Considered the most important and core skill of dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness is the ability to recognize thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions--in the present moment--without judging or criticizing your experience. Imagine a tiger gnawing at your bones, and you simply thinking This sucks, this is painful, I could die, I don't wish to die, I would like to live. If I die, I would like to at least go to heaven. This is an extreme situation but that was just a mindful approach to a distressing situation, rather than thinking, I hate this, fuck this cat, I can't take this pain, I am going to pass out, I will die, I might go to hell. You get the point :)
The powerful skill of mindfulness is commonly used as a meditation that has been taught for thousands of years in many of the world’s religions, Buddhism being the most publicly linked. A lot of research has been done around the subject and studies have shown the skill to be effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, chronic pain, decrease binge eating and reduce the odds of having depressive episodes even if you were clinically diagnosed. People even consider mindfulness powerful enough to change a person's undesired personality traits and transform people.
Why is Mindfulness Important?
Mindfulness also plays a major role in treating emotion dysregulation disorders. It means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This is why it is important to practice mindfulness meditation daily if you have an ER disorder. The importance and benefits include:
Improved focus on one thing at a time
Improved experiencing and participating in life
Increases tolerance of uncomfortable emotions and situations
Non-judgmental awareness in the present moment
Decreases sense of being controlled by one's emotions
Helps distinguish between feelings and thoughts
Teaches us "nothing lasts forever"
Reduces reactivity and impulsivity
Increases awareness of self and others
The Benefits of Mindfulness
A further look into the benefits of mindfulness will show you that they are vast and all-encompassing. Meditation has proven to shrink the grey matter of the brain associated with stress and grow the portion associated with wellbeing and compassion. Combined with mindfulness, you have a set of skills beneficial to every facet of being alive. Being mindful can decrease the intensity of distressing emotions and experiences, while simultaneously empowering us to be fully engaged in the pleasant moments. It can transform someone scattered and out of control into someone who makes wise decisions. The more mindful people are the more they are better able to take control of their lives. Mindfulness helps you develop what DBT calls Wise Mind, the goal of the therapy. Wise Mind is a state where you focus on one thing at a time, are able to separate judgemental thoughts from your experiences, make healthy decisions, and can soothe overwhelming emotions.
As mentioned mindfulness meditation can change your brain physically. It lowers levels of cortisol. But because it also increases your compassion for others it has a lot of social benefits too. It has been proven to help people become more social and giving. Laugh more. This circles right back to your health, both physical and social. And the amazing part is you only need to take 5 minutes out of your day to do it. 5 minutes alone can start you on your journey of feeling and living healthier. Everyone has at least 5 minutes! Other health benefits: lower high blood pressure, lessen chronic pain, reduce anxiety, fight depression, fight ADHD, psoriasis discomfort, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
Improve you Socially
Mindfulness can impact your social life positively. Lack of it can mean the opposite. Take for instance you are talking to someone. If you are not mindful you might be judging yourself, your experience, or someone else in the present moment--the person before you or maybe the person behind them watching. This means that you aren’t really focused on what the person is saying. If you are judging yourself saying you are stupid you might not make sense in the conversation. It might be forced or tense, as you try to compensate for the feeling of inferiority.
Living in the Past and Future
Many people also spend a lot of time worrying about past mistakes and the possible mistakes they could make in the future, which can interfere with their present experiences so negatively that things they fear become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This goes for people who fear abandonment or being rejected socially. They overcompensate because they are living in the future or past instead of just being themselves in the present. Overcompensating can make people see you as people-pleasing, needy, or desperate, and lead to them pushing you away. It is important to know that in order to be fully aware of yourself and experiences in the present moment, it’s necessary that you do so without criticizing yourself, your situation, or other people.
Radical Acceptance is the Core
Radical acceptance is a big part of mindfulness. Radical acceptance, as mentioned before in an earlier post, teaches us how to approach things with a beginner's mind, even ourselves and our current situations. It is to face our lives, people, and situations without judging them to be good, bad, positive, or negative.
You might ask, but isn’t it good when we see things as wonderful, exciting, and pleasing? The answer is that there might be a tendency to depend on these emotions or be inclined to feel intense emotions once we start. To give something, someone, or a situation a lot of good weight means we are giving it a lot of control. This trickles into everything, like feeling puffed up and proud when we receive good feedback instead of acknowledging it as simply a pleasing statement.
The Ego: Mindfulness’s Ultimate Foe
Now that we’ve discussed radical acceptance as the beginner’s mind, this leads to the topic of ego. With ego comes a lot of pride and unmindfulness, where we have a strong judgment of ourselves in the world. The ego is a sense of ourselves and our story within the greater world, but too much leads to becoming rigid.
It can lead to many thinking traps that fit the rigid way we see ourselves. Thinking traps projects on to people and situations and are equivalent to mental blinders. For example, someone working from an ego who thinks they are the most beautiful and perfect person in the room may have a mind-reading thinking trap where they assume people to believe they are stunning. Someone who thinks this, say from a female perspective, might think all women are jealous and men are lustful or intimated. They might, therefore, treat people insensitively and when they are challenged blame it on the other person being intimidated or hateful with envy.
Humility: The Secret Ingredient in Mindfulness
The opposite of ego which we just discussed is humility. With humility you naturally become more mindful, operating more from a space of logic where you are moving intuitively through the world. This doesn’t mean that you won’t make assumptions but you won’t give them power. You won’t zero in on them and allow them to make all your decisions. You will give people the benefit of the doubt and if you are let down you may come to conclusions but you won’t leave them as the final verdict. In fact, in a mindful life, there would be no firm conclusions and you would be perfectly fine with that, living in the grey areas instead of hanging on to black-and-white extremes. In simpler terms, mindfulness means no grudges and no labels, whereas unmindfulness means grudges and labels, and lots of them.
The truth is we can all be a little bit of this label and that. And though it feels easier to discard a challenging person as a racist, a jealous person, as a transphobic, unless we have hard evidence straight from the source itself, it’s best to keep it all up in the air. People and situations change. No one is perfect. And by remembering that we won’t give power to the idea that something is good or bad. We can use this when dealing with ourselves and any perceived flaws. Things are. Any following label we seek to attach at the end of that sentence is only a learned judgment. Remember, things simply are.
The following are fictional scenarios that, for the purpose of this exercise, you can pretend to be happening. As you go over each consider the unmindful vs mindful thinking that you might respond with. Remember mindfulness is noticing the sensations, thoughts, and feelings you have in the present moment without criticizing or judging them. It includes nothing about the past and future.
A person up ahead crosses to the other side of the road instead of walking past you.
A woman smiles at you while you are out shopping.
A man smiles at you while you are out shopping.
Someone bumps into you without acknowledging the incident and continues walking away.
A friend doesn't text you back immediately.
A crush doesn't text you back immediately.
You've sent a text at 9 a.m. to your partner and now it's 9 p.m. and you still haven't heard from them.
You're at a restaurant and the waitress greets everyone with a smile. By the time she addresses you she's not smiling.
Your friend tells you that you are the smartest person they've ever met.
A stranger stares at you while you are out at an event.
Someone openly says judgemental stuff about you that you don't agree with.