In my last two columns I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility.
- Valued Living
- Observing Self
In this post I want to focus on Mindfulness and how to help you become more mindful.
Mindfulness is best described as moment-by-moment awareness. There are four dimensions of mindful moments. They are (1) present centered, (2) non-conceptual (3) non-judgmental, and (4) non-verbal.
Mindful moments always focus on the present, never the past or the future. Most thoughts are one step removed from the present moment because they focus on the past or future. Mindful moments always exist in the present space and time, a context often referred to as the “here and now.” Mindfulness revolves around being fully involved in the here and now.
Mindful moments are non-conceptual because they are not thinking moments where you try to problem solve or figure something out. Instead, when you are being mindful you merely notice and accept what is going in the present moment.
Mindful moments are non-judgmental because when you are being truly mindful you do not judge what you are experiencing and compare it to some artificial standard. You simply notice it and accept it.
Mindful moments are silent moments. The only “talking” that goes on is self-talk, also known as sub-vocal speech. Essentially self-talk is what you tell yourself about the present moment. When you verbalize or write down your self-talk you add an additional layer of interpretation and mental activity that actually distances yourself from the present moment.
Mindfulness is developed through informal and formal training activities.
Informal mindfulness training teaches you how to devote your full attention to every activity you engage in. Informal mindfulness training helps you become more aware of your (1) internal environment (your thoughts, feelings, self-talk, mental images), and your (2) external environment (your behavior and immediate physical surroundings).
Becoming more aware of your internal environment is the first step in accepting and coexisting with your troubling thoughts and painful emotions as you work towards accomplishing tasks and meeting your coaching goals. Being more mindful of your thoughts, feelings, self-talk, and mental images is different from judging or evaluating them.
When you are truly mindful of your thoughts, feelings, self-talk, and, mental images you notice them without judgment. This enables you to step back and observe what your mind is telling you and whether or not this is helpful. When you can do this effectively you begin to notice that a lot of your thoughts and feelings are not very helpful in meeting your goals and living a life based on your values.
Mindful eating is often used as a form of informal mindfulness training. It focuses on your a part of the external environment, your eating behavior and the context in which it occurs. Mindful eating is often taught to clients with eating disorders to help them become more mindful of their eating behavior and their eating cues.
When you eat mindfully you sit quietly at a table, slowly pick up small pieces of food with your utensils, gradually lift the food off your plate and bring it to your mouth, and take slow bites chewing thoroughly. When you practice eating this way you experience eating like never before. You begin to pay attention to the presentation of your food before eating it—the color, shape, placement, aromas, etc. You begin to marvel at things like; (1) how your fingers, hands, and arms work in consort with your brain to pick up your food up and bring it into your mouth, (2) the process of chewing and swallowing, and (3), the experience of tasting something anew.
Here is a simple mindful eating activity you can perform anywhere:
Informal Mindfulness Activity: Mindful Trail Mix Eating
Purpose: The primary purpose of this activity is to help you stop, observe, and be aware of one concrete activity that you engage in daily; eating.
1. Purchase a package of trail mix from your local grocery or outdoor store.
2. Pour a small amount of the trail mix into your hand.
3. Put the trail mix in your mouth and eat it as you normally would.
4. Now pour another small amount of the trail mix into your hand.
5. Close your eyes and notice what the mixture feels like in your hand. Feel the texture, weight, temperature of the mix.
6. Open your eyes and pick one of the items in the mix (a raisin, seed etc.).
7. Notice the size, shape, and color of the item.
8. Close your eyes, slowly bring the item to your nose, and then smell it. Notice any aromas emanating from the item.
9. Open your eyes and notice what the item feels like. Rub it in between your fingers and the palm of your hand. Feel the texture and shape as you manipulate it with your fingers and hand.
10. Close your eyes, slowly bring the item to your ear, and listen to it. Notice any sounds it makes as you roll it between your thumb and forefinger.
11. With your eyes still closed put the item in your mouth. Let it rest on your tongue for a while. After a few moments chew the item slowly. Chew it at least 10 times before swallowing it.
12. Perform steps 6-11 with each of the individual items in the trail mix.
13. Compare the experience of eating the entire mix as a whole in one gulp to eating each item individually.
What did you learn about the experience as a whole?
What did you learn about one of the items in the mix?
You can perform mindful eating with any food item. It works particularly well with items, such as oranges, that have to be peeled before eaten. Peeling the item adds another thing about it to be mindful of.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness you might find my new Everyday Mindfulness Home Study Course helpful. It is chock full of easy-to-learn internal and external mindfulness exercises. The course revolves around 13 video and audio training sessions. Check it out at: www.drrichblonna.com/courses/courses-for-everyone/everyday-mindfulness/
In my next column I’ll discuss formal mindfulness training. Formal mindfulness training involves the regular practice of mindfulness meditation. Your meditation sessions are added to your continuing informal mindfulness training activities.
In the meantime remember to Stress Less and Live More.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.