By Debra LeClair Psy.D.
With decades of sound research bringing mindfulness into the mainstream, there are also misconceptions about what mindfulness is and how it is practiced. Below are some of the most common myths and misunderstandings:
Myth 1: Mindfulness is just about meditation, right?
Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness of the present moment. Noticing the energy in the room during a meeting or bringing your full attention to the taste of your food during lunch are mindful acts. Meditation is also a mindful act, one that directly trains your brain to know what it feels like to be connected to the moment as it is happening. Meditation also primes you to realize when your attention has moved to worries about the past or concerns about the future. In short, meditation is the best-known way to foster the ability to be mindful. However, making a conscious decision to experience what is coming in through your senses in real time is also a powerful practice. For instance, if you’re driving, you’re purposely noticing the feel of the driver’s wheel in your hands. If you’re in a meeting, you summon your curiosity to stay present to what is playing out in the conversation.
Myth 2: I’ve got too much to do to stop and be mindful
You don’t have to stop. Being mindful is coming into what is real and palpable in this moment. If you are rushing up the street to make an appointment, you can shift your awareness to notice the way your feet feel as they slap against the pavement. What we generally do in that situation is project into the future, worrying about how badly it will be received if we are late, which usually makes us more anxious. Why not put that brainpower to being more aware of the most important thing which is fully connecting to the experience of transporting your body safely and quickly to where you intend to go?
Myth 3: Mindfulness will make me lose my edge
Consider the opposite state—mindlessness. Accidents, breakdowns in communication and becoming complacent often stem from mindlessness. Feeling calm and collected and thus being able to fully listen to what is being said in content, body language and tone gives you the most accurate read of any situation. This in turn, provides you a opportunity to chose how to best respond instead of just react. There’s a reason why we as human beings marvel at those who have “presence of mind” in high stakes situations. Mindfulness also helps the brain to be more focused which goes hand in hand with being more productive and on top of things.
Myth 4: Mindfulness is for retreats, not the workplace
There are quite a number of companies, including General Mills, Sun Life Financial and Harvard Pilgrim that have found mindfulness to make a difference for their employees in reducing stress and distractibility while improving productivity. It is also linked to increasing a person’s emotional intelligence, helping them to communicate with greater engagement and understanding, cutting down on misperceptions that trigger interpersonal conflict. From government to higher education to the private sector, mindfulness has been incorporated not just into stress management programs but also into systems of leadership development and strategic planning with measurable success.
Myth 5: My mind goes 1,000,000 miles an hour, there’s no way I can be any good at this mindfulness stuff
Part of mindfulness is learning to notice where you are right in that moment, and then work with that reality. If your mind is scattered, then you can start by noticing what it feels like to be scattered. Here, you would watch your mind moving from thought to thought. By seeing this from an observing stance (a skill that inherently develops as a result of practicing mindfulness, especially in meditation), you begin to gain an empowered and objective perspective on your perceptions. A cornerstone of mindfulness is to observe your thoughts, emotions and sensations without having to make a judgment on them. By doing so, staring with short periods of time, you allow your brain to slow down to process things more fully.