus, meditation should not be difficult. It might be more difficult for adults with a high level of automaticity in their behaviour, but training your mind to be less reactive can reverse unhelpful automaticity.
- Mindfulness is not easy, either. It is not easy, at least at the beginning, because most of the time, we are preoccupied with the past or the future, and we have a hard time focusing on the present moment.
- Mindfulness is not about being in the present moment, here and now, all the time. This is simply impossible: We need to make plans. We need to reflect on past behaviour and performance, feelings, what worked, what didn’t… Mindfulness is not a way to not be concerned with the future and the past anymore; rather, it’s a way to balance our time perspective and spend more time in the present, in moments that matter.
- Meditation is not something woo-woo. It is deeply grounded in theory and practice and can be scientifically studied. Many studies that have been conducted in the field of psychological science have proven this fact.
The five elements of mindfulness
- Cultivating attention. Attention is paid to what occurs in the present moment, whether this is an internal feeling, like an emotion or a thought, or something external, like a conversation, a behaviour, or a situation.
- Open awareness means looking at things in a fresh and new way rather than in a way that is influenced by preconceived beliefs and old viewpoints that we have about everything, in other words, without judgment.
- Acceptance of what is. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to experience what is happening right here, right now, rather than fighting experiences or trying to change them.
- Non-identification (with thoughts, emotions). We understand that we are not our thoughts and emotions, and we allow ourselves to observe and accept thoughts and emotions without trying to change them. Nothing lasts forever.
- Choice. Mindfulness creates choice, the space to detach from our feelings and thoughts that drive our automatic unhealthy behaviours. The automatic patterns are interrupted, and we can make decisions consciously.
How to create a mindful daily life
Mindfulness can be trained by daily practice, but that is not enough. If you want to make mindfulness a way of living, you need to incorporate mindfulness in every aspect of your life. These are some steps to start doing so:
- Make mindfulness daily practice a habit: schedule time for practising a mindfulness exercise such as a body scan or mindfulness meditation. Ideally, do this at the same time every day, for the same duration, stacked with an already established habit or a cue, for example, as soon as you wake up or after you brush your teeth.
- Choose an activity you will do mindfully every day, such as mindful eating or mindful walking. This should be a routine activity that you will do anyway; it could be anything that you normally do semi-automatically, maybe while multitasking. To do it mindfully, you need to direct your full attention to this task and observe the experience, using all your senses, if relevant. Take your time; don’t rush. What new things can you notice about that activity and experience?
- Reflect on your mindful experiences, ideally handwriting in a journal, but any time of recording your thoughts will do. You can use a digital journal to type in or an audio journal using an app, such as Otter.ai, to transcribe your voice notes.
- Try to listen mindfully to others and focus completely and non-judgementally on what they are saying without rushing to tell them what they should do.
- Work mindfully. Set an intention for the outcome of the work you are going to do, but do not get attached to that outcome. Eliminate distractions and work single-tasking. Take breaks at least every hour. Use mindful breathing during the breaks and before a meeting.
- Use mindfulness techniques for stress reduction, such as mindful breathing exercises, for which you can easily find instructions on the internet. One example is the three-minute breathing exercise, where you inhale for three seconds and then exhale for three seconds. Sometimes, deep breaths will increase anxiety, so if that’s the case for you, just use normal, slow breaths.