Mindfulness - What You’re Not Thinking About

Study after study shows that mindfulness rewires our brains, de-stresses us, boosts our immune system, helps us focus and more. Behind exercise, mindfulness (and more broadly meditation) might be the second closest thing we have to a cure-all. While the benefits of mindfulness continue to be studied there’s one thing I’ve not heard others discussing that I think is incredibly relevant. What you’re not thinking about.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the people who popularized mindfulness in the US, equates it with being present in the current moment - the ability to notice your thoughts, feelings, other sensations, and surroundings from moment to moment. While it sounds simple, many of us spend the present thinking about memories from the past or imagining a future when things will be better. We relive the past and rehearse the future. This happens hundreds if not thousands of times a day. While most people focus on the benefits of being present, they overlook a very powerful aspect of mindfulness.

Practicing mindfulness allows negative thought patterns to fade.

Neuroscience tells us that the more often a neural pathway is triggered, the stronger that pathway becomes. Essentially, the neurons that fire together, wire together. This is obvious in a physical sense. We learn to walk, talk, play sports, play a musical instrument, etc. by training our muscles to fire in the right pattern.

The same thing is true in our brains. The negative labels and stories we tell ourselves (I’m not good enough, I’m always late, I’m not disciplined, etc.) become stronger and easier to access as we repeat them. Expectations we’ve set become reinforced as we repeatedly imagine how things should go. These negative thought patterns can become the root of some of our biggest personal challenges.

The saying “What we give our attention to grows,” works in reverse as well: “What we do not give our attention to does not grow.”

If we are present we do not reinforce negative thought patterns. The neural pathways remain untrod, and they weaken. Which means it’s easier for us to change and create new, healthier patterns of thought.

Being mindful allows us to prune the tree of our mind, starving the branches that bear no fruit and watering the ones that do. It’s just one more reason why mindfulness is such a valuable practice.

Wanna explore mindfulness? This website from Palouse Mindfulness gives you a great place to start with written and video explanations of a lot of the principles as well as training exercises to get you started.