Understanding Mindfulness

Understanding Mindfulness

Written By Ivette Moutzouris

What is Mindfulness? It is a term that many Psychologists and other health professionals use and it is important to have a basic understanding of it.

Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment…”as described by Wikipedia.

Mindfulness is not pretending that we don’t have problems or ignoring the problems we may have as some might think. It is essentially accepting the moment and taking time out to slow down and quieten ourselves so that we can enjoy, take in, reflect with non- judgement, learn and grow and of course this also means accept. It is basically the opposite of being frantic and worrying and allowing our minds to take over with all the possible negatives that might eventuate or dwelling on what has been.

Mindfulness is therefore not only an exercise that helps to slow down and take in, it is also a way of life and a change of attitude that can help us to move forward and grow as individuals instead of remaining stuck. It reminds me of a movie I watch recently called “Eat, pray and love” which depicts an unsettled woman’s journey to find peace after a relationship breakdown. She journey’s through three different countries where she meets interesting people and learns new valuable lessons in life. Her first stop is in Italy where she interacts with the locals and spends a lot of time eating and enjoying life in a way that she has previously taken for granted. A scene in a barber shop is particularly interesting where the locals are trying to teach her and her American friend that they have lost the ability to find pleasure in life even though they come from a culture full of entertainment. This idea reminds me of mindfulness which basically is the act of choosing to make your mind full of what is around you, paying particular attention instead of ignoring it. When taken to a deeper level it involves learning and accepting what has been and what is and kindly learning to nurture yourself.

At a basic level you can learn Mindfulness awareness very easily by choosing on any one of your five senses to focus on. This is a very simple exercise that can be done anywhere and has health benefits as well as teaches us to focus and slow down, notice and enjoy. This is very important considering that we come from a society that demands our attention and feeds us a lot of visual stimuli at a very fast pace, usually in the form of internet, television, consumerism, phone and other communication or entertainment devices. Constantly engaging in this type of stimulation has shown to have a negative effect on our ability to focus and pay attention in other areas. John Arden states that we have all the necessary ingredients for an attention-deficit society.

So when beginning to practice a mindful exercise choose a sense, for example, your sense of seeing or hearing might be a good place to start. Sit where you are and focus on what you can see or hear, noticing details and changes. If intrusive thoughts enter your mind it is important not to get agitated or stressed about these just put that thought aside for the moment and continue with your noticing exercise. Continue this until you feel more relaxed and at peace. I often get people to tell me what they have experienced and most people say that they noticed things that were previously taken for granted, for instance, the sun setting, or children playing or the sounds of birds singing and that they felt more content and relaxed. This simple exercise gives you a mental break from life’s many demands and helps you to not take simple pleasures for granted. It also helps you to have a break from allowing intense emotions to escalate. This doesn’t solve life’s big problems but it is the beginning of a healthier life where we are active in giving ourselves some time out to rest, enjoy, take in and reflect. Once you have slowed down enough to reflect you may find you can think more clearly and evaluate the situation from another perspective.

As you finish reading this article I encourage you to take some time out to practice Mindfulness and make it a regular part of your life. There are also books and courses that can give you more information and teach you other exercises that you may find valuable. Psychologists and Counsellors who teach and promote these methods can also help you to use Mindfulness within the context of therapy and can help you explore emotions and thoughts.

 

Resources

M. Williams, J. Teasdale, Z. Segal and J. Kabat-Zinn (2007). “The Mindful Way through Depression – Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness”.

Russ Harris (2012). “The Reality Slap – Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts”.

John Arden (2010). “Rewire Your Brain – Think Your Way to a Better Life”.

A creativity crisis???

Written by Julie Crabtree and Shannon Gostelow

Last year a quiet little paper was published in a psychology research journal which traced the IQ (intelligence quotient) and the creative thinking ability of American children aged 5-17 years since 1990. The researcher found that whilst IQ had increased as expected, alarmingly, creative thinking had decreased (Kim, 2011).

What’s the problem with that you might ask? Colloquially, higher IQ is correlated with greater success in life whilst creative thinking leads to…well…being creative – good for a nice hobby on the side, but not to be valued in serious educational and academic circles….right?

The researcher in the outlined study suggested that the decline in creative thinking followed the introduction of NAPLAN style standardised testing in the USA that valued learnt, memory based literacy and numeracy outcomes over the more fluid process of creative thinking which involves the ability to laterally explore beyond learnt and simple solutions.

This creative or divergent thinking is the ability to think with fluency – to think very fast making unique associations; originality – to have original ideas; elaboration – to explore the original ideas and flexibility to develop the original ideas further.

The thing is…society needs people who are skilled in logical/ linear (convergent) thinking but it also needs people skilled in creative thinking. If our education system and society is only valuing one type of thinking over the other – then it will reduce our ability to solve the complex, rapid problems facing our individual lives and society. Memory based literacy and numeracy are valuable and important for education and employment prospects, but it is creative thinking that futurists indicate may be critical for our changing postmodern world; because creative thinkers are our best lateral “problem solvers”.

In a major study into creative thinkers it was found they are able to define problems differently and uniquely as well as quickly retrieve information from a vast memory bank of previous impressions, memories and experiences in order to creatively solve problems (Ma, 2009). As the world becomes ever more digitally, technologically and socially complex it does seem that creative thinkers will be the ones to make headway and forge new ground

So the questions to reflect on are:

As educators should we equally value creative (divergent) thinking alongside logical                (convergent) thinking?

“As organisations, businesses and governments who do you want to help you solve your complex problems?”

“As cultures and societies who do we want to lead us in our highly complex world?”

“As parents, what skills do we want to equip our children with for the next generation?”

We are all capable of thinking creatively, with some people being “hard wired” to have greater creative potential, and as the demand for creativity increases we should turn our heads to the supply…

Tips for our kids…

One thing that can be done is to allow them plenty of reflective abstraction- which are fancy words for free, uninterrupted time for play. Free play. This allows for problem finding (note- not problem solving but finding) which in turn generates ideas (now we get to problem solving) which kick-starts creative thinking habits and behaviours.

As adults responding to the ‘creativity crisis’….

…well to stir up our creative thinking – lets embrace curiosity and imagination– avoid going for the quick fix, the simple solution… rather sit with and listen to the more complex and…yes, maybe even messier responses to problems…it does seem that there is nothing to lose and only the chance for gain.

So go play…:)

KIM, K. H. 2011. The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23, 285-295.

MA, H.-H. 2009. The effect size of variables associated With creativity: a meta-analysis. Creativity Research Journal, 21, 30-42.

Accidents

Being involved in any kind of accident can be a deeply disturbing experience. Whether it is a motor vehicle accident, an accident at work, at home or while playing sport, the impact can potentially be extreme.

We mostly have the sense that the world is a safe place, especially living as we do in a safe country. When an accident occurs the sense of safety can be shattered and replaced with a sense of vulnerability and a feeling of being at ongoing risk.

We often focus on the physical injury associated with accidents however the psychological impact is also important. This can range from some mild anxiety through to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, depending on the circumstances of the accident and other individual factors.

People can experience a sense being on edge and not being able to cope with normal activities.There can also be anxiety associated with the context of the accident such as being in a car or back at work. More extreme responses include depression, nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks and ongoing disturbing emotions.

Long periods of physical recovery and constant pain and immobility from severe injuries can add to the distress. Losing connections with friends and colleagues as well as the loss of a daily routine of work and social activity can also have an impact.

Another difficulty associated with accidents can be that people can appear to be OK but may have ongoing pain and continuing psychological distress which others, especially friends and family can’t see and don’t understand. People can also experience guilt, anger, self blame, self esteem issues and much time spent trying to understand why life has treated them unfairly.

Sometimes when people have experienced accidents they can face a long period of recovery and often a lot of time alone. This can lead to very pessimistic thinking, depression and sometimes problems with alcohol or other addictive processes. A long recovery can often create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. As weeks turn into months there can also be a sense that the experience will never end and that life will never return to normal.

The effect of an accident and all that follows can be experienced as mildly distressing through to severely traumatising. It is important to focus not just on the physical recovery but also the psychological impact of the accident and to recognise that that it is not uncommon for unusual and extreme reactions to be experienced.

Having supportive and understanding friends and family along with some professional psychological support can make a big difference to the process of recovery.

Mitchell Brown

Psychologist

Alpha Psychology & The Resilience Centre