In the previous blog, we discussed the first three components of mindfulness:
- To be aware
- On purpose
- In the present
However, there is one more component of mindfulness: “Without judging.” Now mindfulness just got a lot harder! How so? Well, what happens to us when we increase our intentional awareness of the present? We start to notice a whole lot of things that we wish we didn’t see! In a sense, learning to become more mindful (more intentionally aware of the present) means letting go of our denial or other defense mechanisms. It means exposing ourselves to all the dirty laundry that we shoved under the bed. It means turning on the lights and seeing that the room is mess. And what happens when we increase our awareness of things we would rather not see? We trigger our judgments!
Judgment versus Acceptance
Judgments are basically the negative messages that go through our minds. Most of these negative messages probably came straight from people who were or are important to us. Over time, when we hear the same negative messages over and over again, they become internalized. In other words, they become our own negative messages, rattling through our heads.
The opposite of judgment is acceptance. A judgment basically screams: “Things should not be this way!” However, acceptance simply acknowledges: “But regardless, this is simply how things are right now.” Now here’s another great irony of life: Contrary to what seems logical, judgments do not actually make anything better. Even if a judgment correctly diagnoses a problem, it only makes the problem worse! Think about it. When did judging yourself or someone else make anything better? However, accepting a problem for what it is will actually put you in a better place to deal with the problem.
Therefore, mindfulness is not just about awareness. It is also about acceptance! The tricky part is increasing both awareness and acceptance at the same time.
Mindfulness = Awareness + Acceptance
So why is mindfulness so important? Why are awareness and acceptance such a big deal?
The answer is simple. Under the best of conditions, life is full of problems! And what happens when we either ignore the problems or fail to accept them? Do they just go away? Do they get better all on their own? No, of course not! Awareness and acceptance are not just random exercises with no purpose. Rather, they are the tools we need to deal with life. Once we become aware of our problems AND accept our problems, we are now in a much better position to deal with them. In other words, once we are fully aware and fully accepting of a problem, now we are finally in a position to decide if, when, and how to take action. But without awareness and acceptance, we continue to fumble through life, just making problems even worse than they were.
So what does applied mindfulness look like? So glad you asked! Based on everything we have learned in this lesson, we can now define applied mindfulness in three simple steps:
Now, the beauty of this formula is that awareness and acceptance are already action. In fact, just implementing awareness and acceptance is already more action than most people take in their daily lives! Therefore, sometimes awareness and acceptance is the only action you need to apply to a situation. Sometimes situations really do get better just by becoming more aware of and more accepting of them. However, some times increased awareness and increase acceptance allow you to understand that further action is required. But either way, you are now in better position to make better decisions moving forward.
When people hear the word mindfulness, sometimes they think of meditation or great mystical experiences. However, the concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple and ordinary. In this blog, I would like to demystify the concept of mindfulness. I want to make sure you understand that mindfulness is a concept that is readily accessible to everyone. While mindfulness does require patience and practice (just like anything good in life), it does not require decades of discipleship under a famous guru.
In the previous blog, we defined mindfulness with the following four components:
- To be aware
- On purpose
- In the present
- Without judging
Let’s take a look at each of those definitions in a little more detail. “To be aware” of something simply means to notice something, to observe something, or pay attention to something.
“On purpose” simply means to do something intentionally or deliberately, as opposed to randomly or accidentally. We all notice things when it’s too late or when we have no other choice. However, many times we fail to notice something when we do have a choice. And that’s precisely why minor issues continue to built up over time—and we never even bother to notice them, until they become out of control.
“In the present” means learning to focus on what’s going on in the here and how. That does not mean that the past or future are not important. They are! However, here is one of the great ironies of life: You cannot effectively heal from the past by obsessing about the past, nor can you effectively plan for the future by worrying about the future. Rather, by learning to become more grounded in the present, we are actually in a much better place to then heal from the past as well as plan for the future. If we are not paying attention to what’s going on in the in here and now, we simply fumble from one crisis to the next, constantly reacting to skeletons from the past or phantoms of the future, without having a firm grasp on the reality that is right before our eyes. Perhaps you have heard the old adage:
Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift: And that’s why it’s called the present!”
So to summarize so far, the first three components of mindfulness are all about awareness, and more specifically, intentional awareness of the moment: Learning to deliberately notice, observe, and pay attention to events in the here and now. That’s where mindfulness starts.
Please refer to Dr. Dan Siegel’s website for more information on mindfulness.
Perhaps you have heard the term “mindful.” “Mindfulness” seems to be the latest buzzword in treatment circles, not to mention society in general. But actually, the concept of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years. What does the term mindfulness mean? And what does it mean to be mindful?
Not surprisingly, there are many definitions out there. But here is my favorite definition of mindfulness: “To be aware, intentionally, in the present, with judging.” You might have noticed this definition has four distinct parts. We will discuss each of these parts in more detail later.
1. To be aware
2. On purpose
3. In the present
4. Without judging
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness. To be mindless means to be unaware. Here are four examples of mindlessness: reactivity, dissociation, automaticity, and multi-tasking. Reactivity means to respond with our instincts or emotions, without thinking first. Trauma survivors tend to be very reactive to anything that reminds them (even subconsciously) of a previous trauma. Dissociation literally means to disconnect from your own experiences; in other words, to “space out” for long periods of time. Dissociation is much more severe than just daydreaming. Trauma survivors tend to be quite good a dissociating as well, since disconnecting or “spacing out” is precisely what helped you survive much of your trauma when it was occurring. Automaticity means to do something automatically, without having to think about it. If you know how to ride a bike without thinking about every single muscle movement required to stay balanced and moving forward, then you know what this concept well. Finally, multi-tasking refers to performing two or more tasks at the same time, such as changing a diaper while answering the phone.
Now notice that there is nothing wrong with mindlessness in and of itself. In fact, we would never have survived as a species if part of our brain did not know how to react without thinking, space out, learn to do something automatically, or perform multiple tasks at once. For example, what if your house was on fire, and no part of brain knew how to react impulsively? What if you had to relearn how to ride a bike, every single time you tried to ride one? Or what if you could only do thing at a time? As you can see, we wouldn’t do so well, would we? Indeed, it is a great gift that our brain can do so many things without even thinking about it.
Mindfulness versus Mindlessness
Therefore, mindlessness is a gift (even though you won’t hear too many therapists tell you that). However, mindlessness alone is also a rotten way to go through life. What if you were always reactive—to everything? What if you were always spacing out, even during your most cherished moments? What if you could only do things you already knew how to do automatically—and therefore, you could not learn new behaviors? As you can see, we still wouldn’t be doing so well, would we? That’s why mindfulness is also a gift. We need both!
DBT is all about the dialectics: The process of finding balance by bringing together opposites. Therefore, one of the first opposites we need to balance is mindlessness versus mindfulness. While mindlessness is a gift to the brain, so is mindfulness. The only problem is that mindfulness is a gift that we have to learn! Unlike mindlessness, mindfulness does come to us naturally.