top of page

What's up with Mindfulness - Fad or Fact?

Our world is full of fads. From diets to electronic toys to entertainment to fashion (skinny pants for men?), we are continuously exposed to trends that come and go. Psychological health and personal development are no different. Take a walk down the Self Help section in any bookstore, or browse online, and you will see an array of books espousing the benefits of their approach to bettering your life. It is hard to know which ones are fads or facts.

One of the biggest psychological trends in recent times is Mindfulness. I don’t know what the word conjures up for you, but in my practice, clients typically chuckle and think of someone who sits cross-legged, eyes closed, fingers pinched, arms outstretched, chanting in a monotone voice, “oooohhhmmmmmmm”!

To my on-the-go businesswoman client, finding time to meditate and do the above is simply not practical. There is just no way she can get away into a quiet room for 30 minutes in a day that is already packed full of meetings. And when she is being honest with me, she just does not believe it works or has value. If she is balancing her children’s lives and her own work schedule, her once-per-week yoga class is the best she can do.

From my clients, who are teachers, consultants, artists, students, attorneys, senior leaders, stay-at-home parents, a common refrain I hear is that people just do not have time for meditative practices and they also question its value. It makes sense: given our busy schedules, it is hard to make time for something that seems to be more of a ‘nice to have’ than something ‘mission critical’ to our lives. Not only that, if we see meditation as a fad, then we think it is fake and will eventually go away.

Notice that for most of us, when we think mindfulness, we think of something related to meditation (the stereotypical pose where we sit cross-legged, maybe light a candle, and chant something). Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, itself, is something much more broad and essential to our well-being.

For most of us Mindfulness = Meditation.

What if I were to switch our association?

What if Mindfulness = Calmness.

And what if Calmness = Increased Ability to Critically Think

Mindfulness is not a fad but a fact. Mindfulness is a necessary life skill that adds an important positive benefit to your life by helping you to critically think.

So what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is the state of being aware of yourself and your surroundings.

Why is that so important? Think about just how much on autopilot we live our lives. Think of our TV shows and what we watch to “veg out”. Think of your workout routine. Think about your bedtime routine when you are settling down. Our morning routines are typically the same. Think of how you shower – most people start from the top then go down. Some start from the bottom then go up. If you want to get a sense of just how automatic your life is, try changing how you shower! See how it feels (hint: it is going to feel strange). When you switch up the order in which you clean yourself in the shower, you are actually paying much more attention to the process. Overall, when you change things up, you are forced to being more mindful (being aware of yourself and your surroundings) because you do not know what is going to happen next.

As much as we like to believe that we are always critically thinking, the reality is much of lives are on autopilot. We stress about the same things and struggle with the same challenges (how many times have you complained to your spouse about needing to change your lifestyle for more ‘family time’). We also tend to solve and address our stress and challenges the same way. And this is where many of our problems and frustrations lie: We attempt to solve our stresses and struggles with the same approach every time. Our problem solving is on autopilot and engaged in the same routine strategy.

Let’s say you would like your child to be more responsible in picking up after herself. You ask her to pick up her toys before bedtime. She says no or she ignores you. So you get her attention and ask her, again, and even offer to help. She says she doesn’t want to. Now you may begin to feel frustrated so you sternly ask her to pick up her toys and provide the rationale that it’s bedtime. She says no, again, and this time also states loudly that she doesn’t want to go to bed. If you’re patient, maybe this conversation stays gentle but most parents would likely raise their voice with their frustration and impatience showing. Now your child has dug in, your frustration level is high, and you find yourself likely saying and acting like you have in the past in similar situations with yelling and all sorts of theatrics. Sound familiar?

This is where mindfulness, the state of being aware of yourself and surroundings, comes into play. A little brain lesson:

A part of your brain’s job is to help you be as efficient as possible in your daily activities. In fact, this is a matter of survival. Remember when you first learned how to drive? You were likely paying significant attention and being very intentional with how you turned the steering wheel and stepped on the gas pedal. This was a new experience so your brain was focused and very aware of your movements, your thinking, and your surroundings. However, now, you are a seasoned driver. After repeated practice, your brain is now an expert at it. You do not pay nearly as much attention to driving as you did when you first learned. The act of driving has moved from something new and requiring critical thinking to the realm of instinct that does not require much thinking at all.

We would not be able to survive if, today, we had to pay the same amount of attention to driving as we did when we first learned. And this is similar to all the other tasks that were, at one time, new and time-consuming. When we first learned how to write, we used a lot of thinking to get our letters correct. Now, we write quickly without any intentional thought to the formation of letters. When we received our first smartphones, it took time and intentional effort to figure out how the swipes worked – we had to think about it. Now, we swipe effortlessly. Brain efficiency helps us to engage in more complex activities by moving more basic and foundational activities out of critical thinking into our autopilot instincts.

So in our example with your child picking up after herself, you have likely engaged in a similar contentious pattern of interacting with her. If this is a daily interaction, through repetition, not only are you being efficient at frustration with your child, your child is also learning to be efficient at being resistant and frustrated with you – both of you have frustration as an autopilot instinct. Yikes!

This is where mindfulness plays a crucial role in our well-being. Remember: Mindfulness helps us: 1) slow down and 2) think about ourselves and our surroundings in order to 3) decide on the best course of action. Seems simple, right? Except that it is so hard to do in moments where we are stressed, angry, and frustrated.

If you can stop, and be aware of yourself and surroundings, this will also help those around you to also stop and increase their awareness.

In the situation with your daughter who is resisting picking up after herself, when you are mindful in this situation and become aware of yourself, you may realize:

  • I’m feeling impatient --> When I’m impatient, I tend to yell --> When I yell, she begins to cry

  • I’m feeling impatience --> When I’m impatient, I get a nasty look on my face --> My daughter is scared of me when I look this way

  • I’m feeling impatient --> I have a work deadline tomorrow and I need all the time tonight to work on it --> My daughter’s resistance is getting in the way of my deadline --> I’m going to yell at her to let her know I'm serious so I can get back to work --> That's not fair to her

These realizations do not solve the situation but what they do is provide you more data and context to help you determine what could be helpful. When we are not mindful, we simply repeat our natural reactions. If we are yellers, we just yell louder and stronger. If we are procrastinators, we just dither and wait longer with more justification. When we do not exercise mindfulness, we repeat our autopilot instinctual patterns but with more gusto. We essentially use the proverbial hammer to whack that square peg even harder into the round hole.

When we are mindful, we are thinking and being aware so that we are more adaptive to our environment. We can choose a different way of addressing a problem.

With our daughter, we may change our strategy to help her clean up (she gets to choose a new bedtime story if she picks up her thing – or – we get her ready for bed earlier if we know there is a long work night ahead of us).

Mindfulness = calmness = thinking = more options

Non-mindfulness = frustration = old instincts = singular, unhealthy option

We may not be able to find 30 minutes to engage in meditation every day. But we don’t need to. When we adopt a mindful perspective, we simply are acknowledging that the world tends to move very fast and we want to be intentional about personally slowing down to allow ourselves to critically think. This provides the opportunity for better decision-making and life outcomes.

If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, take just a couple minutes to focus on three strategies for mindfulness:

1. Breathe: That’s right! Have you noticed that when you’re upset, you are not taking full breaths? Taking a few deep breaths slows your heart rate, relaxes your muscles, and clears your mind.

2. Facts: We often get upset when we take a situation and add our own twist on it. We may embellish the story, over/under exaggerate, or assume the worst, which only works us up even more. Facts, while potentially sobering, sticks to what we know without us making unfair inferences.

3. Goal: How often have we attempted to solve a problem only to be derailed by side arguments? We fall into side arguments because we’ve lost sight of our goal. If you can stick to your ultimate goal, you are less likely to fall into the trap of side arguments.

Remember that mindfulness does not solve your problems. What it does is quickly puts you in the best mindset in order for you to access all of your mental faculties to solve your problems. Fact.

Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Facebook Basic Square
bottom of page