Mindfulness has become a real buzz word in all personal development literature.
Some would say it’s completely overused, as if to say once you know about ‘being present’ that resolves everything and you are perfectly happy!!
Well, being present is perfect, but … I give all of my clients a sheet that says, “Every moment is a fresh beginning.”
Some say: “What are the benefits and surely we need to consider the past and future to be able to control our lives somewhat?”
However, if we were able to be 100% present and focused on what is happening in our lives RIGHT NOW, it really would solve so many problems. We would not be dragged down by our memories of ‘mistakes’ (or others pointing them out), that keep telling us “You are not good enough”, and which continue to detract from our present tasks and performance in life.
Nor would we concern ourselves with the future, which is virtually impossible to predict.
Mindfulness and Flow
Dust explains mindfulness as “present moment attention and awareness”, commonly proposed as a productive state of consciousness.
Unfortunately, being mindful at every moment of the workday is fairly uncommon. Research suggests that people engage in mind wandering – that is, a lack of attention to and awareness of the present (Smallwood & Schooler, 2006) – for the majority of their day (in every task except making love; Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
Mindfulness practice is all about being present – using all of our physical senses to be fully present with what is occurring for us at that moment.
There is another state of consciousness called “flow”, which is an intense sense of concentration and control over activities (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2009).
Interestingly, whereas mindfulness facilitates higher performance by being aware of external stimuli, flow enables higher performance by doing the opposite—blocking out external stimuli. These findings suggest that mindfulness is neither the most common psychological state, nor the only productive psychological state for the workplace.
When Mindfulness and Flow Combine
The authors assert that when the flow of life and experience seamlessly unfolds from moment to moment, one enters a subjective state with the following characteristics:
- Intense and focused concentration on what one is doing in the present moment;
- Merging of action and awareness;
- Loss of reflective self-consciousness (ie loss of awareness of oneself as a social actor);
- A sense that one can control one’s actions; that is, a sense that one can in principle deal with the situation because one knows how to respond to whatever happens next;
- Distortion of temporal experience (typically, a sense that time has passed faster than normal);
- Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, such that often the end goal is just an excuse for the process.
Criticism of mindfulness practices stems primarily from the clinical literature, where mindfulness-based meditation interventions have been applied with increasing frequency. Chiesa and others have pointed out problems, such as the diversity of mindfulness conceptualisations and definitions, which have produced interventions that vary in the way that mindfulness is normally practiced.
They noted that few mindfulness studies use random assignment or adequate controls. Some have criticised the use of small and demographically homogenous samples, mainly white, educated, middle-class women in their empirical research (Hickey, 2010).
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
In the largest experimental study of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to date, which was applied to individuals with recurrent depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was not found to be generally more effective than cognitive therapy without the mindfulness component or treatment as usual (Williams et al., 2014).
However, it did help vulnerable individuals with a history of child trauma (Williams et al., 2014). As an explanation for this finding, Williams et al. suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy might facilitate adaptive forms of emotional processing (eg recognising emotions, avoiding rumination).
A good place to start is to explain what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is, by using what’s called the Triflex model. This is an ACT model discussed by Russ Harris as having six components:
- being in the present moment (analogy of a lioness in Africa after an antelope, focused on the task, not on the fact that she missed another one 2 weeks ago);
- perceiving from the observer self (analogy of the sun observing all the clouds over the surface of the Earth – distant yet watchful);
- accepting what is (including the circumstances we find ourselves in due to past decisions, our thoughts, emotions, and our knowledge and understanding);
- defusion from unhelpful thoughts (letting them go on the clouds, or on a leaf, or in a balloon, and by using a “Thoughts on a Sheet” technique);
- clarifying values (which of those on a list, and adding more of one’s own – are very important, quite important, or not so important);
- taking committed action (to meet those values, using goal setting and action plans).
If one wishes to find out more about this, further information and free resources are available at Dr Harris’s website: https://www.actmindfully.com.au/free_resources.
Ruiz (2010) conducted a review regarding ACT and found the evidence was very supportive of the ACT model. It showed:
- experiential avoidance is found to be related with a wide range of psychological disorders;
- component studies are showing that acceptance-based protocols are usually more efficacious than other control-based protocols;
- and outcome studies show the efficacy of ACT in a wide range of psychological problems, and suggest that working through its processes of change is positive.
In summary, although not as widely used as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), mindfulness and particularly Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is becoming more accepted as a strong psychological model, with significant effectiveness is empowering people to make changes in their lives and deal with negative experiences, becoming more psychologically flexible and resilient.
Author: Dr Peter Noordink, BA, Grad Dip App Sc, PhD, MAPS.
Dr Peter Noordink is a Brisbane Psychologist with over 25 years’ experience in areas such as pain management, aged care, suicide prevention, improving self-worth, teenage issues, and helping middle aged men and women deal with the problems of midlife. He uses a very gentle approach to explore issues which are currently impacting on one’s general and psychological wellbeing.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Dr Peter Noordink, you can try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Brown & Ryan, 2003.
- Castille, C., Sawyer, K. Thoroughgood, C, & Buckner, J.V. (2015). Some Key Research Questions for Mindfulness Interventions. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8 (4), pp 603–723.
- Chiesa, A., & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67 (4), 404–424.
- Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 15 (5), 593–600.
- Dust, S.B. (2016). Mindfulness, Flow, and Mind Wandering: The Role of Trait-Based Mindfulness in State-Task Alignment (paper requested of author).
- Hickey, W.S. (2010). Meditation as medicine: A critique. Cross Currents, 60 (2), 168–184.
- Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). The concept of flow. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Ed.). Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press, USA. 89-105.
- Ruiz, F.J. (2010). A Review of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Empirical Evidence: Correlational, Experimental Psychopathology, Component and Outcome Studies. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 10 (1), 125-162.
- Williams, J. M. G., Crane, C., Barnhofer, T., Brennan, K., Duggan, D. S., Fennell, M. J. V., Russell, D. (2014). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for preventing relapse in recurrent depression: A randomized dismantling trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82 (2), 275–286.