What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an in vogue concept with applications to many disciplines including Psychology, Education, Wellness, Business and Sport.
But what exactly does mindfulness mean? Given its broad applications, pin pointing its exact meaning is difficult!
In my view, mindfulness at its core, is simply “a state of active observation and attention in the present moment”.
Mindfulness practice takes many forms (e.g. relaxation, breathing and meditation exercises), but fundamentally it is ‘judgement free’ observation of both what is happening in the environment around us (e.g. people, traffic, weather), and what is happening within us (e.g. thoughts, feelings and behaviour).
How can Mindfulness help Improve Well-being?
Overthinking is an increasing problem in today’s world due to the extensive requirement to use our ‘thinking brains’, coupled with the fast pace to which we are required to operate. This means we can spend more time than necessary on judging and interpreting as opposed to observing and living in the present moment. Consequently, overthinking can result in a myriad of problems (e.g. stress and anxiety) and can be a major barrier to psychological well-being. As a good Clinical Psychologist friend of mine often says, “Thinking is overrated!”
Mindfulness is an effective antidote to overthinking given that it replaces ‘destructive thinking journeys’ with the simple discipline of observing thinking patterns. Through early detection and elimination of destructive thinking, one can begin to promote positive thinking in its place.
So it’s clear that mindfulness can be helpful for improving well-being. However, mindfulness can also be a great vehicle to improve learning and performance.
How does Mindfulness Improve Learning and Performance?
There are four key ways mindfulness can improve learning and performance.
i) Improves concentration – Training your mind to transform from a restless to a mindful state requires discipline and focus. It’s not easy to change thinking habits! Being fully aware and noticing the sensations of the ‘breath’ is a classic example of a seemingly simple, yet practically challenging mindfulness exercise requiring a lot of dedication and focus. Spending time and effort trying to master this skill will also improve concentration and build resistance to distractions in the process.
ii) Promotes brain waves optimal for learning – Information perceived through the 5 senses (what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell) is passed through your brain cells via an electrochemical process, creating what we know as ‘Brainwaves’. When undertaking mindfulness practice (such as breathing and muscle relaxation exercises), often the brain will fall within the ‘Alpha range’ (4 to 7 Hz), producing a feeling of relaxed attentiveness. It is within this stage, where the brain is considered to be the most receptive, and attentive to absorbing information.
iii) Removes emotional thinking barriers – ‘Overthinking’ can create emotional thinking barriers (e.g. stress and anxiety). In these states, the quality of thinking is often hindered. Consider for example, a time where you have felt anxious when giving a presentation. In this experience, you may have felt that you could only think in ‘tunnels’ without any creativity and spontaneity. This is essentially because anxiety robs energy from your brain making it more difficult to think clearly. Thus effective mindfulness practice can help ensure that your brain is in its optimal state.
iv) Mindfulness promotes a positive mindset – As previously alluded to, mindfulness not only helps with the identification of negative and destructive thinking, but also promotes positive thinking. A positive mindset is critical for ensuring adequate effort and persistence during learning. Conversely, a negative state of mind is likely to sabotage effort and persistence, making learning much more difficult than it needs to be.
If you’re interested in putting mindfulness into practice, I recommend www.happify.com as a great App you can use to help reap the aforementioned benefits!
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