Institute of International Peace Leaders

Dr. Austin Mardon & Nyah Shah

What are you thinking about right now? Chances are you’re busy thinking about the past or you’re planning for something that will happen in future. What you’re probably not doing is paying attention to this exact moment—where you are and what you’re doing right now. You may not realize it now, but you’ll find that being fully present, while not being reactive to what’s going on around us, will be where you’ll always want to be. That’s exactly what practicing mindfulness will help you do!


To be mindful means to be present. When you pay attention to external stimuli through your senses, or to internal conditions through your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, an evidence-based program that uses mindfulness mediation in treating patients with chronic pain, says, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally…in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”1


You may be wondering what mindfulness even looks like. It can be practiced at any hour of the day and in a variety of settings. There is no right or wrong way of being mindful. Some examples of mindfulness practices include eating a meal without any distractions while concentrating on what and how you’re eating, taking a walk with the intention of using all your senses to pay attention to the environment, emotionally immersing yourself in a conversation with a friend while really listening without judgments or expectations, and using a journal to check in with yourself while observing your thoughts and feelings.


Mindfulness can be understood as having three components. First is attention which involves being aware of what is going on in and around us, like our thoughts and feelings, as well as things in our environment, like sounds.2 It also entails being aware of sensations that correspond to certain experiences, like the blood rushing to your face when running. Sometimes, when we are too preoccupied with the past or future, paying attention may help bring us back to the present moment and understand what is going on right now.2


Curiosity is the second component of mindfulness. In order to better understand what is going on presently, we must be curious. It involves objectively exploring our thoughts, feeling, and sensations through different perspectives without judgment.2 We like to fall into this critical rabbit hole where we frequently judge our thoughts, feelings and other experiences, which only makes us feel worse. We can learn to avoid making these judgments by engaging in mindful practices.2


The last component of mindfulness is acceptance. Rather than resisting or doing something to change the present moment, acceptance involves embracing it as it is—both the good and the bad.2 We like to control what we’re experiencing when it causes the slightest bit of discomfort, but that may not always be possible.2 Acceptance can be as simple as acknowledging our feelings and letting them pass.


The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, such as reducing stress, regulating emotion and attention, reducing rumination, causing a decline in mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse.3 While being positively associated with levels of life satisfaction4, agreeableness5, conscientiousness5,6, vitality4, self-esteem4,7, empathy8, sense of autonomy4, competence4, and optimism4, studies have demonstrated its negative correlation with neuroticism6,8, absent-mindedness9, dissociation10,11, cognitive reactivity12, social anxiety13, difficulties in emotion regulation10, experiential avoidance11, alexithymia11, intensity of delusional experiences related to psychosis14, and general psychological symptoms10.


Evidence suggests that mindfulness can benefit those who are battling addictions. It seems especially promising for those who are trying to quit smoking.3 When someone feels like they’ve hit rock bottom and can’t get out of the circumstances they are in because they have a fixed and negative view, mindfulness can lift them up by allowing them access to a different perspective, exposing them to more options, and building their resilience to negative experiences.3 For example, in a study conducted among undergraduate students, Frewen et al. found that mindfulness was related to less frequent negative thoughts and to an increased ability to let go of those thoughts.17


The relationship between mindfulness and psychological well-being has also been investigated. According to Lykins and Baer’s research, those who practice meditation report higher levels of mindfulness, self-compassion and overall sense of well-being, and significantly lower levels of psychological symptoms, rumination, thought suppression, fear of emotion, and difficulties with emotion regulation compared to those who don’t practice meditation.18 These results emphasize the potential of mindfulness meditation practice to promote psychological well-being by enhancing awareness and reducing reactions to emotional triggers.19 Additionally, regular meditation practice can enhance cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning.19


Mindfulness has been demonstrated to improve more than self-reported psychological health. Its benefits have been detected in brain activity using functional neuroimaging instruments.19 For example, during an affect labelling task conducted by Creswell et al., those who scored high on mindfulness were found to have reduced bilateral amygdala activation and greater prefrontal cortical activation.20 This indicated that mindful individuals may be more able to regulate emotional responses via prefrontal cortical inhibition of the amygdala.19,20 Moreover, long-term mindfulness meditation practice is also linked to increased brain thickness in areas involved in attention, interoception, and sensory processing21; increased activation in brain regions responsible for processing emotions22; and more gray matter concentration in active brain areas during meditation23. These results support the idea that systemic mindfulness meditation training alters the brain’s ability to process attention, awareness, and emotion.19



It is evident that mindfulness practices can have a profound impact on one’s mental and psychological well-being. Think about how you can incorporate mindfulness into your everyday activities.



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    17. Frewen PA, Evans EM, Maraj N, Dozois DJA, Partridge K. Letting go: Mindfulness and negative automatic thinking. Cognitive Therapy and Research. 2008;32:758–774.
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About Writers:

Nyah Shah working for Dr. Austin Mardon as a student entrepreneur (part of the VFC program).