Mindfulness is the art of being effective. This simply means doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t work.
As you continue to hone your ability to focus only on one thing at a time, this skill can be extended to problem-solving. When you become mindfully aware of a problem with the idea of solving it, you have focused your intention on the solution rather than on the problem. You can talk about a problem all day, but in the end, talking about a problem does nothing to help solve it. Only by focusing your intention on solutions will the problem get solved.
In Mindfulness we speak of the power of intention. This means that we choose every act deliberately and purposefully, focusing our awareness on each task with intention. When using the power of intention, we never wander about aimlessly, driven by the winds of whim and fortune. Every act is deliberate. Every act is intentional. This is the power of intention.
Once there was a sculptor who was famous for his carvings of animals. Of all the animals he carved, his elephants were the most lifelike and inspiring. One day an art student came to him and asked him the secret to creating such beautiful elephants.
“The answer,” the artist replied, “Is simple. You just get a block of marble and chip away anything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”
When difficulties arise in life, it’s usually because we’ve set out to carve an elephant, but we suddenly find ourselves carving a bear or a donkey or some other animal instead. When this happens, we’ve gotten caught up in the details of living, and we have lost sight of our original goal, the elephant.
You may talk about the problem for as long you wish, but simply talking about the problem doesn’t do anything to actually solve the problem. If your intention is to have a happy, healthy life and happy, healthy relationships, then anything that doesn’t promote these ideals is irrelevant. It’s just marble to be carved away. If you find yourself constantly discussing problems, and never reaching resolution, ask yourself, “What is my intention?” or perhaps, “Is this the elephant I’m trying to carve, or is it just excess marble?”
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed by Segal, Williams and Teasdale (2002) as a method of treating clinical depression and for preventing relapse. There are eight sessions in the usual MBCT intervention:
- Automatic pilot and mindfulness
- Dealing with barriers and pleasant events
- Mindfulness of the breath
- Staying present
- Allowing and letting be
- Thoughts are not facts
- How can I best take care of myself?
- Using what has been learned to deal with future moods
In the first session, students are taught how to switch from “automatic pilot mode” or habitual mode, to intentional mode. Intentional mode involves moving from a ruminative mode to a mindful mode. Rumination in this sense refers to the tendency to engage in automatic patterns of thought, feeling and experience that lead to a recurrence of depressive symptoms.
These automatic patterns are driven by memory; i.e., they are learned responses to certain stimuli. By harnessing the power of intention, the practitioner of MBCT moves from this automatic ruminative state to an intentional, purposeful mindful state. Intentionality involves metacognition (thinking about thinking). By becoming a conscious observer of these automatic states, the student learns that these automatic thought processes are simply thoughts. They are not destiny, nor or they identity. My acting intentionally to step outside of oneself and simply observe and describe these automatic thoughts and feelings, practitioners learn that they have control over these internal states.
By using the power of intention to move from Thinking Mode to Sensing Mode, the student learns to view unwanted or difficult thoughts and feelings as passing mental events, and not as permanent characteristics. If the student can intentionally “ride out the wave” of depression or anxiety, then he/she will learn that “this too shall pass.”
Williams JM, Russell I, Russell D. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: further issues in current evidence and future research. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008 Jun;76(3):524-9. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.76.3.524. PMID: 18540746; PMCID: PMC2834575.