The Science of Mindfulness

Best way to stick with something hard: Accept that it's hard

There’s a great psychological misconception that greater motivation equals greater behavior change. Bot for many things - smoking, eating, drinking, browsing the internet - no matter how motivated to say no we are, it can still be hard to follow through. In past research, mindfulness has been linked to better success rates of quitting smoking. A recently published study examined what about mindfulness helped people stick to the hard task of quitting.

The measures the researchers looked at were: Observing, Describing, Acting With Awareness, Nonjudging, and Nonreactivity. Researchers found that the non-judging aspect uniquely predicted better likelihood of stay away from cigarettes up to 26 weeks after quitting. Non-judging is the practice of accepting our thoughts and feelings without evaluating them. Some example judgments might be: “Wow, this pain is really terrible. I wonder if this pain will ever end. Why do I deserve this? Why did I get myself into this position - I should have done x, y, or z. I’m so irresponsible. I don’t feel like anyone understands what I’m going through.” And so on. The mind has a fantastic way of taking a physical sensation and wrapping it up in a whole number of judgments and narratives.

Mindfulness is the practice of observing what comes up - the feelings of withdrawal, of wanting, the difficulty of saying no, even our own thoughts - and accepting that they’re there without judging them as good or bad, or needing them to stay or go away. Often when we drop the judgment around our experience, we gain more space to hold it and then let it pass.

Whether or not you’re trying to quit smoking, try it out for yourself and see what happens. What does it feel like to want that piece chocolate cake? What does it feel like to resist checking your email one more time before sitting down to start that project? See if you can accept whatever’s there without judging it. Research suggests that might just be the key to sticking with the action you really want to take.


Keryn Breiterman-Loader
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