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Student Workbook

Mindfulness Meditation 14

Improving Mindfulness

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Module One: Getting Started

Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.

Marcus Aurelius

Life constantly demands our attention, but when we become fixated on the past or worried about the future, we often miss vital information in our present situations. Cultivating a state where you are consistently aware of your present moment is not impossible, but it takes practice. Nevertheless, by learning to abide in the present, you acquire a sense of perspective that can allow you to learn from the past without it overwhelming you with resentment and regret, and plan for the future without it overwhelming you with anxiety or dejection. Implementing the guidelines in this module is the first step to changing your mental and emotional outlook to one that operates in the present moment.

Workshop Objectives

Research has consistently demonstrated that when clear goals are associated with learning, it occurs more easily and rapidly. With that in mind, let’s review our goals for today.

At the end of this workshop, participants should be able to:

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Module Two: What Is Mindfulness?

People often confuse the concept of mindfulness with the idea that one should “stop and smell the roses.” However, if you found yourself with your nose stuck deep into a flower in a field where an angry bull was bearing down on you, this would be the exact opposite of being mindful. Put simply, mindfulness is a state of mind where you are fully conscious and engaged in the present moment and with the demands of the present moment.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

Buddhist Concept

The concept of mindfulness comes to us through the Buddhist religion. The word “mindfulness” is one translation of the Pali word sati (Sanskrit smrti). Other translations of this word include “awareness” and “memory.” Mindfulness is one’s capacity to avoid distraction from the present moment, but in Buddhism it also means to avoid forgetting what one already knows and to remember to do what one has an intention to do.

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

If mindfulness means avoiding distraction, what is it that distracts us from the present? People are constantly besieged with needs. Our basic needs such as food and shelter, and our more complicated needs for love, respect, happiness, and so on all compel us to consider our past and future in terms of what to avoid and what to seek after. Consequently, the tempting answer is to blame all the things going on in our world as the source of distraction. A Buddhist would disagree. Instead of everything that goes on “out there” being the source of distraction, Buddhists blame what they call the “monkey mind.” The monkey mind refers to our own mental capacity to engage internally in constant chatter. Sometimes internal mental chatter can be helpful for working out problems, for analysis, and even for play. However constant mental chatter can also distract us from the things that are most important. And often, it can actually mislead us into misunderstanding a given situation. Buddhism teaches techniques in meditation to cultivate mindfulness and quiet the monkey mind.

Another way of thinking of bare attention is in the Zen Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind.” To a Zen Buddhist, being a beginner is an ideal state because someone with no experience of something will also have developed no prejudice against it or other ways of placing limits on an experience. Since every moment of your life is unique, approaching each moment with innocence, as if you are a beginner and this is your first time experiencing this moment, allows you to keep yourself open to a host of possibilities that a more experienced person would either ignore or never consider.

One aspect of mindfulness is the cultivation of bare attention. Bare attention is attention that is devoid of judgment or elaboration. Whenever we are faced with a new situation, we are tempted to try and consider what this new situation means to us. Will it be pleasant, scary, long lasting, or of minor importance? More often than not, we do not have enough information yet to make that assessment. When we start attempting to evaluate the situation before it has played out, this takes us into monkey mind style thinking, which often leads to distortion. One component of being mindful is to approach any present moment with our full and neutral attention.

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Psychological Concept of Mindfulness

Although mindfulness originated as a Buddhist concept, psychologists from the 1970s to the present have studied the effects of Buddhist mindfulness meditation techniques and found that these are effective in reducing anxiety and reducing relapse rates in both depression and drug addiction. Recent studies have found that incorporating mindfulness into your life can increase positive emotions, improve the immune system, and reduce stress.

Despite the nearly universal agreement on the benefits of mindfulness, psychologists disagree on an exact definition of mindfulness or an exact method for developing mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn , one of the first psychologists to study mindfulness as a secular concept, defines mindfulness as “paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” According to a later study, mindfulness studies in psychology tend to require two components for mindfulness:


To this point, we have focused on just one aspect of mindfulness, that of bare attention in the immediate moment. However, as mentioned earlier, another translation of the word sati is memory, and there is a very good reason for this. Paying close attention to your immediate moment and environment sounds like a beneficial practice, and for the most part it is. However, there are times where paying too much attention can be detrimental and force you into mistakes. If you have ever been told or told someone else not to over-think a situation, this is a good example where bare attention can be detrimental. In fact, a recent study has found that a mindful state can be detrimental for certain kinds of learning.

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

When you learn to ride a bicycle, for example, you pay less attention about the process and feel of yourself pedaling. Instead, much of the learning occurs subconsciously in what is known as muscle memory. Muscle memory is one example of a special kind of memory called implicit memory. This type of memory occurs through practice. For musicians who read music, for example, at a certain point in practice, they no longer consciously think about what the squiggles on the page actually mean. In fact, reading in general relies primarily on implicit memory. If you tried to be really mindful of what you were reading, by focusing on the shape of each letter or the makeup of each sentence, you would likely miss the overall meaning of a written passage, and it would take a long time to do it.

Mindfulness is helpful in tasks that make use of another kind of memory called explicit memory. This type of memory is helpful in learning new things and in memorization. However, when you wish to develop a habit, the combination of mindfulness when you are consciously willing yourself to do or notice something and scaling back your awareness as you allow the new task to be taken up in your unconscious mind through implicit memory is the ideal way to go.

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Case Study: Steve

Steve hated it whenever another driver cut him off. Usually, he would get angry and without thinking about it, Steve would start honking his horn, flash his bright headlights, and drive up extremely close on the offending driver. Recently, Steve had begun to practice mindfulness. One day an elderly person in a Cadillac cut him off. For a split second he recognized how his thoughts had become angry and fearful at this point. Instead of reacting like he normally does, Steve decided instead to slow down and give the other driver a wide berth. He figured the other driver probably had not seen him, so he should change lanes and, as quickly as possible, get around the other driver, who may not be paying enough attention.

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Module Two: Review Questions (1 - 5)

5. Who first adopted mindfulness practices into psychology?
   a) Sigmund Freud 
   b) Jon Kabat-Zinn 
   c) Abraham Maslow 
   d) B. F. Skinner

4. Which of the following is a component of bare attention?
   a) Judgement 
   b) Prediction of the future 
   c) Non-judgement 
   d) None of the above

3. According to Zen Buddhists, which is the more ideal state of mind?
   a) Beginner's mind 
   b) Expert's mind 
   c) They're both equally ideal 
   d) They're both to be avoided

2. What is the Buddhist term for mental chatter?
   a) Lizard brain 
   b) Monkey mind 
   c) Talky thoughts 
   d) Animal awareness

1. Which of the following is NOT an accurate translation of sati?
   a) Memory
   b) Mindfulness
   c) Awareness 
   d) Kindness

Improving Mindfulness - Student Workbook (modified)

Module Two: Review Questions (6 - 10)

6. Which of the following does the practice of mindfulness NOT help?
    a) Depression 
    b) Anxiety 
    c) Immune System 
    d) Riding a bicycle

7.  Which of the following is an example of implicit memory?
    a) Making a right turn in a car 
    b) Checking for pedestrians 
    c) Learning a New Skill 
    d) All of the above

8. When is adding 2+2 an example of explicit memory?
    a) Always 
    b) Never 
    c) Only after you have initially learned the concept 
    d) Only during the time when you are learning the concept

9. What best describes Steve before mindfulness training? 
    a) Reactive 
    b) Evil 
    c) Kind 
    d) Psychic

10. What did mindfulness practice help Steve increase? 
    a) His ability to avoid anger 
    b) His ability to avoid getting cut off while driving 
    c) His ability to pause and consider his reaction when he became angry 
    d) His ability to cut other drivers off before they did the same to him.

Lessons Learned

Although this workshop is coming to a close, we hope that your journey toward improving mindfulness is just beginning. Please take a moment to review and update your action plan. This will be a key tool to guide your progress in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. We wish you the best of luck on the rest of your travels.  Key lessons learned during the workshop - 

• Define mindfulness
• Develop techniques to make oneself more attuned to the 
  present moment
• Understand the value and utility of one’s emotions
• Learn how to identify and counter distorted thinking
• Learn how to cultivate genuine positive emotions
• Become more fully present in social interactions

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