In part 1 of this two part series on mindfulness (click here if you haven’t yet read it) we discussed the three components of mindfulness (intention, attention, attitude), introduced the term “reperceiving”, and, highlighted the four direct mechanisms which lead to this shift in perspective.
“Reperceiving—the capacity to dispassionately observe or witness the contents of one’s consciousness”
In today’s post, still based on the paper ‘Shapiro et al., 2006, Mechanisms of Mindfulness’, we are going to focus on the four mechanisms the authors discussed:
- Values clarification
- Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral flexibility
Self-regulation is the process whereby systems maintain stability of functioning and adaptability to change.
Reperceiving interrupts automatic maladaptive habits. For example, when we get anxious we might automatically turn to alcohol. With mindfulness practice, we become less controlled by particular emotions and thoughts that arise, and in turn are less likely to automatically follow them with habitual reactive patterns. For example, if anxiety arises, and we strongly identify with it, there will be a greater tendency to react to the anxiety unskillfully and subsequently regulate it by some behaviour such as drinking, smoking, or overeating. Reperceiving allows us to take a step back, to see the anxiety as just an emotional state that is arising and will in time pass away.
So, by developing the capacity to stand back and witness emotional states such as anxiety, we increase our “degrees of freedom” in response to such states, effectively freeing ourselves from automatic behavioral patterns.
Through reperceiving, we are no longer controlled by states such as anxiety or fear but are instead able to use them as information. We are able to attend to the emotion, and choose to self-regulate in ways that foster greater health and well-being. Through consciously (intention) bringing awareness (attention) and acceptance (attitude) to experience in the present moment, we will be better able to use a wider, more adaptive range of coping skills.
Reperceiving may also help us recognise what is meaningful, and what we truly value.
Often values have been conditioned by family, culture, and society, so that we may not realise whose values actually drive our choices in life. Frequently, we are pushed and pulled by what we believe is most important, but fail to reflect upon whether it is truly important in the context of our own lives. When we are able to take a step back from (observe) our values, and reflect upon them with greater objectivity, we have the opportunity to rediscover and choose values that may be truer for us.
In other words, we become able to reflectively choose what has been previously reflexively adopted or conditioned.
Cognitive, Emotional and Behavioral Flexibility
I feel this mechanism ties in with self-regulation. The paper discusses how reperceiving may also facilitate more adaptive, flexible responding to the environment. This is in contrast to the more rigid, reflexive patterns of reactivity that result from being overly identified with one’s current experience.
If we are able to see a situation and our own internal reactions to it with greater clarity, we will be able to respond with greater freedom of choice (i.e., in less conditioned, automatic ways).
Reperceiving enables a person to experience even very strong emotions with greater objectivity and less reactivity.
This serves as a counter to the more frequent tendency of avoiding or denying our difficult emotional states. By experiencing our emotions with greater objectivity, we actually increase our exposure to them. But we shouldn’t view this a ‘bad’ thing. We need to experience and express our emotions. Through this, we learn that our emotions, thoughts, or body sensations are not so overwhelming or frightening. Through mindfully attending to negative emotional states, one learns that such emotions need not be feared or avoided and that they eventually pass away.
This is a key concept in mind-body medicine and the saying “what we resist, persists” comes to mind. Our emotional wellbeing has a significant impact on our health, and unexpressed emotions may actually contribute to physical symptoms.
If we want to reach our true potential, if we want to live an authentic life, we need a mindfulness practice.
This can take many forms. It may be a yoga practice, it may be running, it may be a ‘traditional’ meditation practice (remember this was described as the ‘scaffolding’ for mindfulness).
One thing I know for certain – we need space, and we need time.
- Time on our own, or with a skilled coach, to reflect on what’s important to us.
- Space, mentally and physically, to help shift perspective, to help us reflect. After all our environment is littered with cues/triggers for our current habits and way of living. This is why time spent in new surroundings can be so powerful.
It is for this reason we often find holidays the most transformational of times – we are outside our normal routine, away from the usual habit triggers and as a result have an easier time consciously creating our day. For more information around this I highly recommend ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear (I am going to be mentioning this book for some time to come I think!).
I hope you have found this two part blog series interesting, and most importantly helpful.
Here’s to cultivating a mindfulness practice in 2019!
Shapiro et al., 2006, Mechanisms of Mindfulness, Inc. J Clin Psychol 62: 373– 386