Mindfulness - how will I benefit?
What is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy?
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) offers powerful tools for transformation. Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s program for reducing stress, it combines mindfulness meditation and methods from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to teach new ways of thinking and being. MBCT’s goal is to interrupt old automatic processes — how to focus less on reacting emotionally to challenges and the feelings they evoke and more on accepting and observing these without judgment.
Stress, ADHD, addictions, pain management, and longstanding personal, family, relationship, and career issues may all be eased with an active practice of mindfulness.
Slowing down the mind, suspending judgment, quieting thought, self-compassion, and focusing attention on the present moment — this is mindfulness. In mindfulness we step back to broaden our perspective and from there have greater choice to interpret or take action regarding the area(s) of focus. In mindfulness, we notice when we are reacting to something and simultaneously, in the space between stimulus and response, we make the choice we would prefer to make.
Out of this more expansive choosing, our sense of self can grow, both in our relationships with ourselves and with others. We can reduce stress, and overcome anxiety and depression.
Clinical studies have shown that people who practice mindfulness are kinder to themselves. They are also described by their loved ones as less depressed, detached, controlling, and verbally or physically aggressive. They have become more emotionally connected, accepting, and supportive of others’ autonomy.
“Reacting to our reactions” causes even more grief than the original insult. Choosing not to react to our reactions is a huge internal resource that can ultimately allow us relief from the upsets and traumas of the past.
Stopping the automatic pilot
Mindfulness begins when we acknowledge that we have functioned, for the most part, on automatic pilot. We have reacted in old habitual ways of thinking and responding to people and events in our lives. We find that our ability to fully enjoy our lives has become limited. The first step in breaking those habits is to focus our attention on the present moment, on the here and now. We begin to reduce worry and rumination and become more intentional. With a more finely tuned awareness of what we are experiencing, we find our mind open to a new paradigm, a new way of being in the moment. We find greater curiosity and openness to taking in current experiences cleanly and free of judgments from the past.
Getting out of our heads
The incessant chatter in our heads controls and dictates how we react to the external events of our lives. How we interpret the situation from moment to moment determines our emotional response, but our catalogue of past emotional responses limits our ability to make better choices in the now.
Mindfulness meditation helps us slow down and even stop the chatter. It helps us pay more skillful attention to what we are experiencing, non-judgmentally—right here, right now.
Realizing deeply that thoughts are not necessarily truths
Stuck in our old automatic patterns of thinking and feeling, we relate to certain situations in the same way, time after time. These old negative thoughts prevent us from choosing to respond any differently. In mindfulness, we realize that our thoughts are merely thoughts; we recognize that we can replace the old way of “doing” things with a new way of “being.”
We come to understand that our thoughts, no matter how compelling, may not be facts.
Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Daily Life
Mindfulness and CBT together increase our ability to regulate our emotions, prevent relapse, enhance mood, and decrease anxiety.
With increased awareness in the present moment, we become more able to stop dwelling on the past and thinking about catastrophic possible futures. We stop avoiding new experiences. Instead, we find new perspectives to respond to life’s challenges in a grounded way, with skillful attention.
We learn to foster an attitude of curiosity and kindness and as we step out of the automatic pilot, greater self-compassion, self-kindness, curiosity, acceptance, and openness to experience are more available to us.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Dr. Daniel Siegel gives a good explanation of how adults and children can regulate their own emotions: