Mindfulness is More Than Meditation

When I used to think about mindfulness, I would groan internally, imagining someone sitting under a tree for hours with their eyes closed. This transformed into a deeper dislike for “mindfulness” when my parents forced me to try it. At thirteen, sitting still for an hour seemed impossible. 

Lately, I’ve been delving into Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an approach developed by Marsha M. Linehan that focuses on the idea that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. For example, “I’m working hard on being mindful” and “I need to try harder to be mindful” can be true at the same time. I’d heard that mindfulness helps concentration and mood, but there was no way I could make myself meditate for more than three days in a row. I told my therapist right away that meditation brings a sour taste in my mouth. She laughed, rolled her eyes, and let me know that she hears that all the time and that mindfulness is way more than meditation.  

Mindfulness shouldn’t be reduced to meditation. Instead, mindfulness is about being in the present moment without judging or getting attached to it. Being mindful seems like a difficult task, but people should be more knowledgeable about mindfulness and incorporate it into their daily life.

The goals of mindfulness are to manage suffering, notice happy moments, increase your focus, and be present without being attached to the moment. Mindfulness can help you in moments of distress by allowing you to ground yourself to the moment. When you’re feeling anxious, you can notice your five senses and remind yourself where you are, what you are doing and how you feel. When you are feeling sad, mindfulness can help you recognize moments of happiness. You might not be able to get out of bed today, but you might notice a beautiful butterfly fluttering outside your window, and that could bring a moment of joy. Mindfulness can help you increase your focus on responsibilities because it forces you to be in the present moment without multitasking. The last, and probably the hardest, goal of mindfulness is understanding that moments are fleeting. As humans, we often tend to attach to moments, especially negative ones. By realizing moments are passing, we can take a step back and recognize that the feelings and thoughts we are having at this moment are not forever and they will change. 

DBT uses three approaches to mindfulness. The first encourages a “wise thinking” state, and the second and third describe how to think and act in mindful ways. I will explore wise thinking practices and how they can be applied in everyday life. People can use wise thinking by considering both the facts and their feelings about the facts. Wise thinking is an effective technique that helps us to be mindful by it engaging the brain and forcing it to be in the present.  It can be practiced regularly and easily whenever we have a moment. Wise thinking is a good way to sharpen mindfulness skills.

According to Marsha M. Linehan, there are three stages of thinking. People might use one specific way of thinking or a combination of both. The three ways of thinking are emotional thinking, logical thinking, and wise thinking. Emotional thinking tends to be based on feelings, and logical thinking tends to be based on facts. Using a combination of these ways of thinking could help with decision making, because making decisions is hard. I used to use a “pro-cons” list, but I quickly realized that a pro-cons list can get out of hand and overwhelming when there are so many options. Also, it stopped me from being able to engage in the present moment because I was constantly worrying about the decision I had to make and the impact it could have on me. I now make a wise thinking T-chart. One one side is the “emotional thinking” and the other side is “logical thinking.” After writing the T-chart, I consider both aspects and then make a “wise” decision. 

We can integrate emotional and logical thinking and then use wise thinking to be mindful of our decisions and circumstances. Wise thinking incorporates both emotional and logical thinking to make a decision based on feelings and facts, since both are valid and important. A person who thinks wisely finds balance while making decisions and understands the physical and emotional consequences of their decisions. 

Now, you might be thinking that there isn’t always time to make a T-chart and write down all decisions, because some decisions have to be made very quickly. Once you practice making the T-charts and developing a wise thinking solution, it will become easier. Another thing I do is tell my significant other and friends about wise thinking so they can remind me to use it when I am stressed about making a decision. There is power in asking for help.

 If making decisions is stressful, try this method and think through your options. You might find yourself being surprised about how wise your decision making can get to be with practice. There are a lot of benefits to being mindful like improved concentration and elevated mood. You don’t have to meditate to practice mindfulness. All you have to do is take ten minutes to make a T-chart about any upcoming decisions and practice being in a wise thinking state of mind. Practice might not make perfect, but it does make wise.

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