What is Mindfulness?

A Mindful Approach to Negative Thoughts

It can sometimes feel like your mind has a life of its own. Thoughts can take over and fill your head with a sense of uncontrolled negativity or anxiety and it can feel like there is no escape. If you can relate to this feeling, then mindfulness is the key to gaining that control and composure over your thoughts. As a result you can bring your mind to a place of safety and peacefulness.

Mindfulness in its essence is an incredibly straightforward concept. Being mindful simply means being aware of your own mind and aware that you are thinking. Without realising it, most of the time we are only aware of the content of the thoughts we are having. These thoughts fill up the space of the mind and feel ‘real’ and ‘true’ whilst we are having them.

Mindfulness asks you to stand back from your thoughts and to simply notice that you are having them. It asks you to say to yourself “Ok, here I am. I am having a thought right now. And that thought can exist in my mind, and then pass through. I do not have to accept or believe in that thought”. This might sound simple, but for many, this realisation is life-changing. A thought can pass through your mind and you can allow it to simply be there and then pass on, like a floating cloud overhead. After that, another thought will come, and that thought too will pass. Once you can take in this simple and yet incredibly powerful message, your mind is truly your own.

With its foundations in the Eastern practice of Buddhist meditation, mindfulness is taught through simple meditation exercises. The mindfulness movement borrows from Buddhist meditation, which uses silent concentration on your own breathing and your in-the-moment experience. However, it leaves behind any trace of spirituality or the religion. Steeped in scientific rigour, mindfulness offers a clear, systematic step-by-step guide to becoming present in the moment and in control of how you respond to your thoughts.

Once you have mastered the simple techniques, you will have learnt how to remain anchored in the ‘here-and-now’ of the present moment and to avoid getting lost in your thoughts. You might notice that you are having a negative thought, but you will feel in control as you watch the thought enter your mind and then pass through, leaving you unaffected by it.

Mindfulness is not about denying negative thoughts or feelings, but instead being able to notice them, acknowledge them and then move on with your life. In this way, you do not get caught up in a negative thought spiral which can quickly lead to a depressed or anxious mood.

To practise mindfulness, you can find mindfulness group classes in your local area. There you will be taught how to use breathing exercises to gain control of your mind and talked through the various applications this powerful technique can have in different areas of your life. Alternatively you might prefer to seek the help of a trained mindfulness teacher on a one-on-one basis, or a psychologist trained in mindfulness techniques. For further information see ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Prof. Mark Williams, or ‘Mindfulness for Beginners’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness movement.