The benefits of mindfulness are numerous, it has often been hailed as a solution to a multitude of psychological problems. Few people, however, actually have a good idea of what mindfulness is and what it can do.
The definition of mindfulness has two parts:
1) A focus on the present moment
2) A non-evaluative judgment of your experiences.
In practice, this means noticing what you are thinking about in the moment, but not judging these thoughts as positive or negative. For example, if I’m feeling particularly irritated today, I might focus on the fact that I’m irritated but not try to suppress this feeling. The goal is to simply recognize this feeling from a neutral point of view. This is mindfulness – focusing on the present moment while refraining from judging your thoughts.
A plethora of health benefits are associated with mindfulness: higher well-being, a reduced physical pain, and heightened immune function. The list of benefits of mindfulness goes on and on. The exact mechanisms through which mindfulness exerts its effects are still not well known. There have been several studies that suggest that changes in the structure and functioning of the brain may be at work.
State vs. Trait Mindfulness
Research on mindfulness has differentiated between state mindfulness and trait mindfulness. State mindfulness refers to how mindful someone is at a given moment in time, and trait mindfulness refers to how habitually mindful someone is. State and trait mindfulness however, are related. Learning to increase your state mindfulness can lead to long-term increases in trait mindfulness. A study by Kiken and colleagues showed that 8 weeks of weekly mindfulness meditation training led to increases in state mindfulness each week. These increases in state mindfulness in turn predicted changes in trait mindfulness. People who were most mindful during the training session each week actually became more mindful in their everyday lives. You don't need 8 weeks to see these changes – a study by Creswell and colleagues reported reduced stress reactivity after just three days of 25-minute mindfulness meditation.
All in all, research suggests that incorporating mindfulness into your life, can help you reduce the impact of small daily stresses and develop effective coping mechanisms. This is just one of the most significant benefits of mindfulness. Try it for yourself!
Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. K., & Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 44, 1-12.
Kiken, L. G., Garland, E. L., Bluth, K., Palsson, O. S., & Gaylord, S. A. (2015). From a state to a trait: trajectories of state mindfulness in meditation during intervention predict changes in trait mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 81, 41-46.