In the previous blog, we discussed the first three components of mindfulness:
1. To be aware
2. On purpose
3. In the present
However, there is one more component of mindfulness: “Without judging.” Now mindfulness just got a lot harder! How so? Well, what happens to us when we increase our intentional awareness of the present? We start to notice a whole lot of things that we wish we didn’t see! In a sense, learning to become more mindful (more intentionally aware of the present) means letting go of our denial or other defense mechanisms. It means exposing ourselves to all the dirty laundry that we shoved under the bed. It means turning on the lights and seeing that the room is mess. And what happens when we increase our awareness of things we would rather not see? We trigger our judgments!
Judgment versus Acceptance
Judgments are basically the negative messages that go through our minds. Most of these negative messages probably came straight from people who were or are important to us. Over time, when we hear the same negative messages over and over again, they become internalized. In other words, they become our own negative messages, rattling through our heads.
The opposite of judgment is acceptance. A judgment basically screams: “Things should not be this way!” However, acceptance simply acknowledges: “But regardless, this is simply how things are right now.” Now here’s another great irony of life: Contrary to what seems logical, judgments do not actually make anything better. Even if a judgment correctly diagnoses a problem, it only makes the problem worse! Think about it. When did judging yourself or someone else make anything better? However, accepting a problem for what it is will actually put you in a better place to deal with the problem.
Therefore, mindfulness is not just about awareness. It is also about acceptance! The tricky part is increasing both awareness and acceptance at the same time.
Mindfulness = Awareness + Acceptance
So why is mindfulness so important? Why are awareness and acceptance such a big deal? The answer is simple. Under the best of conditions, life is full of problems! And what happens when we either ignore the problems or fail to accept them? Do they just go away? Do they get better all on their own? No, of course not! Awareness and acceptance are not just random exercises with no purpose. Rather, they are the tools we need to deal with life. Once we become aware of our problems AND accept our problems, we are now in a much better position to deal with them. In other words, once we are fully aware and fully accepting of a problem, now we are finally in a position to decide if, when, and how to take action. But without awareness and acceptance, we continue to fumble through life, just making problems even worse than they were.
So what does applied mindfulness look like? So glad you asked! Based on everything we have learned in this lesson, we can now define applied mindfulness in three simple steps:
Now, the beauty of this formula is that awareness and acceptance are already action. In fact, just implementing awareness and acceptance is already more action than most people take in their daily lives! Therefore, sometimes awareness and acceptance is the only action you need to apply to a situation. Sometimes situations really do get better just by becoming more aware of and more accepting of them. However, sometimes increased awareness and increase acceptance allow you to understand that further action is required. But either way, you are now in better position to make better decisions moving forward.
For practical exercises to learn more mindfulness, please refer to my new workbook: DBT Skills Workbook for PTSD: Practical Exercises for Overcoming Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.