Mindfulness isn’t just about meditation, says Tracey Moggeridge.
The sceptics among you may consider the practice of mindfulness to be a fad, or perhaps even a waste of time. That’s because many people simply view mindfulness as a relaxation technique – a form of meditation used to relax and unwind. To them, mindfulness whispers, ‘Take a deep breath. Relax. Clear the mind.’
Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Granted, mindfulness can be practised through meditation, but it’s not about clearing your mind, so much as understanding it. You could say that achieving mindfulness gives us ‘present-moment awareness of things as they are’.
We all have thoughts and feelings, and mindfulness is not a method of sweeping those away. Instead, it helps us to understand our thought processes, and ultimately change them for the better.
Different trains of thought
There are two different types of thoughts that run through our minds every day: conscious and unconscious.
The sooner you understand the power of your thoughts, the sooner you can address them and start your journey to self-improvement.
Conscious thoughts take form in our working memory. They’re part of a process that we are consciously engaged in, like finding an empty seat on the train or deciding whether it’s safe to cross the road. Once we’ve made our decision, our working memory is wiped and replaced by the next conscious thought. What will we do next?
Unconscious thoughts are those that happen automatically, and they aren’t available in our working memory. The unconscious part of our mind helps to keep the body going – it controls our breathing and heartbeat – but can also be displayed through emotion.
Let’s say you’re facing a risk, for example. Your unconscious mind will cause you to feel afraid or anxious based on information your brain has acquired during similar encounters in the past. This allows your unconscious thoughts to impact your behaviour.
Like many of our characteristics, both our conscious and unconscious minds are influenced in our formative years by our parents or other role models. Their biases, belief systems, life experiences, education and social circles all have an impact on our thoughts.
This is all because we experience this behaviour at a very young age, and are unlikely to be exposed to alternative views or think critically about what we’re learning. In fact, we are all projected upon from our very first breath.
The impact of bias
Bias is one area in particular where our unconscious thoughts come to the surface. Whether we like it or not, we are all biased in one way or another, and it’s incredibly important to be aware of our unconscious, automatic thoughts. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our thoughts, introducing intentional awareness to our unconscious bias.
It’s important to note that mindfulness isn’t an easy fix. There’s a reason that mindfulness is practised, not simply done; because achieving it isn’t a quick process. And it’s not necessarily comfortable, either. Practising mindfulness often involves acknowledging and confronting a lot of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that we didn’t even know we were capable of originating.
That being said, it’s incredibly worthwhile, helping us to achieve a better understanding of both ourselves and others. So, approach mindfulness with curiosity and adaptability, rather than judgement or worry. The sooner you understand the power of your thoughts, the sooner you can address them and start your journey to self-improvement.
An easy way to understand the process of mindfulness is to think of it as a three-pronged tool, which enables us to become better attuned to the origins of our thoughts:
- First, to thoughts that are consciously available to us.
- Second, to the feelings and emotions that trigger our actions.
- And third, to the unconscious thoughts that take indirect charge of our actions and reactions.
Whilst it may seem unsettling, becoming aware of the subconscious part of your brain will help you to open up in the long term, having a positive impact on your ability to make decisions, recognise ethical challenges and admit biases. This is all because having a heightened awareness of your thoughts will help you to reduce those that are more negative.
Mindfulness can help us to get in the way of our thoughts, disrupting our habitual patterns and reminding us that our thoughts are not necessarily all facts. Why not challenge stereotypes, choose different perspectives, and be more accepting of difference?
Once we become aware of how our subconscious thoughts rule our conscious minds, we can become more open-minded, reducing both the impact our subconscious thoughts have on us as individuals and the impact they have on others around us.
So, to all of the sceptics out there, my advice to you is to give it a go. Mindfulness can help us all improve ourselves, no matter how different we think we are. Your thoughts are powerful, and have a huge impact on your day-to-day actions without you even realising.
We should all have a better awareness of our thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions – myself included – so let’s work together. Let’s start our journey to becoming better people.
About the author
Tracey Moggeridge is a mindfulness practitioner at workplace psychologists, Pearn Kandola