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The Mental Skills That Mindfulness Builds

by Beth on November 30th, 2015

I recently attended a conference on mindfulness and well-being at work at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. I learned so much from some of the world’s top neuroscientists and from the leaders of companies including Ford Motor Company, SAP, Carlsberg, Aetna, and Pixar that have introduced mindfulness programs into their workplaces.

Dr. Richard Davidson gave a talk entitled “Well-Being is a Skill”. He explained how his research shows that the neural circuits in our brain associated with well-being can be strengthened through practice. Well-being can be learned just like we learn to play the piano.

Mindfulness, a component of well-being, was described as learning useful mental skills that build capacity for focus, clarity, collaboration, creativity, resilience, emotional intelligence, and compassion. Two of the key mental skills that we build through mindfulness are 1) focused attention and 2) skillful responding.

Focused Attention

Our brain’s default mode is that of a wandering mind. A recent Harvard study found that people’s minds wander 47% of the time and that when our minds are wandering we are less happy. A wandering mind is associated with rumination, distraction, and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness changes the default mode to one of direct attention where the mind is alert, open, and happy.

Skillful Responding

Another default mode is that we tend to react to situations based on our emotions. Mindfulness builds the ability to respond skillfully instead. Focusing on the present moment increases awareness of our emotions, which allows us to pause, notice the emotion, and choose how best to respond. Mindfulness moves us from compulsion to choice. Rather than hopping on the train as we are swept away by our emotions, we can stay on the platform and watch them pass by.

The mental skills that mindfulness builds help you to perform optimally. How would enhanced attention improve your results? How confident would you be if you knew you could stay in control during difficult conversations?

Want to practice mindfulness? Try meditating for 5 to 10 minutes each day. That’s all it takes to rewire your brain. Throughout the day take mindful pauses: stop what you are doing, take a few deep breaths, and observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice when your mind is wandering and gently bring it back to the present moment.

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