22 Oct Mindfulness… what’s that all about?
“Mindfulness” refers to a broad range of practices that vary from one another depending on their posture (sitting or standing meditation…) and their goal, i.e. the mental state they’re aiming towards (serenity, attention focusing…). So with all these varieties, it can be difficult for research to scientifically analyze the impacts of this routine, especially when used for professional purposes! How could one compare the emotional and cognitive benefits of a session where the person closes his/her eyes and focuses on breathing, to a session in which that same person (or even another) keeps his/her eyes open and tries to remain aware of everything that comes to his/her mind? Reaching inner peace and attention reinforcement are goals that are way too different to be compared. Research on mindfulness also faces total lack of control over what people actually do in their mind! What your mind and neural network makes out when you “fully welcome your streams of thoughts” doesn’t necessarily compare to mine, right? All this can get a little confusing…
To clear things up a little and raise your level of awareness on the matter, I suggest, for starters, to clearly point out the difference between the practice of ‘mindfulness EXERCISES’ and the actual STATE of being completely mindful, also called ‘Mindfulness’, that people who practice often want to reach. As I am no adept myself (unlike Jean-Christophe BEAU, our team leader and founder of My Mental Energy Pro), I will focus more on the state of full consciousness, or mindfulness, that has many undeniable properties, rather than the exercises that have to be performed regularly (if not daily), which I find a little tedious, especially in a professional context. Of course you don’t need to agree with me! But in that case, either you’re already doing the exercises and will acknowledge my opinion without judgment, or you sense you could benefit from the practice itself and in that case I can only encourage you to give it a go.
There are many books and methods out there, and you’ll find excellent exercises that’ll help you get started in the My Mental Energy Pro app. It’s not because I’m struggling to kick it off that there’s no point in practicing mindfulness!
When down to actual practice, I’ll take the example of the famous MBSR protocol (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) developed in the 80’s by the American researcher and doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn in order to cure chronic depression and pain. The effects on stress mentioned in the protocol’s name are only a side-effect of the method without actually being its first purpose. The method’s perks are that they combine various kinds of exercises such as body scanning, sitting meditation, walking meditation and loving-kindness meditation. So it’s a very comprehensive and well-defined approach that takes place over eight weeks. During these eight weeks, participants learn how to reinforce the consciousness they have of their body (body scan), accept their mind’s natural ongoing chit-chat (our inner voice), practice yoga, study their reaction to stress, grow their awareness of the present moment… until they identify compassion and kindness within themselves and in others! The main interest of these techniques is that they enhance the relationship an individual entertains with his/her own thoughts and perceptions rather than trying to influence the content, which would often result in an illusion.
If we take a look at the effects, it is interesting to notice that, by paying attention to the present moment, without judging their inner states, participants get to know themselves better and manage to take a step back from their emotions and the inherent stress of modern life. In the same way, training towards a higher awareness of the present moment reinforces the participants’ ability to remain focused and attentive to daily activities.
This exercise is similar to other kinds of cognitive training programs designed to either enhance vigilance (diffuse attention) or boosts focused attention. In the first case it’s all about maintaining an open and responsive mind to sudden changes of environment. In the second situation, the goal is to narrow down the perception and allocating resources to the small portion of information we wish to handle, allowing more thorough processing. In other words, reaching this state of mindfulness is, in many life situations, a comfortable situation that guarantees intellectual efficiency.
As My Mental Energy Pro is dedicated to professional support and guidance, we explore solutions that allow you to reach this state of mindfulness whenever you need it without having to practice every day. This is why I believe it’s important to bring up in this Editorial the four key tricks that, besides the actual exercises, are tips that are paramount to reinforcing mindfulness in a work environment:
- Defining a clear and specific intention. It all begins here. The idea behind being specific about what we’re looking to do is to help our brain navigate between our diffuse attention and focused attention depending on what we’re looking to get done. To sum it up, it’s easier to find something when we know exactly what we’re looking for (diffuse attention). It is also easier to perform a delicate task when we’re not distracted (focused attention)!
- Being aware of our environment and context. It sounds almost obvious, but it’s good to remember that mindfulness is quite simply a chain of micro-decisions that lead us to process or discard such or such piece of information. This level of conscious control of our thoughts and actions is much easier to reach in a calm and peaceful environment.
- Knowing ourselves and the situations that push us too far and out of control. Watch out! It’s not all about being in control permanently, that would both be exhausting and impossible. It is very handy and mentally restful not to have to consciously control yourself when drinking a glass of water or walking up stairs! However, becoming more aware, particularly on an emotional level, of the connections between a specific situation and a state of anger, for instance, is a very good way to begin progressively adjusting “impulsive” reactions!
- Waiting for the right moment. A little like we’ve said already, it’s about avoiding clusters of data in our minds. Even though it’s not specifically useful to be aware of the mechanics behind drinking a glass of water, it can be interesting to drink while being fully aware of it, by focusing on the sensations (taste, temperature of the water…). By doing this, we limit the impact of other information that could bother us or disturb our mind. Temporizing, waiting for that right moment, is an efficient response to the fact that our attention system can’t process everything anyway. We need to postpone some actions and thoughts to a later moment, or perhaps even simply delete them.
So if we want to get back to grips with the world we live in, there are a few tricks to treat ourselves to, including mindfulness. The overall idea is to reinforce our awareness of our own mechanisms. In cognitive science terms, this knowledge about our own knowledge (I know that I know) is called metacognition. It’s the red carpet towards the state of mindfulness that is likely to make our life much easier or even help us save it when we “spontaneously” decide to avoid a risk we are fully aware of!