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More PsychNotes: Mindfulness and Relaxation Methods

October 7, 2015       
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The Difference Between Mindful Focus and a Mindful Attitude
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

In some ways, it is unfortunate that mindfulness is becoming more mainstream because it means that the term (if not the concept) is being co-opted and used in ways that are not necessarily an accurate reflection of mindfulness. For instance, someone just pointed out to me that the military is using mindfulness training to improve the effectiveness of their soldiers. In other words, potentially help soldiers be better at killing (although a case could be made that it makes them better at problem resolution—one resolution which may be killing).

In any case, I would not call this training “mindfulness.” Instead, it is teaching the soldiers to be mindfully focused similar to an athlete being “in the zone” or “in the flow" (although perhaps some of those soldiers will move on to developing a more mindful attitude). The techniques that are used in this training may come from the mindfulness practices, but it is not true mindfulness. Mindful focus does not have the ability to bring peace to the world because it only uses one aspect of mindfulness. Which is why I refer to developing “the mindful attitude.”

The mindful attitude consists of several aspects:

1) Mindful practice. Routine practice of meditation and other mindfulness training methods allows the person to become more skilled at mindful focus. However, practice alone may not be enough to develop a mindful attitude.

2) Transfer to daily life. In addition, to create a mindful attitude it is necessary to transfer the focus obtained from the practice to daily life. In my mind, meditation is simple compared to this transfer. It means learning to have a mindful focus even when things are chaotic and you are not at peace.

3) Tolerance of discomfort. The development of a mindful attitude allows a person to tolerate both physical and emotional discomfort. Such a tolerance means the individual does not have to rid him or herself of pain and suffering. By doing so, however, pain and suffering is often diminished because it is the desire to eliminate it that increases the intensity of it.

4) Acceptance of the self. When someone develops a truly mindful attitude, they see themselves fully as a human being with strengths and weaknesses but do not need to judge themselves. Through such an acceptance they are more able to focus on self-improvement because it is easier to make changes when it is not a demand.

5) Loving-kindness and compassion. When a person can fully accept him or herself, that person can then transfer those feelings to others, even to the entire world. The more that loving-kindness and compassion towards others increases, the more that violence has the potential of decreasing.

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