Mindfulness Myths

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As a psychologist delivering Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction programs to teams and individuals in various industries, I often hear comments that are what I call, “Myth Based”.

It’s hardly surprising that these myths exist given the freedom to share opinions on the Internet.

So, it’s time to bust a few myths but before I do, if there are any confusions or doubts in your mind about what mindfulness is, or the value of mindfulness programs, please leave questions in the comments and I will be happy to respond.

Mindfulness is a “religion”

It is true that mindfulness can be highly effective when practice is grounded in some eastern contemplative principles. Hardly surprising really because it dates back at least 2500 years to the Buddhist traditions of Asia.

However, mindfulness is a nonspiritual practice that encourages our capacity to pay attention to the present moment with a curious, open-minded, non- judgmental curiosity. This is not Buddhism via the back door.

Mindfulness and meditation are the same

There are different types and variants of meditation which exercise different, so-called ‘mind muscles’. Think about the variety of exercise machines in a gym. They exercise different muscles.

Mindfulness is a non-preferential practice and is a way of paying attention and relating to our experiences to develop an open-minded curiosity to the flow of all our experiences as we experience them. Good, bad, or indifferent.

Mindfulness is about being able to empty your mind

Can you empty your mind of all thoughts?

Mindfulness practice is not about stopping, resisting, or avoiding thoughts. It is about becoming more aware of your ‘mindscape’ and the nature and patterns of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. With continued and regular practice, you begin to develop an awareness of what distracts you from the task at hand, regardless of whether the task is mindfulness, work, experiences etc…

It enables noticing when your mind wanders and teaches to gently come back to the chosen object of awareness. It helps strengthen the ability to stay focused and in the zone alongside learning about the nature and content of thoughts and emotions which are distracting or challenging.

The aim of mindfulness is to become relaxed, chilled out and zen

Feeling more relaxed and at ease can be a welcome secondary effect. However, a primary aim of mindfulness training is to increase the ability to self-manage. This means turning towards all experience as it is, even when it is unpleasant or uncomfortable. By noticing and being with and gently curious about these experiences we create a space from which we can learn to skilfully respond.

Mindfulness is only about paying attention to the breath

Images of people sitting cross-legged in the lotus position, eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply creates the misperception that mindfulness is simply about entering a relaxed state.

While there are controlled breathing techniques that can help calm an agitated mind, in mindfulness practice the breath is used as an anchor or focal point to notice when the mind has wandered. This enables us to gently practice bringing it back to the awareness of the moment.

Mindfulness training is good for all and helps with everything

There is an ever-growing and well-established body of scientific evidence indicating that mindfulness is an effective clinical intervention for anxiety and depression in particular. It is also clear that mindfulness works better for some groups than others, and there are some people for whom training is inappropriate.

It is unclear if or to what extent the significant positive effects from controlled clinical settings can generalize to wider broader population and workplace settings. There is also ongoing debate questioning the quality and effectiveness of some ‘Mindfulness’ interventions which often involve watered down, superficial practice focusing on short-term stress reduction rather than the transformative potential of sustained practice. In other words, mindfulness interventions at the lighter end of the spectrum may not bring the same benefits as in-depth training.

Mindfulness is dangerous

Mindfulness is an inherent, natural human trait promoting resilience to psychological distress, clarity of mind and improved decision-making.

Mindfulness, therefore, is not dangerous; however, caution is necessary when cultivating mindfulness with certain populations and in certain contexts.

Albeit rare, negative experiences are often associated with extended silent practice as encountered on residential retreats. A recent meta-analysis of mindfulness based cognitive therapy found no evidence of adverse effects and my own practice and experience with clients supports this.

It is true that some individuals may find that “turning towards” difficult or traumatic experiences through mindfulness practice seems overwhelming at first. Indeed, a variant of mindfulness – trauma sensitive mindfulness – has been adapted for individuals experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

From the perspective of a practitioner, I believe that it is essential that mindfulness trainers have the prerequisite skills, knowledge and experience to identify individuals for whom the training may not be suitable.

Mindfulness breeds passive employees and doesn’t lead to change in organizational cultures

Well, mindfulness does not change who people are although it does seek to address how they look at and respond to their worlds.

One criticism of implementing workplace mindfulness programs is the perceived failure to either directly address or change challenging organizational cultures or workplace stress. However, there is evidence that mindfulness linked with coaching leads to positive change by increasing emotional intelligence, compassion and social responsibility.

There is the risk that mindfulness training heightens awareness of organizational stress, motivating some employees to leave. Yet research evidence shows that retention rates and job satisfaction have been dramatically improved through mindfulness-based stress reduction programs.

Mindfulness is exploited for capital gain

To survive and thrive, employers must run efficient, financially viable businesses if they are to be successful. However, complementing good business practice, combined with wellbeing programmes supporting good health makes great business sense.

To counter claims that mindfulness training is a clandestine, exploitative way of squeezing more out of an already stressed workforce, it is essential that mindfulness programs are delivered by competent, appropriately qualified, and ethical trainers.

You can follow free programs and YouTube videos with some success yet, these have no comparison with a qualified guiding hand.

Free Mindfulness Program

Starting next Monday, 30 November, I will be sharing some evidence-based tools and techniques that can make a difference to stressful challenges.

I’m only able to offer four of these programs each year and the next one won’t be until March 1st, 2021.

Each day for 5-Days, there will be one short, recorded video with exercises and one live Q & A at 17:00 CET. All of this will take place in a private, event only group at a time that fits your schedule. . . apart from the Q & A of course. However, if you can’t make the live Q & A, you will be able to submit questions and catch the answers in a recording at a time that works for you.

Teams, team leaders and individuals are welcome.

You can book your free place here. Don’t let the “Buy Tickets” label mislead you.

Buy tickets for Steve Costello

Book A Call

If you would like to discover how Mindfulness-Based programs can help you or your team, you can book a Free Discovery Call at the following link.

These calls usually take place via Zoom although other platforms can be used.

30-Minute Discovery Call

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