The truth about 'mindfulness'

You've probably heard people talk about mindfulness, or being mindful, but what does that actually mean? Dr Gail Davies from MindLab breaks down the myths to fill us in on the real meaning of mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be a very effective tool in many areas of your life, from helping focus at work to building stronger relationships. But there are a lot of misconceptions about the meaning of mindfulness and how it works. Here's a few of the myths, and the truth behind them.

1. Mindfulness is getting rid of thoughts

As human beings, we are inclined to push away troubling thoughts or unpleasant images in the interest of staying happy. However there are no bad emotions. Emotions are there to be felt. In mindfulness, instead of aiming for a blank mind, where no thoughts are present, you practice the skill of becoming aware of your thoughts. By seeing thoughts arise, dwell and eventually dissolve, you learn how to acknowledge and move on from them. This is different from pushing thoughts away.

2. Mindfulness is religious

It’s true that mindfulness meditation is often practiced by various spiritual traditions. But meditation is really just a mental exercise that anyone can practice, no matter what your spiritual views. Researchers have proven mindfulness techniques can benefit a wide range of people. The training of paying attention to a particular aspect of our experience in order to develop a greater flexibility and strength of mind, can be found in all cultures and for that reason mindfulness is absolutely universal.

3. Mindfulness is a quick fix

It's important to approach mindfulness with the right attitude. When we're stressed or struggling with different aspects of our lives we often look for a quick solution. However, based on many years of research, it is now well established that in order to fully benefit from mindfulness, the best approach is to have a long-term view, rather than expecting immediate results. Mindfulness is effective but impatience and a narrow goal-oriented view can easily get in the way of achieving the results you desire.

4. I don't have time to stop and be mindful

You don’t have to stop. You can practice mindfulness techniques anywhere. Being mindful is coming into what is real and palpable in this moment. For instance, if you’re driving, try purposely noticing the feel of the wheel in your hands.  If you’re in a meeting, summon your curiosity to stay present in the conversation. You'll be surprised at how much more you get out of the meeting.

If you are rushing up the street to make an appointment, you can shift your awareness to notice the way your feet feel as they slap against the pavement. What we generally do in that situation is project into the future, worrying about how badly it will be received if we are late, which usually makes us more anxious.  Why not put that brainpower to being more aware of the most important thing which is fully connecting to the experience of transporting your body safely and quickly to where you intend to go?

Last updated Monday 8 August 2016

First published on Friday 26 February 2016