Thoughts that keep haunting your head: with mindfulness you consciously step out of that brooding mode. You can learn that with a course, but also just in the woods.
Literally mindfulness means: awareness. It is a training that teaches you to be more in the here and now in an acceptable way. That sounds simple, but it isn’t. Our thoughts tend to make trips into the past and the future. We ruminate situations that have been, and brood on events that are to come.
Ninety percent of our thoughts is old stuff that is recycled
We do not do this once or twice; we keep repeating the same thought patterns to boredom. Weren’t we blunt to that colleague? Why didn’t the neighbor say hello? What we wanted to say, but did not say. Ninety percent of our thoughts is old stuff that is recycled. Mainly they are negative memories, because they get priority by our brain.
Mindfulness provides a spam filter
An important insight from mindfulness is that your thoughts do not always tell the truth. Thoughts often present themselves as the ultimate problem solvers. So we keep desperately chewing on a problem, hoping for a liberating insight that takes away all the tension. But you can’t solve everything by just worrying about it. And all that remembrance rarely makes us feel better. On the contrary: our thoughts are a major player in the development of depression.
Even your inner critic, who constantly comments on everything you do, is often taken for granted. There is no space between our ‘I’ and our thoughts: if I think I am stupid, I am stupid. With mindfulness you break this open. You look at your thoughts from a distance. And then you will notice that they are only thoughts: voices from the past or haphazard associations, but not facts.
Sometimes it takes a while before you master it. But once you have experienced what it feels like, it is an enormous liberation. The realization that you don’t know your thoughts, and that you don’t have to listen to your inner critic who says you’re not good enough, gives so much lightness and relaxation. And paves the way to focus on other things. Mindfulness helps you get a spam filter in your head.
More than a hype
Many people embraced attention training in recent years, as mindfulness is also called. Many mindfulness courses, meditation evenings and follow-up courses on self-compassion are well attended. At the same time there was also a counter-movement. Was mindfulness so beatific, critics wondered. And were the effects not overestimated? Also, some people thought it was just an annoying fashion fad. They had the feeling they suddenly had to do everything mindful: mindful eating, mindful sports, mindful reading, mindful in traffic jams.
Mindfulness is sometimes expressed a little too easily as a magical panacea that solves all your problems. It’s true that people benefit from it, but that’s no reason for a cheerful mood. We must remain critical and not allow ourselves to be blinded by a feeling of hype. The results of scientific research are moderately positive, and indicate that mindfulness is good for body, mind and brain.
For example, a meta-analysis (a critical analysis of studies conducted so far) shows that mindfulness can reduce anxiety, depression and pain in both physical and psychological problems. And that it works just as well as treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants. That mindfulness is just as effective as antidepressants for people who have been depressed a few times is a valuable conclusion. We don’t yet have the golden bullet that puts an end to all depression. But mindfullness can be a good alternative to pills, without the side effects as well.
Sitting still is not a requirement
A mindfulness course can help you adopt a different attitude to life in which you are aware of everything that is happening right now, without judging and without wanting to change it. Quite a few things you do on autopilot (cycling, driving, getting dressed, climbing stairs, brushing your teeth – fill it in) and in the meantime, your thoughts keep wandering off to what’s on your mind at the moment: worries about your loved ones, a vacation that has yet to be booked, what to eat tonight, and so on. That is the nature of your restless mind.
You can break through that thought stream by focusing your attention on the here and now – in this way your experiences become more intense and you let go of that near future (shopping, finding nice vacation homes) a little easier. When you take a mindfulness course, meditation is a part that comes back every day: by focusing your attention on your breathing, for example, you become aware of your busy (brooding) thoughts.
By focusing your attention on your breathing, you become aware of your busy thoughts
If meditation is not for you, there are other forms as well. What you do on the meditation cushion—being completely in the moment—you can also practice at other times. In this way you can try to do everyday things, which you do anyway, with attention. Don’t grab your buzzing smartphone while walking through the park, but decide to be right here: in this experience. Look at the colors around you, sniff the fresh air and listen to the murmur and clatter of the fountain.
Your own voice
It is easy to see why mindfulness is so popular these days. We are slowly drowning in a sea of distractions. All the stimuli that come at us, hijack our attention and nibble away our hours and minutes. There is hardly any time and rest to stand still for a moment. We are sucked into the rat race of modern life: making a career, making money and coming across as good as possible.
Mindfulness brings you back to your body and your core values. Which makes you feel what’s important to you again: more attention for your children or a hobby for example, or more time to talk instead of apping. Sometimes you have to sit alone on the floor in a quiet room. To hear your own voice, instead of being drowned out by other people’s noise.