Mindfulness is both a practice and a state of mind. When you practice mindfulness meditation, you sharpen your focus and train your brain to be more mindful long after you’re finished meditating. When you’re in a mindful state of mind, you’re fully aware of what is going on around you.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully in the present moment. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as ‘Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment without judgment. Awareness of the present moment is not easy, particularly in a world full of distractions. Mindfulness trains the mind to be less distracted when we communicate with others, when we make decisions and when we attend meetings. The greatest benefit is that it reduces stress because it trains the mind to move away from stress based thinking.
Dr. Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychology professor, defines mindfulness as including these important attributes:
- Continual creation of new categories: Instead of relying rigidly on old categories and labels, Mindfulness is paying attention to the situation and context and seeing new distinctions.
- Welcoming new information and seeing more than one point of view: Like category making, Mindfulness also implies continually receiving new information and being open to new cues (social and otherwise). You and your partner, for example, might seem to be set in your ways and fight about the same old things, but being open to the other person’s point of view would change that dynamic.
- Putting process over outcome: Focusing on each step rather than getting anxious about results. Instead of worrying about acing a test, for example, concentrate on truly learning the subject.
In short, mindfulness is about tuning in and being more aware of every experience.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice trains you to become more focused, more creative, happier, healthier, more relaxed, and in control. It can also assist you to fully appreciate life more. Here are some of the most recent studies related to mindfulness:
- Improves memory and academic performance (PsyBlog). In this study, students who did attention-building exercises had increased focus (or less mind-wandering), better short-term memory, and better performance on exams like the GRE. Mindfulness:
- Leads to better decision-making. Experiments found that participants were less prone to the sunk-cost bias, or the tendency to stick with lost causes—such as a bad relationship (BPS Research).
- Lowers stress and helps with chronic health issues. An analysis of 20 empirical reports found that Mindfulness increases both mental and physical well-being in patients with chronic pain, cancer and heart disease (Elsevier).
- Improves immunity and creates positive changes in the brain. Researchers measured brain activity before and after volunteers were trained in mindfulness meditation for eight-weeks (Psychosomatic Medicine).
- Leads to better focus, more creativity, less anxiety and depression, and greater compassion.