ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, my name is Marisa Garau. I used to be a very successful but utterly stressed business woman, until I burned out. Now I'm an internationally published author of books on mindfulness and I teach mindfulness to high-achievers and perfectionists like me :-)
What is mindfulness and how can it benefit your wellbeing?
Mindfulness has given me a new life and I love to show others that mindfulness will work for them too – if only they know how to incorporate it into their everyday lives.
In this article I have brought together all the basic insights to understand mindfulness and to answer the question 'what is mindfulness', so that you can decide for yourself if this could benefit your wellbeing. I already know the answer :-)
Is this you?
But let’s first determine if it’s worth your time reading this 6-minute 'what is mindfulness' article by going through a few simple questions.
See if you recognise yourself...
Do you feel pressured on a daily basis?
Do you feel as if obligations and deadlines are controlling you, rather than the other way round?
Do you hear yourself say ‘yes’ to tasks only to please others, even if it means you’ll be even more busy and you hate yourself for saying yes while you meant no?
Do you find it hard to focus on your tasks?
Do you feel you are being consumed by your social media feeds?
Do you find yourself impatient and yelling at your partner, your children, and your pets more than you’d wish for?
Do you often feel discontent at the end of the day?
Do you find it hard to relax and reset?
Do you sometimes ask yourself if life hasn’t anything better in store than struggling to get through endlessly busy days?
If you can answer only three of these question positively, I can safely say that you experience stress regularly and I advise you to continue reading. After all, you have nothing to lose than your stress, right? :-)
What is mindfulness
Mindfulness is a clinically proven method to reduce stress and enjoy life to the fullest by controlling our thoughts. With mindfulness you learn to see that your stress, anxiety or lack of fulfilment is caused not by a certain situation in your life, but by your own thoughts about that situation.
The origin of mindfulness
Mindfulness is a 2000-year old philosophy based on Buddhism – which is not a religion but merely a set of handy guidelines to live a stress-free life.
The clinically proven benefits of mindfulness
✓ reducing stress, anxiety and low self-esteem
✓ coping better with physical challenges such as chronic pain
✓ coping better with emotional challenges such as anxiety, low self-confidence, anger
✓ feeling more patient and compassionate with yourself and others
What is mindfulness today? Mindfulness as we know it today was developed by an American hospital doctor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who wanted to elevate the pain and stress his terminally ill patients suffered from. He discovered that their physical pain was intensified by stressful thoughts, such as I'm in so much pain, I can't handle it and I'm dying, what about my loved ones? Jon taught his patients to first observe their fearful thoughts, then consciously decide not to be overwhelmed by them. In other words: he taught them to control their thoughts. Mindfulness helped them to decrease their pain and suffering, and so their quality of life improved dramatically.
Not your circumstances, but your thoughts cause stress and anxiety
Reality is what it is. But when we judge it to be bad, then we feel bad about it. And when we judge it to be good, we feel good about it.
Most people are excited to move into a new home, right? Still, some of us get really upset when they’re moving. The same goes for having a baby. Most people love it, but some of us fall into postnatal depression. How can it be that the same circumstance can cause such opposite responses?
It's our thoughts. My thoughts find moving exciting, while your thoughts might look upon it as a full-blown drama.
And so you see that circumstances in the outside world are neither good or bad. They just are. Only our thoughts judge neutral circumstances to be either good or bad.
So is it bad that we have positive and negative thoughts about things that happen to us? Not at all, but the thing is that thoughts create feelings and emotions.
If you think about your partner whom you love to bits, you feel warm inside. But if you think about that all-important presentation you'll have to give to the board of directors next week, you'll probably tremble inside (feeling), and you might even start crying (emotion) because you feel utterly stressed about it.
Thoughts have a massive impact on our feelings. Feelings such as stress, anxiety, envy or anger are all caused by our own thoughts.
If we learn to control our thoughts and not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by their judgemental content, our stress levels will drop instantly and we’ll feel a lot happier and content.
You might now think: yeah, sure, it's that simple, is it? I can only say: yes it is. All the scientific brain research that has been conducted in the past 30 years has proven that this is how it works within us.
Create a healthy relationship with your own thoughts
Mindfulness helps you to understand how your thoughts judge the reality around you. Simply seeing what kind of thoughts your brain produces (good and bad thoughts), gives you a healthy distance to your own thinking process. This distance creates clarity, and your judgemental thoughts will no longer have the power to overwhelm you or stress you out.
Without mindfulness your thoughts go like this:
Oh no, it rains! Right today when I have this important meeting! I’ll get there soaked! Now my whole day is ruined!
With mindfulness your thoughts go like this:
It rains, so be it. I won’t judge it, rain is not good or bad. I accept it the way it is. I’ll bring my umbrella or call a cab so I will be dry when I get there. Since I won’t worry about it, my day will be fine.
Why mindfulness is good for you
Imagine if you would train yourself to not get sucked into stressful, judgemental thoughts and impulsive reactions… but instead simply observe your thoughts (good and bad) and then consciously decide how to respond. You would no longer suffer from irrational, anxious 'what-if' thoughts and you would feel calm and clear-minded under all circumstances.
In the following example you’ll see the difference between reacting versus responding when in a stressful situation.
Example 1: Getting overwhelmed by thoughts and impulsive reactions
The dress you desperately wanted is sold out. Your thoughts go like this: Oh no, this is a disaster! I so needed that dress for Mike’s party! Now I have nothing to wear! Why did I wait to buy it? I’m such a loser! I hate myself! I hate that party! I hate Mike!
Observing thoughts and responding consciously
The dress you desperately wanted is sold out. Your thoughts go like this: This is a disaster! – no, wait, this is just a judgemental thought in my mind. It’s not a disaster, it’s just reality. I have the power to turn this into a disaster or not. Do I really need drama and upset myself? I don’t think so. I really liked that dress, but I’m sure I’ll find something else to wear to Mike’s party. Let’s go shopping, baby!
If you’re laughing now because of this example, try to keep laughing about this real-life example:
Example 2: Getting overwhelmed by thoughts and impulsive reactions
Your son is slouching on the couch watching TV while he has homework to do. Your thoughts go like this: Shouldn’t he be doing his homework? Why is he always such a lazy lad? What good is he anyway? I’m way too soft on him. I won’t take it anymore! He needs to know who’s boss! Gosh, I’m so angry now! I’ll give him a good beating, that’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget, watch me!
Observing thoughts and responding consciously
Your son is slouching on the couch watching TV while he has homework to do. Your thoughts go like this: Shouldn’t he be doing his homework? Why is he always such a lazy lad? What good is he anyway? No, wait, stop – this is just a judgemental thought in my mind. No need to get all upset and make both myself and him miserable. He’s a good boy, just going through one of many phases. This too will pass. I’ll see if I can talk some sense in him.
You see what a difference mindfulness can make in your life and the people around you?
If you now think: Wait, I really don’t have such judgemental thoughts!, I can assure you: you do, you’re just not aware of it. We all have these thoughts, it’s only human. And our lives (and that of our loved ones) will be a lot easier and safer when we are aware of judgemental, anxious or envious thoughts so that we don’t have to be dominated by them.
With mindfulness you can get back into the driver’s seat, having power over your thoughts, feelings and actions right when you notice that negative, judgemental thoughts threaten to take you over.
You will be able to stop judging, punishing and hurting yourself and others, simply because you won’t allow yourself to mindlessly react to overwhelming thoughts filled with senseless anger, fear or envy.
You can reduce your stress when you learn how to keep that quarrelsome voice in your head under control. And that's not as hard as it sounds.
Now imagine if you'd know how to control stressful thoughts...
You won’t feel stressed and rushed anymore
You won’t be yelling at your partner, your children, and your pets for no reason at all
You'll feel inner peace and contentment
You’ll be clear-minded and have perfect focus
You'll understand what’s important in your life and what’s not
You'll enjoy balanced, warm relationships
What is mindfulness the hard way?
The standard mindfulness training developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasises the need for meditation in order to observe the thought process. And so the training consists of 5 different meditations: body scan, sitting meditation, walking meditation and two series of moving meditations (yoga). Very formal and so very time consuming.
What is mindfulness my easy way?
My approach doesn’t dictate that you waste time on meditation — you can practise mindfulness in everything you do. I teach you to be mindful while going through each of your tasks during the day. Stress, anxiety and negativity can’t build up since you’ll lower your stress levels multiple times a day, in an easy, natural way.
Meditation doesn’t work...
In the more than 10 years that I have been practising mindfulness there is not a single person who kept meditating after following the standard training. Mindfulness trainers report that 90% of their clients throw out the 60-minute meditations as soon as the training is completed. After which – surprise, surprise – they quickly fall back in inefficient, negative thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
... because it will just add another tedious task to your busy day
The reason for ditching the mindfulness meditations is that it’s too hard to plan these in. You need a full hour to do one of the meditations, and most people just don’t have a full hour a day to spend on their wellbeing. They are simply too busy and restless. They have a busy job, a busy household with children and pets, and they have countless social obligations with sport mates, neighbours, family and friends. At the end of the day they’re happy to drop on the couch and watch TV to wind down. Meditation for them is simple another tedious task to be completed in an already fully filled day.
Apart from that: meditation does not even guarantee inner calm – whoooops!
I have discovered that feeling calm is not a guaranteed result if you would meditate. On the contrary, I have watched many mindfulness practitioners (trainers as well as students) completely stressing out when something unexpected happened. So far for the benefit of meditation – ouch! I have meditated for many years, in groups and on my own, but luckily I discovered that you don’t need to meditate to enjoy mindfulness in your life.
My method is easy
While most participants of the regular mindfulness training fall off the band wagon when it comes to meditating, my clients only become more and more motivated and focused as they can practise mindfulness without having to do anything special. They just go through their everyday routines and develop the habit of being mindful throughout the day, feeling more and more relaxed and content.
Why it works for me and my clients
You don’t have to schedule mindfulness as if it’s another tedious task to complete in an already full day
You can practise on a regular basis since you practise multiple times a day
You can practise while spending time with your loved ones instead of locking yourself away to meditate
You will quickly develop the habit of being mindful because of the regular practising
You keep stress levels down throughout the day, not just during that one hour of meditation
You will obtain long lasting results since being mindful, calm and balanced will become a natural part of your life
With this article I have given you a quick but complete insight in mindfulness and its benefits to our emotional health. I hope it has answered your 'what is mindfulness' question sufficiently, so that you now know all the ins and outs of this extraordinary philosophy.
If you feel stressed or discontent regularly, and you see that this impacts you and your loved ones negatively, why not try my easy, woo-woo-free, down-to-earth mindfulness method?
I hope you're ready to take the plunge – I promise it will be a very gentle plunge :-) and change your life for the better, simply because you deserve to live a happy, fulfilling life.