What is Mindfulness?

When I think of mindfulness, I think of being aware of myself and everything around me. But I like what Jon Kabat-Zinn has to say about mindfulness:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Kabat-Zinn is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Does It Really Mean Anything?

Think about the time when you’re having dinner in front of your TV. How much of the flavors in the food do you sense then? Now try and recollect the times when you’ve had dinner at the dining table, without any distractions, and while actually being aware of the food that you were eating. You tend to be consciously aware of the process of eating, and you’re deliberately noticing the flavors and taste and your responses to those sensations.

This process of shaping your mind to notice and be aware of whatever you’re doing, be it as simple as eating or something as important as breathing, is what helps you make the most out of that particular activity. This is what is called to be mindful.

This informative extract from Dr. Danny Penman’s book titled ‘Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World’ gives us a brief insight into what it really means to be mindful.

“Mindfulness has become such a buzzword in the fields of health and wellbeing that it’s easy to forget it has many other benefits too. For example, recent research shows that it also helps with decision-making by clarifying the mind and enhancing creativity. According to Dr. Natalia Karelaia, Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences at the INSEAD Business School in Paris, mindfulness is being incorporated into ‘every area of business where strong decisions are required’.

Mindfulness enhances creativity largely by encouraging divergent thinking. But the benefits run much deeper. According to Dr. Karelaia, mindfulness not only helps decision makers reach conclusions, it also impacts the way decisions are identified, made, implemented and assessed.

There are four main stages to making an effective decision and mindfulness helps with all of them:

Framing The Decision: Sometimes, the best course of action is to not make a decision at all, but instead simply to observe while events take their course. Mindfulness gives you the insight, courage, and patience to follow this course of action (when it’s the most appropriate one). If a decision is required, then mindfulness can help you clarify your objectives, generate options, and avoid irrationally aggravating a previously flawed decision. Mindfulness is extremely effective for avoiding the so-called ‘sunk-cost bias’. This is the irrational tendency to continue with a course of action simply because you have already made an investment of time, effort, or money. A classic example is the refusal to sell a failing company’s shares simply because you hope the price will recover. In other words, it’s when you throw good money after bad. Mindfulness can also help you make more strategic decisions too—those that are more in keeping with your long-term goals and underlying ethics.

Gathering Ideas and Information: Mindfulness can help you avoid information overload by enhancing working memory and cognition. It can also help you to focus your efforts on gathering the most relevant information available; that which is more likely to be in accordance with a correctly framed decision and your long-term aims. It helps you to avoid habitual search patterns too. This will increase the likelihood of discovering new or unexpected ideas. In addition, mindfulness can help put information in context by enhancing your overall perspective. According to Dr. Karelaia: ‘Mindful decision makers are also more likely to recognize the limits of their knowledge and to objectively assess uncertainty. In fact, research has found that people who are more mindful have a greater tolerance of uncertainty and are more decisive when faced with making a choice despite many unknowns.’

Coming to A Conclusion: Mindfulness reduces ‘cognitive rigidity’—the tendency to make decisions using habitual thought patterns. Such cognitive rigidity can seriously impair decision making and force you to ‘think inside the box’. Mindfulness also helps you to make more rational—and less emotionally biased—decisions. It does this by helping you to sense your emotional landscape and to gauge when it is beginning to bias your decisions. Mindful people also tend to be more intuitive. Intuition arises from unconscious thought processes and can be very effective in helping you to deal with complexity and ambiguity. It often lies behind creative ‘Aha!’ moments. But equally importantly, mindfulness enhances the courage and resilience necessary to implement decisions.

Learning from Experience: The final stage of decision making is arguably the most important—learning from experience. Accepting mistakes can be particularly difficult. Mindfulness can make this process a little easier because it reduces defensiveness and promotes courage and resilience.

In addition, says Dr. Karelaia: ‘Heightened awareness ensures that mindful individuals may be more likely to learn the right lessons from experience. It’s a well-known phenomenon in psychology that we often attribute our past success to our own skill and our past failures to some external circumstance. This can lead to overconfidence, which can be quite disastrous in organizational or entrepreneurial situations. More mindful individuals are more likely to disengage from their ego, making them more open to negative feedback. So mindfulness helps decision makers learn in an unbiased way.’