Mindfulness basically means awareness. To be mindful means to be aware and pay attention to your life as it unfolds. It means to pay attention to the things, you normally wouldn’t pay attention to. All of us, at one time or another, have negative thoughts and emotions that creep into our mind, bother or bog us down. These thoughts are self-defeating and maladaptive.
When we live in a mindful way, we no longer react to those negative thoughts as we did in the past. When we get angry, we often act out on it immediately with unkind words or aggressive acts. Instead, mindfulness teaches us to become aware of those thoughts when you have them, observe them as a third person would. Through mindfulness you become an active observer in your own thought processes, once you do that, it changes the relationship you have with your thoughts, altering your perceptions and ultimately rewiring and changing your brain.
Mindfulness is a training that was adopted from Buddhist meditation. Buddhists have been examined in brain imaging studies showing they had remarkable clarity of thought and greater cognitive control. Research reveals that mindful meditation created an “enduring change” in the brain through neuroplasticity.1
Mindfulness lays the groundwork for valuable therapeutic ways to manage cravings and urges for those struggling with addiction.
Addiction is a compulsive behavior, where an addict will get caught up in negative thoughts and cravings, ruminate over them or become preoccupied on them. When this happens, it often leads to using.
But by becoming aware of your thoughts and cravings, analyze them, and redirecting your attention as mindfulness teaches, they will diminish. However, it does take work and practice because we are responding in a way that our brain is not use to.
Many times intrusive thoughts and negative emotions has physiological manifestations. This includes sweaty palms, increased heart rate or tensed muscles. Mindfulness asks us just to observe the thoughts and the bodily responses as they happen, without getting caught up in them.
Once you become aware of your thought processes, and observe them, then you can also challenge them. This is known as the “resumption” thoughts. For example, an addict that has an intrusive thought of using, he would challenge the maladaptive thought of “I need to smoke right now because I am so tense” to “I do not have to smoke, I can relax fine with out it by using relaxation techniques instead.”
Then, redirect your attention onto a new behavior. Most people do not react to cravings or intrusive thoughts or destructive emotions this way.
Most people automatically react in a panic or try to fight or suppress them.
When redirecting, it is best to redirect your focus onto something engaging such as going on a walk, doing yoga, going to the gym to work out or calling a supportive friend. Redirecting your attention on something that you can physically be engaged in is most beneficial, rather than lying in bed, for example.
Becoming aware, observing, then redirecting attention are the primary components in mindful meditation. Our brain changes as a result, because we are now responding differently, then we did in the past.
1. Davidson, R. J., and A. Lutz. 2008. “Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation.” IEEE Signal Processsing Magazine (January 1) 25(10):176–174.