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Mindfulness for Wellbeing

and Peak Performance

WEEK 1: Introducing mindfulness

Mindfulness, self-compassion and wellbeing


As well as learning to pay attention, Craig and of course developing self-awareness, one of
things we practise with mindfulness is an attitude or different attitudes around being
friendly towards ourselves, empathetic, self-compassionate. That kind of thing.

Its a very important part of mindfulness, cause people focus on the attention bit, I cant
stop my mind from wandering and then we get angry at ourselves and critical and of
course that tends to make the problem even worse. And so, the attitude that we cultivate in
mindfulness is certainly to practise paying attention, to practise coming back and being
present, but to that in a way thats non-reactive, non-judgemental, accepting, selfcompassionate. Just accepting the fact of our own humanity as it were, and not having to
beat ourselves up. Because if we do practise beating ourselves up we certainly get very
good at it, but its not something that serves us very well. One of the interesting things is,
that as we cultivate more self-compassion (that sort of attitude of kindness to ourselves), it
makes it a little bit easier to step out in our day-to-day life and to be little more patient and
tolerant to others as well. So that compassion, self-compassion seems to flow-on (from
what the research says) into more compassion, empathy and altruistic sort of approach to
others. Of course, if we get intentionally self-critical it often has the opposite effect of
feeling mean and angry at ourselves and that very often flows-over into how we react to
other people as well.

So mindfulness starts being about us, but then naturally just starts to flow-out some of the
qualities of attentiveness and compassion that we cultivate (just you were saying), start to
affect the people around us in very positive ways.

Monash University 2016

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I think thats one of the common misunderstandings about mindfulness and meditation
more generally is Oh, thats just thinking about yourself, and actually its the opposite of
that. We are almost constantly thinking about ourselves and mindfulness as a way of
unhooking from this internally-orientated thinking and to actually turn-out, to pay attention
in a, how should we say that kind of compassionate kind of attitude and be better able to
engage with the world around us. So, its not about self-absorption, its actually this, I
dont know, this sort of self-centred kind of mental activity as a lot of default mental
activity actually is the opposite of what we want when were practising being mindful.

And also, because of neuro-plasticity you know weve got use-it-or-lose-it brains and so
anything we practise or cultivate gets hard wired in, and that can include things like
attentiveness and self-awareness, but also qualities like gentleness, friendliness,
compassion, compassion for others. These kind of things that we can literally (the research
is showing) build these things into our brain. Practise them, theyre skills.
Absolutely, because as you said whatever we practise we get good at and unfortunately we
very often practise anger, frustration and reactivity and that starts to flow-over. I know
youve got a lot of interest on how this flows-on to mental health and wellbeing, and
perhaps you can say a little bit more about that and how it helps people (this sort of selfcompassionate attitude) in dealing with anxiety and depression.

One of the things that really helps people the most is to develop a much more, a friendlier
more compassionate attitude with themselves. Quite often when people are anxious or
burning out at work, theres a real driven-ness or self-criticism as a sort of default setting
for them. Mindfulness can help us to notice that were caught up in that, and thats sort of
our default setting, but then to start reprogramming that (and just learning to). We all
experience discomfort. We all have suffering in our lives, but quite often we add an extra
layer of suffering which is the self-criticism and the idea that were somehow wrong for
experiencing that or you know, beating ourselves up about it. And instead, what we can
start to do is first of all, is to notice the effect that has which is to further inflame the
problem, triggering the stress response. That kind of thing, but then also to start practising
and cultivating very different attitudes. Being present with ourselves, staying engaged,
looking after our own needs and being kind to ourselves.

So much of the time we might be practising what we think is mindfulness or just in other
ways in our day-today life thinking its about avoiding uncomfortable experience and
emotions etc, but its more from a mindfulness perspective not having to avoid them or
experience them, but to change the way we relate to them when theyre there.

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What were talking about here is the opposite of avoidance. And in fact the self-criticism,
the judgement, the un-mindfulness that we can get so caught up in, that can actually create
patterns of avoidance.

Because the mind and body are so intimately related, when were activating the stress
response when we dont need it, it produces a wear and tear on our system which is called
allostatic load. And that increases our risk of immune problems, cardiovascular problems,
even the cortisol affects thinning of the bones, but it damages the brain as well. So, whats
been found with mindfulness is that it helps to switch off the inappropriate activation of
that stress response and takes off a lot of that allostatic load. So things have been found,
like improved immunity. So it reduces inflammation for inflammatory problems, better
immune defences. Its also associated with taking a lot of the stress off the cardiovascular
system, but interestingly even effects down to our DNA because we know a lot of stress
actually accelerates the ageing on the level of the DNA and mindfulness has even been
found to actually start to improve genetic repair and slow down that ageing process. So it
seems to be associated with a lower risk of chronic illnesses we associate with ageing.

Monash University 2016

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