Some people seem to operate almost effortlessly from a quiet, calm place. They have a mindful approach to life that comes naturally to them. Those around such a person see and feel that presence. And some of us just have to work a bit more to cultivate and fully express those qualities. That’s ok. That’s what personal development is about.
Mindfulness, in its most general sense, involves strengthening one’s capacity to pay attention, and to work wisely with thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. The practice of mindfulness is one of being present with whatever is going on in our lives, using tools that help focus the mind so that we can see how our thoughts shape our reactions. It is often defined as “non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.” Mindfulness is a way of operating in which we leave behind our habitual filters and engage with greater clarity in everything we encounter. And when we are no longer on autopilot, the door is open to new ways of being, creativity and understanding, which inevitably leads us to a greater connection with ourselves and others.
Mindfulness as a Personal Development Practice
Mindfulness meditation initially derived from two very divergent lineages; science, medicine and psychology, on the one hand, and Buddhist meditative traditions and practices on the other. The practice of mindful meditation began to take hold in western mainstream back in 1979 with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His research showed that mindfulness practice significantly reduced the impact of stress and had a positive effect on a wide range of medical conditions such as pain, anxiety, and brain and immune function.
Subsequent research by others, including Sara Lazar, a Harvard neuroscientist, has shown that meditation can actually rewire how the brain responds to stress. The areas of the brain positively effected by such practices are those involved in attention, focus, memory, empathy and emotional regulation. The amygdala, the fight-or-flight part of the brain (which is connected to our experiences of anxiety, fear and stress) actually gets smaller over time with mindfulness-based stress reduction practices. This change in the amygdala can help reduce our overall stress levels – and it can start happening within just eight weeks of daily practice.
What Mindfulness Can Mean to Your Life
From the very beginning of our evolution, our hardwiring for survival has been dependent upon hair-trigger fight-or-flight responses. In modern times, these hyperactive reflexes are repeatedly and unnecessarily triggered, becoming a detriment to our mental and physical health. When triggered, we turn minor squabbles into the emotional equivalents of kill-or-be-killed showdowns. In such situations, the amygdala can override the rest of our mind’s ability to think logically. The result is we end up reacting instead of skillfully responding.
Mindfulness practice as a part of daily life can help us address the stress and pressures that our work lives and everyday stressors can have on our minds and bodies. It helps us move toward a fuller, nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. As a result, we can experience a wide range of benefits, such as:
- Decreased stress and stress-related illness, which means improved quality of life
- Increased focus and awareness, which means more productivity and creativity
- Increased compassion for self and others, which means improved relationships
- Shifts in perception, which means better decision making and a more positive outlook
- Increased emotional intelligence, which means better effectiveness and happiness
- Improved ability to act effectively under high degrees of stress
Now read about how to fit mindfulness practice into your life.