For most people, it’s not that mindfulness isn’t valuable, but rather it’s something they simply don’t have time for. Yet in her new book, Mindfulness on the Run: Quick, Effective Mindfulness Techniques for Busy People,Dr. Chantal Hofstee shows us just how easily — and effectively — mindfulness can be incorporated into even the busiest lives.
Dr. Hofstee, a practicing clinical psychologist, draws upon her clinical experience, as well as some convincing research, to offer numerous tips, tools, and exercises to use mindfulness to improve our brain function, emotional control, relationship to ourselves and others, reaction to stress, and even how we handle conflict.
Dr. Hofstee begins by explaining that while many of us view stress as a normal part of life (and something that cannot be mitigated), it is actually when we are most busy and cannot spare time for a mindfulness retreat that we most need to practice mindfulness. However, no matter how much mindfulness practice we do, we can’t ever eradicate stressful and challenging situations from our lives.
What mindfulness can do is teach us to respond differently. Dr. Hofstee points to an eight year study conducted at the University of Wisconsin Madison that demonstrated that while a high level of stress does increase risk of premature death, this effect was only true for those participants who believed that stress was harmful to their health.
Just what we believe, and how we respond to those beliefs has a powerful effect on our brains. Here, Dr. Hofstee introduces the concept of red-brains and green-brains. A red-brain, she tells us, is in a state of stress, often activating our fight or flight response. And while the red-brain is often triggered by actual threat, it is also frequently triggered simply by our thoughts about the events in our lives. The green-brain, on the other hand is “calm and present”, ready to learn, open to relationships, and essential for our physical health.
And while many of us find ourselves stuck in the productivity myth — believing that success will lead to happiness — the best way to control our brain states is to learn to control our thoughts. Dr. Hofstee gives the example of running late to work and feeling overwhelmed and stressed, or making a conscious effort to find things to be grateful for. And because mindfulness is a state largely comprised of two components, attention and attitude, when we choose what we pay attention to and our attitude about it, we can learn to cultivate a kind and non-judgmental response and move from reaction to response.
Mindfulness doesn’t just help us respond better to the events in our lives and the people around us, Dr. Hofstee tells us, it also changes the way we relate to ourselves. “You grow in self-compassion and kindness towards yourself,” she writes. Not only do we learn to accept our own uncomfortable emotions but we also learn to accept those of others and stop trying to fix them, which improves our connection to them. By making someone feel heard, acknowledged, and validated, Dr. Hofstee tells us, we activate their green-brain, which improves their mood, as well as our own.
And yet practicing mindfulness, Dr. Hofstee acknowledges, it not a foolproof strategy. In many cases it may not work. Yet in each instance, Dr. Hofstee offers useful exercises to help us train our brains to operate more mindfully. One of these is called, “Turn it Around”, where we are encouraged to take a negative thought and first ask if it can be true, if we can absolutely know if it is true, how we react and who we would be when we believe that it is true, and lastly, turn the thought around to the self, to the other, or to the opposite. In the example Dr. Hofstee gives, “I don’t have enough time,” can be turned around to, “Time doesn’t have enough of me.”
By learning to recognize especially our recurring stressful thoughts, we can also learn to recognize our core beliefs, which Dr. Hofstee compares to glasses through which we view the world and color our perceptions. “This insight,” Dr. Hofstee writes, “allows your mind to open up to the possibility that things may not be true even when they feel true.”
One of those possibilities is that our positive thoughts materialize in concrete ways. This self-fulfilling nature of thoughts reminds us of the importance of being aware our thoughts and particularly thinking only that which we wish to be true. But we may also simply feel better. When we are able to control our stressful thoughts, Dr. Hofstee explains, we are able to de-escalate the stress response and release hormones that will actually reduce stress, muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure.
Learning to control not the events that cause stress, but rather, the way we respond to them might be the most important lesson Dr. Hofstee offers. And as she effectively demonstrates, not just do we need mindfulness most when we are busy, but when we have the right tools, it is possible to practice it on even the tightest schedule.
Mindfulness on the Run: Quick, Effective Mindfulness Techniques for Busy People
Exisle Publishing, July 2016
Paperback, 256 Pages