It’s graced the pages of the Wall Street Journal. It’s taught in classes at Google. It’s even shown up in an episode of Parks and Recreation.
But what exactly is mindfulness anyway? And why is it becoming such a big deal?
According to one leading psychiatrist, mindfulness is simply the practice of “focusing our awareness.” At any given moment, we are focusing our awareness on something. The thing is, most of the time we don’t focus on what we’re focusing on. For example, right now you are focusing your awareness on these words on the screen in front of you as you read this blog post. You are probably not focusing on the color of the walls of the room you are currently sitting in. However, by me bringing it up, I brought the walls back into your awareness and now you’re more likely to glance up at them to see what color they are.
The thing is, the walls were in your sight the whole time. They were in your peripheral vision, but you weren’t focusing on them. You could see them, but you weren’t paying attention to them. Mindfulness is the difference between seeing and noticing.
The above example emphasized our sense of sight. But we have a bunch of other senses. Our sense of taste, touch and smell. The internal sense of what is going on inside of us. Just like with our sense of sight, there are a bunch of things going on with all of our other senses that we can either choose to focus on or ignore.
Simply stated, mindfulness is the act of paying attention to what we are paying attention to.
Now, why is it becoming such a big deal? In short, because it works. Researchers have conducted numerous studies using sophisticated brain imaging technology to show that as little as 6 hours of mindfulness can change neural networks in the brain. These changes are associated with things like lower depression, less anxiety and even a reduction in ADHD behaviors in children.
In addition, businesses like Google have found that teaching mindfulness techniques to employees can even improve things like emotional intelligence – something that companies are beginning to realize can help their bottom line.
How can you start introducing some mindfulness into your daily routine? If you have an iPhone, Head Space and Smiling Mind are a couple of good apps to get you started. If you are looking for a more tailored approach, you might try scheduling an appointment with a psychotherapist trained in mindfulness.
Eric McClerren, LAPC
emcclerren @ growcounseling.com