Here's How To Stop Yourself Being Mindless
When we’re mindless we risk harming ourselves and others.
Mindlessness is when the mind depends heavily on past categories which fail to recognise the distinctions of the present situation. For example, we may notice a person is elderly and assume they have difficulties walking even though they are able to run a marathon. In this example, we mindlessly correlate ageing and sickness.
As I outlined last week in part 1, The Dangerous Risks of Being Mindless, mindlessness has the potential of instigating psychological problems and in the worst cases, contribute to premature loss of life.
Ways to avoid mindlessness
Fortunately we are able to avoid mindlessness. It is difficult to maintain awareness constantly, but with practice (and meditation) we can learn to live mindfully engaged moment to moment.
Focus on the process, not the outcome
When we solely focus on outcomes we forget about what came before – what made the outcome possible, the process. We see a grand building, we forget about all the preceding hard work. Consider all the planning, persuasion and preparation before a single brick was laid. Or a colleague produces an excellent report, we forget about all the reading and study giving them skills to construct grade-A analysis.
Without considering the process, we run the risk of faulty comparison. Mindlessly we may think: “why haven’t I produced something like this?” Mindfully you’d remember your own pursuits, process and rationale for different outcomes.
And when we concern ourselves more deeply with our own process, we better our craft.
“A process orientation not only sharpens our judgement, it makes us feel better about ourselves. A purely outcome orientation can take the joy out of life”
Maintain an open mind
We are constantly receiving information. It ‘forms’ us. When we mindlessly adhere to categories we stop adapting to our changing world. We are at risk of holding onto outdated or even false world views.
With a curious mind and open heart we are ready to receive and process new information. When information seems at odds with our beliefs we carefully assess the information and reassess ourselves. Something has to give. Either the reality is wrong or we are.
A mindless approach either ignores fresh information or adopts an ignorance is bliss mindset.
We can accelerate this process by testing alternative perspectives. We remind ourselves that people often have good reasons for behaviour we label undesirable. There we open ourselves to new ways to respond. Further, change in ourselves seems easier when we fully appreciate there are many ways to behave. Journaling from the perspective of others is a useful technique.
Controlling the context
Langer tells the story of The Birdman of Alcatraz, an Alcatraz prisoner with a life sentence. One day he came upon an injured sparrow. The prisoner nursed the bird back to health. News of this recovery spread amongst the inmates and guards who later brought other injured birds. Dealing with so many birds, The prison became an expert on avian care and diseases.
“Instead of living a dull, stale existence in a cell for forty-odd years, the Birdman of Alcatraz found that boredom can be just another construct of the mind, no more certain than freedom. There is always something new to notice. And he turned what might have been an absolute hell into, at the least, a fascinating, mindful purgatory.”
It’s stories like this one that show being mindful of the situation, seeing the situation for what it is and not what we expect it to be, allows us to find a context that works better.
As much of the world has been in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can learn from this lesson. Being mindless, we’d be desperate to escape the confines of our own homes. By focusing on what we’re unable to do – leave the home – we may trigger uncomfortable emotions, risking our mental health, suffering far more than we need. Being mindful, we see the situation for what it is and from that the opportunity it allows us. Learning to make bread, time for self care, fixing up the home, getting started on a side project or time to fully rest and relax.
Avoid mindlessness through mindful moments
Thyself is your personal mental health homepage. Using our browser extension give yourself mindful moments throughout your day to combat mindlessness. Get Thyself for free today.
 Mindfulness – Dr Ellen Langer