The term “mindfulness” has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness and is defined as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement. Several disciplines and practices can cultivate mindfulness, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, but most of the literature has focused on mindfulness that is developed through mindfulness meditation.
It is believed that regular practise of mindful meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, or, “thinking about our thinking”. Research on mindfulness has identified the following benefits:
- Reduced rumination: Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions (Chambers et al., 2008).
- Stress reduction. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. Mindfulness based meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety. Research has found that mindfulness meditation shifts people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).
- Boosts to working memory (Jha et al., 2010; Mrazek, M. D., et al., 2013).
- Focus. Another study examined how mindfulness meditation affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators with a control group that had no meditation experience. They found that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).
- Less emotional reactivity. Research also supports the notion that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. In a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice, researchers found that mindfulness meditation practice helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but did not meditate (Ortner et al., 2007).
- Greater cognitive flexibility. Another line of research suggests that in addition to helping people become less reactive, mindfulness meditation may also give them greater cognitive flexibility. One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways that were created by prior learning and enables present-moment input to be integrated in a new way (Siegel, 2007). Meditation also activates the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2010).
- Relationship satisfaction. Several studies have found that a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008) and predicts relationship satisfaction (Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
A simple way to get started and to practise building mindfulness into your everyday life is by downloading the free application Smiling Mind (https://smilingmind.com.au). The app is simple to use and will help you get started on your journey to building greater moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts and feelings in a positive and helpful way.
Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of marital and family therapy, 33(4), 482-500.
Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological bulletin, 132(2), 180.
Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive therapy and research, 32(3), 303-322.
Davidson, R. J. (2010). Empirical explorations of mindfulness: conceptual and methodological conundrums.
Dekeyser, M., Raes, F., Leijssen, M., Leysen, S., & Dewulf, D. (2008). Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1235-1245.
Farb, N. A., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion, 10(1), 25.
Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54.
Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and cognition, 18(1), 176-186.
Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological science, 24(5), 776-781.
Ortner, C. N., Kilner, S. J., & Zelazo, P. D. (2007). Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task. Motivation and emotion, 31(4), 271-283.
Siegel, D. J. (2007). Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 2(4), 259-263.
Wachs, K., & Cordova, J. V. (2007). Mindful relating: Exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships. Journal of Marital and Family therapy, 33(4), 464-481.
Williams, J. M. G. (2010). Mindfulness and psychological process. Emotion, 10(1), 1.