December 9th, 2023
What does health behaviour have to do with mindfulness?
Health behaviour is any behaviour that affects physical or mental health or quality of life, either positively or negatively. (5)Unhealthy behaviours such as sitting for long periods and low physical activity, overeating, eating high-caloric, low-nutritional food, smoking, alcohol and substance use, and not adhering to medical treatments account for a substantial proportion of global disease morbidity and mortality. (6)
Changing unhealthy behaviours can improve mental and physical health and prevent chronic disease. Nevertheless, changing unhealthy behaviours is not easy. Self-regulation is an essential skill for successful behaviour change.
Self-regulation is the ability to regulate your own attention, emotions, thinking, and behaviour to respond effectively to internal and external demands. (7) That might mean stopping yourself before reacting to your environment (e.g., passing by the sweets aisle in the supermarket), your emotions (e.g., when you would want to punch your boss) and thoughts (e.g., that self-critical voice telling you you’ll never be good enough) in ways that do not serve you.
People with low self-regulation skills have poorer learning performance and poorer physical and mental health. (8) An open awareness, which is a mindfulness attribute, is necessary for self-regulation because you cannot effectively respond to internal and external demands if you are not aware of those demands.
Mindfulness promotes self-regulation, which is essential for lasting behaviour change
Mindfulness promotes a heightened awareness of your own habits and behavioural patterns, enabling a deeper understanding of the triggers and responses that shape these patterns. This awareness is crucial for initiating and maintaining positive behaviour changes. Mindfulness encourages a more conscious approach to daily choices, promoting healthier habits and lasting change.
Mindfulness-based interventions were shown to be effective in reducing stress and harmful health behaviours, (9) facilitating self-regulation and behaviour change (10) and improving physical (11) and mental health. (12)
A mindful self-regulation model, based on an integrative review of the research literature, suggests that mindfulness affects emotion regulation, thought and attention control, and self-processes such as self-compassion, self-monitoring, self-efficacy, self-agency, interoceptive awareness and how these interact with motivation and learning processes to initiate and maintain behaviour change. (1)
Those self-processes mentioned above can be defined as follows:
Self-compassion means responding with a warm, kind, and understanding orientation toward yourself, as you would to a close friend, when you suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. (13)
Self-monitoring is the ability to systematically observe your own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behaviours. (14)
Self-efficacy is believing in your ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. (15)
Self-agency is the ability to act autonomously and to be self-directed.
Interoceptive awareness is the sensory experience of internal processes related to the body’s physiologic state, producing the feeling of present-moment self in the body. (16)
This was a very brief discussion on how mindfulness facilitates the initiation and maintenance of health behaviour change and was not meant to fully explain the “how”. The takeaway is that there is a significant body of research on mindfulness that shows its effectiveness.
As I said before, mindfulness was the missing link for my own behaviour change and maybe for many others.