Dispositional Mindfulness: Noticing What You Notice

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Many forms therapy and spiritual practice speak of mindfulness. Dispositional mindfulness (sometimes known as trait mindfulness) is a type of consciousness that has only recently been given serious research considerations.

It is defined as a keen awareness and attention to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and the research shows that the ability to engage in this prime intention has many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits.

Mindfulness meditation is different. It has taken the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and introduced it to the western world as a form of preparing and training. Those who practice mindfulness meditation are often encouraged to have a “sitting practice,” where they have set aside time to meditate.

In the West, this practice is considered a means to an end. We will be calmer, have lower blood pressure, better relationships, and less stress if we use this practice. While all this is true, the mindfulness aspect of this practice — the essence of this style of meditation was not designed as a means to an end — it was designed to be a way of conscious living.

Mindfulness, when viewed in this way, becomes a quality in our life — a trait, not a state we enter into during practice.

Don’t get me wrong — mindfulness meditation and the wide variety of training programs and opportunities are all valuable exercises. But the original intention of mindfulness and the science now surrounding dispositional mindfulness may be at the very root of how we maintain hope, perseverance, and mental health.

Here is a sample of the research outcomes from nearly 100 studies using dispositional mindfulness:

  • Lower levels of perceived stress
  • Lower use of avoidance coping strategies
  • Fewer depressive symptoms
  • Greater perseverance
  • Less anxiety
  • More hope
  • Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Improved adaptive coping strategies
  • Reduced rumination
  • Less catastrophizing about pain
  • Diminished neuroticism
  • Improved executive function
  • Decreased impulsivity
  • Increased emotional stability
Proof Positive

This is an impressive list as the intervention we are talking about is a non-judging awareness of our thoughts and actions. The non-judgment is an important aspect of this practice. Cultivating a witness, a self that views our own experience with a benevolent prospective, has importance and impact.

This means that even before we attempt to change our thoughts, there is value — exceptional value — in simply noticing them.

This wobbly space between perception and response becomes clearer once we are given permission to examine the gap. Dispositional mindfulness is an invitation to widen that gap simply by noticing it exists. As we step back from our moment-to-moment experience we are cultivating our mindfulness, which then opens the way to responsiveness and the possibility and potential to shift our perceptions for the better.

As the Beat poet Alan Ginsberg suggested, one way to enter this gap is to “notice what you notice.” The practice is simple enough. As you survey your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a present moment try to do so without judgment. This pause for thought is, in itself, the very dispositional mindfulness that research is showing has so many benefits.

In essence, the practice is strengthened when we catch ourselves thinking.

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

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As someone who strives daily to be the best I can be, to be present in the moment, minimize stress and appreciate the beauty and preciousness of life, I’m always keen to learn about scientifically-proven new health benefits of mindfulness meditation.

Get better sleep.

Anyone who’s suffered the lingering mental and physical effects of a poor night’s sleep on a regular basis, as I have on numerous occasions in the past, can appreciate this all-important benefit from mindfulness meditation: better sleep. In fact, research with older adults diagnosed with sleep disturbances found that the practice resulted in significant short-term improvement in sleep quality by remediating sleep problems. Researchers noted this improvement apparently carried over to “reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life.”

Make progress toward your weight-loss goals.

If you’ve struggled with yo-yo fluctuations in weight and tried many fad diets and weight-loss crazes, it might be motivating to learn that mindfulness meditation has been shown to be a good strategy to support weight-loss goals. A clinical study involving overweight and obese women found that mindfulness intervention for stress eating, while not designed to induce total weight loss, did stabilize weight among those who were obese. Researchers also found that greater frequency of eating meals mindfully was slightly related to weight loss, noting that, “Minimally, these techniques may support weight maintenance efforts, and actual weight loss might occur for those participants who eat a high proportion of meals mindfully.”

survey of American Psychological Association licensed psychologists by Consumer Reports found that mindfulness, along with cognitive therapy and problem-solving, are “excellent” or “good” weight loss strategies. That’s because the focus of dieters should be more on the role their emotions play in weight management, rather than solely on exercise and calorie control or eating less.

Lower your stress levels.

It’s a fast-paced society we live in, which contributes to and exacerbates everyday stress. Learning how to control or minimize the effects of stress on body and mind is important in overall health and well-being. So, it’s refreshing to know that a review of 47 clinical trials found that mindfulness meditation programs show “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.” Another studyfound that focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Decrease loneliness in seniors.

Getting older has its challenges, yet relationships can be deeply satisfying and personally enriching. For many older adults, however, loneliness due to the loss of a spouse or partner can be made worse when there are concurrent medical or psychological conditions or issues to deal with. One study found that an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program reduces loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.

Banish temporary negative feelings.

Sitting all day at a desk or computer is not good for your overall health and well-being. The often-recommended advice to get up and move is well-founded in research.  A study assessing college students’ daily waking movement-based behaviors found less momentary negative affect from movement with mindfulness in mind and suggested that incorporating mindfulness into daily movement may lead to better overall health benefits.

Improve attention.

Researchers found that brief meditation training (four days) can lead to enhanced ability to sustain attention. Other improvements from brief meditation training included working memory, executive functioning, visuo-spatial processing, reductions in anxiety and fatigue, and increased mindfulness.

Manage chronic pain.

Millions of people suffer with chronic pain, some following an accident that leaves them with a long-term debilitating medical condition, some as a result of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after serious injury during combat deployment, others due to diagnoses with cancer. Managing chronic pain in a healthier way is the focus of much current research. Indeed, the search for and clinical trials of alternatives to medication to help patient cope with chronic pain continues to gain momentum. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a therapy that combines mindfulness meditation and yoga, has been found to result in significant improvements in pain, anxiety, well-being and ability to participate in daily activities.

Help prevent depression relapse.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), according to a growing body of research, may prove beneficial in preventing depression relapse. A particular strength of the mind-body technique is how it shows participants how to disengage from the kind of highly dysfunctional and deeply felt thoughts that accompany depression. A 2011 study found that MBCT is an effective intervention for depression relapse in patient with at least three prior episodes of major depressive disorder (MDD). Another study found that MBCT provided significant relapse protection for participants with a history of childhood trauma that left them with increased vulnerability for depression.

Reduce anxiety.

Feeling anxious? Researchers have found that even a single session of mindfulness meditation can result in reduced anxiety. For the study, researchers focused on the effect of a single session of mindfulness meditation on participants with high levels of anxiety but normal blood pressure. They found measurable improvements in anxiety following the single mindfulness meditation session and further anxiety reduction one week later. Researchers suggested that a single mindfulness session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety.

Increase brain gray matter.

Along with the well-documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, another surprising finding of the mind-body practice is that it appears to increase gray matter in the brain. A controlled longitudinal study investigated pre- and post-changes to gray matter that could be attributed to participation in MBSR. Researchers found that increases in gray matter concentration occurred in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These are the regions involved in memory and learning processes, regulation of emotion, self-referential processing and taking perspective.