Fundamentals of Thinking: Mindfulness
Mindfulness Allows for Improved Mood
Pay Special Attention to How You Think
Mindfulness can save us, if we let it. The mind has a habit of thinking what it wants to think. As we all know, our minds love to wander to all kinds of unhealthy thoughts. At any given time we may think about people who hurt us, sources of guilt, sources of frustration, things that anger us, people who made us sad, ideas of revenge, feelings of self-pity, the list goes on and on. When we indulge in these thoughts we reinforce the negative ideas that pull us down and make them realities. What we think is what becomes our reality.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to thoughts in the moment. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH recommends meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is non-judgmental acceptance of an unwanted thought or feeling and allowing it to pass through us without taking hold. Practicing mindfulness is like having a lifeboat on the sea of emotion; some water may get in but you won’t sink or drown. Likewise, some emotion may strike you but you will be able to let it pass and remain rational. By observing the initial emotion in a given situation, we accept it mindfully, allow it to pass through us, and cease to have it bother us. On an emotional level we try to not react. By practicing mindfulness every day it becomes possible to keep out negative emotions that contribute to depression. So how do we practice mindfulness on a daily basis to fight depressive thinking?
Paying attention to thoughts
To practice mindfulness every day requires effort and a conscious decision to be aware. Most people grow up thinking whatever they want to think. Mindfulness changes this, and asks us to make the decision to be aware of our own thoughts. How do we do this? Every time we think of an upsetting thought we should tell ourselves that we are right now thinking of something upsetting. “That insulting person makes me upset, and I am thinking of that insulting person.” We don’t have to think of that insulting person. All it does is lead us to anger. By bringing awareness to the act of thinking of that person, we can more easily decide not to think about him or her. The next time your mind thinks about that insulting person, you can stop thinking about it sooner than before.
InsultSomeone insulted you
HurtYou feel a level of hurt from the insult
Angry OutburstGetting hurt drives you to yell at the person
Let’s apply mindfulness to this example. We use mindfulness by accepting our hurt feeling and letting that emotion pass through us, making room for understanding. By taking our focus off the hurt, and onto acceptance, we avoid the next step of angry outburst and instead find understanding and calm.
InsultSomeone insulted you
HurtYou feel a level of hurt from the insult
Mindful AcceptanceAccept that you got hurt and let the unwanted feeling pass through
UnderstandingBy letting the hurt feeling pass, you can analyze why you were insulted and why you felt hurt and react in a controlled manner
With mindfulness, we become keenly aware of our emotional triggers. By purposefully directing our awareness away from unwanted thoughts, by letting those thoughts pass through us, we create more acceptance and understanding in our hearts and minds. This leads to a calm content existence.
Examples of Mindfulness
The Crazy Driver – Road Rage
Situation: You are driving on the road frustrated by the increased traffic
Bad Event: Another drivers cuts in front of you
Automatic Emotions: Insult leading to Anger
Reaction: You honk at the driver and roll down the window and yell at the other car
Applying Mindfulness: When the car cuts you off, you accept that you are insulted by someone invading your space. If you let your insult lead to anger, then you are the harmed one. But you have a choice – get angry, or get rational. You take a couple deep breaths and let the insult pass before it becomes anger, at the same time realizing that the driver may have gotten too close to your car for a number of reasons: 1. the other driver did not see you and never meant to cut you off, 2. the other driver miscalculated the speed and distance between your cars, 3. you were driving too fast in the first place (be honest), 4. the other driver has an urgent matter and is in a hurry, or 5. the other driver has a bad attitude and cut you off intentionally to get you angry. In each case, the other driver does not deserve to ruin your day and turn you into an angry driver which puts you at risk of an accident. In this example, Mindfulness gives you freedom, the choice to back your car away and continue driving safely while enjoying a mind that is calm and in control.
The Binge Eater – Comfort Eating
Situation: You are up late at night alone at home
Bad Event: You go on the computer and see pictures of other couples on social media
Automatic Emotion: Loneliness leading to Sadness
Reaction: You start eating large amounts of food until your stomach feels pain and you vomit
Applying Mindfulness: When you see pictures of couples online, you accept that you have no significant other in your life. You also accept that you miss having companionship, which is a natural desire. You realize you feel lonely and allow yourself a fixed amount of time before taking action. Instead of thinking too much about the feeling of being alone, after 5 minutes you begin to think about ways to solve being alone. You start to write down ways to meet other people, and after 10 minutes you have a pretty decent list. Mindfulness allows you to recognize a potentially harmful and damaging emotion before it take full force, and change your thoughts to solving a problem. You accept early loneliness, but turn it into action that prevents you from slipping into sadness which stops the automatic trigger to binge eat.
The Rejected Salesman – Business Depression
Situation: You are sitting in your office at work on the phone with a potential customer
Bad Event: The customer on the phone informs you that his company will not buy your product
Automatic Emotions: Frustration and Anger leading to Anxiety
Reaction: You start to feel warm, your palms sweat, and your blood pressure increases
Applying Mindfulness: When you attempt to make a sale you are putting yourself on the line, opening yourself up to possible rejection. You have faced rejection many times from previous sales attempts. Applying mindfulness to a case of rejection means that you accept feeling frustrated – allow yourself to feel disappointed. As you feel disappointment, you begin to use your rational thinking as you recall that only 1 out of 3 customers on average will take interest in your sales pitch, and of those only 1 out of 3 will actually buy. Since you made a sale two customers ago, you realize that the odds are not yet in your favor and you must make more sales calls. You get on the phone and call three more customers, making another sale with the third. Mindfulness allowed you to contain frustration without it turning into anger or anxiety. You kept your calm spirit which allowed you to sound confident on the phone and make another sale.