Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Re-programming my central operating system: the brain

Mindfulness is all about focusing on your current experience. It’s training your brain to be in the moment, to observe the moment and detach yourself from negative responses and ways of thinking. It’s basically pulling the brakes on your automatic pilot and letting you assess the situation from a calmer place. At least that’s my round about way of describing it.

The 5 Keys to mindfulness:

  1. Observation
  2. Description
  3. Immersion
  4. Non judgement
  5. Focus

Observation requires you to shift from thinking mode into sensing mode. A good way to do this is to close your eyes and focus on your breathing, your body, any physical sensations you feel (like the feel of your clothes on your skin) and so on, going through all your senses so that you are fully experiencing the moment. It’s as simple as just allowing yourself to actually notice the stimuli around you.

Description is then putting adjectives to those observations. To do so you have to really try to notice their nuances. For example, right now when I close my eyes I can hear the rain outside my window and the hum of the laptop. Some adjectives I can apply to these observations are gentle, quiet, light, soothing and soft. Ultimately you will want to start using this technique on your feelings. Observing the emotions you’re experiencing and then putting adjectives to them can help clarify your feelings.

Immersion is participating fully and experiencing the whole situation without excluding things. It’s allowing yourself to feel your emotions, all of them. Anger, frustration, boredom, listlessness, hunger, or whatever the case may be. It’s about noticing every component of whatever you are doing. It’s not easy because when you try to do it, you end up realizing just how much stimuli and information your brain automatically tunes out.

Non judgment is the hardest and easiest thing to do. But it’s amazing. Mostly because it allows you to identify your sensitivities. Basically you are trying to maintain an accepting attitude towards your experience. Accepting observations and descriptions without evaluating them. That is an extremely easy task when it comes to things you don’t care about. Being non judgmental about the sound of rain is simple, but when it comes to a more sensitive issue simple it is not. Someone once said “we are our own worst critics” and when it comes to observing and describing your feelings without judgment, that inner critic is in bedlam. Mindfulness asks you to silence that inner critic. Give him a nice cup of tea and a book to read, leaving you to experience the moment without judging it as wrong or right, without controlling or avoiding it.

Focus is the fifth and final key. Come to think of it, there may be more than five. Oh well. Focusing on one thing at a time is another important aspect to this process. Unfortunately random thoughts will distract you from your observations, and that’s completely normal. Especially when you’re just starting and even if you’ve been practicing mindfulness for years. It’s your thinking mode trying to switch back on by overriding the current system. So focus, be aware when this happens and switch it back to sensing mode. It’s no big deal.

So this is what I’m doing. Or at least what I’m trying to do. I figure re-programming my brain is my best option for future bliss. It will be interesting to see how self help books touch upon mindfulness concepts and tools, and whether they identify their doctrines as a form of mindfulness at all. I suppose I have some reading to do.

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