Mindfulness is a weapon in our fight against stress, but what is “mindfulness”? “Mindfulness” is when you observe your thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental fashion (Jon Kabat-Zinn). I think of it simply as calming my mind.
You don’t have to associate “mindfulness” with meditation. The fact is, you can practice mindfulness (and it does take practice!) without meditating. (I’ve got nothing against meditation, but in the heat of battle, I find that traditional meditation is pretty impractical!)
So why is mindfulness so important? Mindfulness reduces ruminative thinking which causes stress. “Rumination” is the act of going over and over in your mind the same thing – what people refer to as “chewing the cud”. I call it worrying! When I can’t sleep it’s because I’m worrying (ruminating) about something.
Stress is a product of the way we perceive a threat and our perceived ability to deal with the threat (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). When we ruminate, we’re stuck worrying about the threat. We tend to work ourselves into a tizzy. It sucks.
By observing our thoughts in a nonjudgmental fashion (by being mindful), two really good things happen –
- Our perception of the threat becomes more balanced – we tend to over react and assume the worst. The key is to take our thoughts for what they’re worth. Stress is a reaction to a thought, and just because we think something doesn’t make it so! Once our mind is opened to explore different, more positive explanations of challenging situations, stress subsides.
- Our mind frees up and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel – the thoughts we have are less negative. Positive thoughts about assets and opportunities begin to flow. Plans for dealing with the challenge come easier.
So take a step back. Take a deep breath. Focus on the moment. Quite your mind. Don’t judge your thoughts…just observe them. Another deep breath.