What is mindfulness? Non-judgemental awareness and acceptance of the present moment. It is paying attention with intention.
The gold standard for clinically effective mindfulness today is called ACT Therapy, pronounced 'Act'.
What is ACT? Acceptance & Commitment Therapy; A psychotherapeutic model for practicing mindfulness developed by clinical psychologist Steven C. Hayes.
It is a process by which thoughts and feelings are non-judgementally embraced, and we defuse the “I” or pure awareness from our thoughts and feelings. We allow them to be, but we cognitively defuse ourselves from their impact. We then evaluate our desired goals and values in relationship to those thoughts and feelings, making new, empowered and beneficial choices. We take six steps toward a self-compassionate approach to acceptance of the present moment, shown below.
The core principles of ACT Therapy:
Accept your internal experience, and be present.
Choose a valued direction.
Defusion: The process by which we cognitively defuse ourselves from the impact of our thoughts and feelings by allowing them to arise non-judgementally.
Expansion: Making more room for the thought, feeling, urge or sensation to come and go as they please, without amplifying or suppressing them.
Connection: Bringing full awareness to the here-and-now experience of those sensations with a curiosity and non-judgemental interest.
The Observing Self: Recognising in the moment that we are the awareness behind the sensation, not the sensation itself. Connecting to the observing self, once the first three stages are facilitated.
Values: What sort of person do you want to be in relationship to these sensations? What is important and meaningful to you?
Committed Action: Taking action in response to those core values again and again, even if you go off track or forget to follow through.
Face Your 'Fear'
If these are not working for you, then remember FEAR:
Fusing with unhelpful thoughts?
Expecting an unrealistic outcome?
Avoiding discomfort, pain, fear, anxiety etc?
Resisting your values?
Accept your internal experiences and be present.
Choose a valued direction.
If no effective action is possible right now, then only one option remains: accept your experience, however that shows up for you, until you can take action.
If you cannot take any action in any circumstance, then acceptance is enough, and all that is required.
This requires letting go of the need to control any outcome, allowing any sensations (including pain, fear and anxiety) to simply be, however uncomfortable this may seem in the moment.
Pain is simply a sensation, and part of the human experience. But we do not need to suffer. Suffering is pain with added thought and judgement of that pain.
For example: ‘I feel anxious. I shouldn’t be feeling this way’ is an example of suffering.
‘I’m better than this’ is another.
‘I need to fix this’, is one of the most common.
ACT says that pain and feeling uncomfortable is okay; judging the feeling, however, creates suffering and is therefore not serving us.
A Daily Mindfulness Routine
After waking, take 20 minutes before beginning any daily activities for committed mindfulness practice. Sit in a comfortable chair upright – do not lie in bed.
- For 5 minutes, breathe deeply, lengthening your inhale/exhale.
- Feel your chest expand on the inhale, contract on the exhale
- This is diaphragmatic breathing, and will lower your parasympathetics (heart rate, blood pressure), and oxygenate your brain.
- Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath at the apex of the inhale for 7 seconds, and exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds (Remember 4-7-8). Repeat for the remainder of the 5 minutes.
- This breathing is clinically effective in reducing stress, oxygenating the brain, lowering the parasympathetics and creating a sense of well-being.
- For 15 minutes, follow the Defusion, Expansion, Connection, The Observing Self, Values and Committed Action steps. Throughout, notice what shows up for you in your thoughts, feelings and sensations, and locate where these sensations show up in your body.
- Breathe into the sensations non-judgementally, with curiosity and an open focus. Do not try to force any outcome, suppress any feeling or change your responses. Allow thoughts to arise and fall away – do not try to stop any thought (or sensation) that arises.
- Before sleeping, after you have completed all activities for the day or night, take 20 minutes before bed and repeat the Morning steps. Sit in a comfortable chair upright – do not lie in bed.
- If you still feel uncomfortable in any way after 20 minutes, allow that to be okay. Often, 20 minutes following the steps above is enough to reduce or release any uncomfortable feelings in the short term.
- If there is still discomfort, pain or anxiety, extend the length of time you are practicing mindfulness if possible. Initially, you may need or want more time. With practice, mindfulness can be incorporated throughout your day in the moment, and may not require time out.
Ideally, 2 sets of 20 minute blocks per day for 5 weeks will show significant improvements in mental and emotional well-being, as well as short term pain management and anxiety.
- The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living by Dr. Russ Harris.
- The Confidence Gap by Dr. Russ Harris.
- The Reality Slap by Dr. Russ Harris.
- Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams & Danny Penman.
- Acceptance & Commitment Therapy: The Process & Practice of Mindful Change by Steven C. Hayes.
- A Practical Guide to Acceptance & Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes.
- Dr. Steven C. Hayes:
- Dr. Russ Harris: