What is Mindfulness?
Currently, this fashionable catchphrase is everywhere and promoted as the cure for everything from improving your relationship to weight loss. So what is it and can it possibly live up to all the hype? At the simple level mindfulness is noticing your thoughts, well that’s not a big deal everyone knows what they are thinking. The key element the practice of mindfulness adds is noticing what is happening at the time and not getting caught up in those thoughts. So if you are worried about paying your bills or what a friend said earlier, your mind is thinking about the issue and, hopefully, on task to solve the situation. But without noticing this can go in any number of directions:
- your mind could go around in loops without getting anywhere,
- you could slip into a dark place unawares,
- you could work yourself up into anger about a small incident, etc.
Catching Your Own Slippery Thoughts
Mindfulness is aimed at putting you in the driver seat in relation to your thought processes. So instead of getting lost for hours worrying about the nasty comment from your friend, you catch your thoughts and find a way out. This is especially helpful when trying to change a habit, even a thinking habit. For example, after a nasty comment you might steam and swirl until you explode. By noticing that you are spiralling you have the possibility of catching your pattern and make a different choice; without the skill of noticing then the only choice is running with the same old damaging habit.
A Guide Is Needed
Well if it is so simple and so useful why isn’t everyone already mindfulness whizzes? Firstly, it is a skill; mindfulness is an ability that you need to develop over time with practise. Secondly, it is simple but vague and elusive; which means that you need guidance and there will be ups and downs. Thirdly, it can be uncomfortable and the benefits don’t come immediately or systematically. In short, it is useful, but not particularly easy to learn.
This is made so much worse by the casual and superficial marketing; do this thing and it will be great. Mindfulness is actually multifaceted with different elements having different benefits; it is not just one tool. The benefits of mindfulness in a therapeutic context is that you have an experienced guide and that the process is focused on individualised problem solving. It is specifically structured around learning to use the abilities of your own mind to understand and improve your mental health struggles.
Using mindfulness can be a powerful tool within a therapy process whatever you are trying to resolve.