What Is Mindfulness And Is It Actually Psychologically Beneficial?
Mindfulness is the state of being “meta-cognitive” or “meta-emotional.”
It is a conscious state with the aim of simply NOTICING what you think and/or what you feel and takes place in the present moment. This is ideally done free from action, judgment, or anticipation. It is fairly straightforward to explain but far from easy to master.
Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in our modern culture and has roots tracing back to Tibetan spiritual practices, Buddhist meditations, and yogic or Ayurvedic traditions. There’s little debate that the practice of mindfulness is growing and is becoming more widely utilized, but does it actually benefit us psychologically, and if so, how?
The short answer is yes. There is mounting research, theoretical backing, and subjective clinical feedback that indicates that the practice of mindfulness coupled with emotional growth is not only a major benefit in and of itself but that it can serve as a tremendous catalyst in:
- Expediting Emotional Growth
- Interpersonal Communication
- Enhancing Insight
- Halting Addictions
- Advocating for Yourself
- Making Amends
- Effective Parenting
The benefits of mindfulness include:
Helping to calm emotion
It’s normal and natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or uneasy at times. It’s a part of what makes each one of us human. Incorporating the practice of mindfulness into your life can in real time help regulate difficult emotions, offer a way to self-soothe, and provide stillness during the chaos. It’s simple to practice, is readily available, and it can provide immediate relief. Additionally, when combined with guided meditation, body movement, or deep relaxation it can provide extended stress relief and inner tranquility.
Helps create more time between feelings and actions
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) posits that thoughts precipitate feelings, which then lead to actions. Therefore, if we can change the way we think (change our cognitions) then we can change the way we feel and ultimately our experience.
Interestingly, depth-oriented psychology suggests the opposite. It suggests that feelings precipitate thoughts, which then lead to actions; making human behavior a bit more emotionally complex.
This depth-oriented idea changes the emotional aim of therapy. Instead of solely seeking to control and change one’s thoughts, the goal shifts to also creating more space, more compassion, and allowing room for feelings, which blends together seamlessly with the practice of mindfulness.
By cultivating a practice of noticing, you will inevitably create more space between your thoughts/feelings and actions. For example, it’s easy to be watching TV and get up and go get a candy bar. However, if while watching TV you were “mindful” you would notice a desire to get up and eat a candy bar and could stay curious about that desire without taking action. You might witness the feeling change from one of hunger to one of boredom, leaving you with “more accurate” emotional information.
By practicing mindfulness in this way, you give yourself more opportunity to reflect on your emotions, receive clearer insight, and to decrease negative behavior patterns.
Helps to heal past experiences
As you get better at sitting with intense waves of feelings you may begin to access areas of yourself that have remained previously hidden. Past traumatic experiences can carry with them invisible scars that permeate through the present in ways that might cause challenging feelings, such as anxiety, fear, or dread. By practicing mindfulness you may be able to bring greater awareness to some of your suppressed emotions giving you the opportunity to process these past experiences, have a cathartic and healing process and feel more overall ease.
Increase capacity to tolerate “suffering”
Every person is faced with figuring out how they should deal with their own emotional landscape. Part of this challenge is that it hurts to feel bad, and situations that may initially seem intolerable may prove to be some of the most rewarding and life-affirming sorts of situations. So, how can your feelings help you determine what you should do?
By increasing your ability to tolerate difficult emotions via mindfulness, you increase your ability to feel ALL emotions with less reactionary impulse or negative patterns. By noticing what you’re experiencing free from judgment, the practice of mindfulness increases your emotional range and overall bandwidth when it comes to decision-making skills.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a specific treatment model where a therapist works with clients to increase their capacity for emotional toleration. Mindfulness is often used as an adjunct to this type of intervention. If you’re interested in knowing more, speaking with a therapist may allow you to see if this method could be useful for you.
Helps to separate out what is yours to “own” and what is not yours to “own”
If I could design an app, it would tell you in any situation what percentage of a conflict is emotionally yours to “own” and which percentage is not yours to “own”. Unfortunately, that app doesn’t exist (that I know of) but there may be another way, the practice of mindfulness.
When you can get still, stay curious, and suspend judgment you put yourself in a much better position to decide what you’re truly feeling and you decrease mental chatter. When this happens, you become clearer and then can be more deliberate when it comes to either standing your ground or accepting personal responsibility.
Helps in relationships by decreasing active aggression
It’s no secret that relationships suffer when partner’s resentments or emotional aggression gets acted upon or projected onto one another. Mindfulness can serve the relationship by enhancing self-compassion, personal insight, and self-awareness.
When these changes are then shared your relationship can deepen and become more fulfilling. Additionally, mindfulness can provide more awareness of your partner’s needs, and in turn, conversations that might have previously been painful can become transformative and regenerative.
Assists in developing a more accepting “inner self-voice”
Each of us has an inner voice. It’s been called the super-ego, the internalized parent, or the inner self. The practice of mindfulness offers a dialogue with this part of you. With mindfulness, you can develop an inner self-voice that is more accepting, less punitive, or simply allows space for more of you.
When you gift yourself with the opportunity to reflect on your emotions and thoughts you tap into parts of yourself that most of the time remain unseen. The psychological impact of this dialogue and opportunity for healing the “self” also contains the potential to extend outward and become transformative to your relationships and life overall.
The X Factor
“Good things happen over time, but great things happen all at once”. I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the transpersonal perspective of mindfulness. Through the course of your emotional work, you may find benefits that you were not necessarily seeking or that were unanticipated.
Mindfulness can assist you in going to some of the deepest parts of your emotional psyche and development; lending way to other types of experiences be they spiritually uplifting, intuitively gifted, or personally awakening.
“When you clear your head of all conscious thought, you access 10,000 lifetimes – there’s nothing you don’t know how to do”. Gary Lephew (Cowboy)