What is Mindfulness?

by Scott Crabtree

Read the article, or skip to the bottom to watch the video. 

Mindfulness involves focusing your attention on the present moment. 

Mindfulness is simply paying complete attention to the present moment without judgment. That might sound easy if you’ve never done it. Those of us that have tried mindfulness, such as sitting down and meditating for a few minutes, which is essentially a mindfulness workout, if you will, those of us who’ve tried mindfulness know that your brain does not naturally focus on one thing and keep its attention there. If I don’t keep this video exciting, your attention will drift because shifting attention keeps you alive out there in the cold, harsh world.

Your great, great, great, great, great, great, grandparents survived not because they walked through the world focused on a beautiful tree in the distance for 15 minutes on end. No, if they did that, they’re lion food and you don’t exist. You exist because your parents went through the wilderness like this. “Nice tree.” “Are those lions?” “Hey, did you hear something?” You’re constantly scanning the environment for threats, finding those threats, and addressing those threats. That keeps you alive.

Focusing your attention on one thing and keeping it there is not natural, and it’s hard work. Hard work for the part of your brain I call your “inner CEO.” Inner CEO is my term for the prefrontal cortex. This prime brain real estate, loosely speaking right behind your forehead, that’s responsible for executive functions, such as prioritizing, focusing attention, making decisions, initiating appropriate action, inhibiting inappropriate action. Have you ever started an email to your boss that says, “Dear Total Moron,” and not sent it? If so, you have your prefrontal cortex to thank. It is awesome brain real estate. Most of us wish that we and our colleagues were operating out of here more often at work. Operating from our best, most logical brain real estate.

Practicing mindfulness adds neurons to the prefrontal cortex. 

Well, those who meditate or practice mindfulness add neurons to their prefrontal cortex. They thicken and enhance pathways running from that calm, logical prefrontal cortex to the limbic system, the middle of your brain whose job it is, among other things, to be upset and get in a fight or flight mode. Those who practice mindfulness improve their ability to be self-aware and self-controlled.

I swear I am just scratching the surface of a growing mountain of evidence when I say that a variety of studies suggest that those who meditate or practice mindfulness enjoy better physical health in a variety of ways. Blood pressure and others. Better physical health, better mental health, better self-awareness, better self-control, higher quality of relationships, and more happiness. Just scratching the iceberg of the new science of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is paying complete attention. Meditation is a mindfulness workout. It’s spending a few minutes trying to keep your attention on something, such as how your breath feels in your body. Noticing when your attention has drifted, which will happen. That’s natural, and then gently returning your attention with judgment. Why without judgment? Because the part of your brain that judges, “Boy, this Crabtree guy from Happy Brain Science is weirder than I thought,” or, “I’m not doing it right.” “I’m not breathing right.” Whatever judgment you bring, you’re not activating your prefrontal cortex. Judgment doesn’t come from your prefrontal cortex. Any time you’re judging, you’re not activating the part of your brain we want to keep active.

Mindfulness is paying complete attention to the present moment without judgment. If you’d like to try it, please see another video I have where I guide you through a meditation, a short meditation you can do at work.

Scott Crabtree

As the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree empowers individuals and organizations to apply findings from cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to boost productivity and happiness at work.

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