By Kevin Tobin
One of the big trends in cognitive psychology at the moment is ‘mindfulness based cognitive therapy’. This is based on the practice of mindfulness meditation as practiced by Buddhists over thousands of years. It can seem that this is or would be a really soft side of what might be in your toolkit for the management of stress.
However this is far from the truth. Mindfulness is said to be ‘paying attention in a particular way’. As soon as you begin to meditate you notice that your attention will quickly wander away from what you are focusing on – usually your breath. Your mind will present you with worries, concerns, deadlines, reminders etc. Our attention is often ruminating on past negative events or worries/rehearsal of future ones.
We like to believe we can direct our attention to what we want to focus on but for most of us our mind seems to have a mind of its own! How often have you travelled in your car to a destination and then realised that you can remember very little of the journey? Your mind has been on other things about the past and the future.
Through the practice of mindfulness based meditations you learn not to stop your mind wandering but to notice more quickly that it has gone off on a tangent. Many people give up when starting saying ‘oh I can’t do this’ because their mind is constantly busy with thoughts, but the real trick is to learn to simply guide your attention back to the meditation on breath. You guide it back without berating yourself and without self-criticism. You practice ‘noticing’ that it has wandered and gently guiding it back.
With practice you begin to bring your mindful state into everyday life. Everything can be done mindfully and the benefits are based on the fact that you are more fully in the present moment. In this way it helps with stress management as you develop the ability to notice your thoughts and your feelings and then decide on your response to them and how you choose to act/behave.
Your work will benefit because mindfulness helps you to learn to more effectively place your attention on the task in the present moment. Your mind will be distracted but you become more aware of it losing focus and you choose then to bring it back on task. We exist more in the moment not in the past or future. Past and future do not exist. The present moment is all that is real. We can learn from the past and prepare for future events but we do not have to spend time energy and emotion going over and over them.
If you want to find out more one of the best books is ‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Williams and Penman.