Thursday, May 14, 2020

Wrong mindfulness can be bad (Psych Today)

Prof. Jamie Gruman, PhD, Univ. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 5/11/20; Eds., Wisdom Quarterly

I keep forgetting to accept things I'm aware of. (Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels/Psych Today)

If you do it wrong, mindfulness can be bad for you: Like many other desirable practices, mindfulness can have drawbacks
It's not personal, so be aware and don't judge.
Mindfulness [derived from what the Buddha taught as sati and satipatthana] is hugely popular these days.

Once an esoteric practice only familiar to people with interests in Eastern spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism, today mindfulness is commonplace, with books, magazines, videos, podcasts, and training programs [like the one at UCLA] readily available for consumption.

However, the popularity of mindfulness may have outstripped the science [which changed it from what the Buddha taught yet kept the name so that people assume it is the same practice done in the same way for the same reason when it is not].

Media portrayals generally lead people to believe that the effects of practicing mindfulness are inevitably positive. And it is safe to say that people usually practice mindfulness because they think it will [invariably] improve their lives. Unfortunately, research reveals that this is not always the case. Mindfulness [done incorrectly] can be bad for you.

What is "mindfulness"?
I do both components, and I love it!
Mindfulness is often considered to have two main components
, awareness AND acceptance.

Awareness involves monitoring experiences, and [radical] acceptance refers to monitoring those experiences with an attitude of non-judgmental openness, making no attempt to change or avoid anything that pops up in mind.

Implementing BOTH components, by being a non-judgmental observer of experience, is necessary to derive benefits from mindfulness.

Two recent studies have found that just focusing on experiences without the corresponding attitude of acceptance is associated with undesirable outcomes. The first study looked at the mindfulness profiles of university students.

Learn it well and do it right. It works.
RESULTS: The researchers found that compared to students who had other profiles, the students who paid attention to their experiences but wrongly did so with a judgmental attitude — the “judgmentally observing” profile — had the poorest emotional outcomes, including the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and emotional instability.

The second study, which looked at both meditators and non-meditators, found similar results. Compared to people with other mindfulness profiles, those with the “judgmentally observing” profile suffered more depression, rumination, worry, and distress intolerance.

[Mindfulness has never been found to be harmful. Doing the practice incorrectly can be harmful as the scientific evidence shows in opposition to the alarming headline.]

Evidence is accumulating that cultivating only the awareness component of mindfulness without the associated acceptance component may lead to unwanted outcomes.

This finding is consistent with other studies showing that the quality of self-focused attention is instrumental in determining whether it leads to well-being or distress.

Other research suggests that [wrong] mindfulness can have adverse effects involving the development of new psychological problems or the intensification of existing ones.

Although not all mindfulness practice involves formal meditation, Buddhist or secular, there are a number of published examples of meditation leading to negative outcomes such as anxiety, depersonalization, and depression.

One published report found that 25 percent of meditators experienced unwanted effects, most of which were transitory and not very serious.

Another study involving Buddhist meditation practitioners found that 73 percent experienced significant impairment as a result of their practice, but the authors noted that their results might not apply to more general mindfulness-based interventions.

Studies have also shown that mindfulness can be associated with other negative outcomes such as reduced motivation, compromised implicit learning, and less willingness to accept responsibility for fixing wrongdoings.

Few activities in life are unmitigated goods. Consider how exercise can put a person in a good mood and keep one physically healthy.

BUT if you go for a jog when you have a broken ankle or workout without giving muscles and joints enough time to recover, exercise can lead to problems. Similarly, it seems that mindfulness can sometimes [if done incorrectly] have some drawbacks.

Benefits of mindfulness found by science
The Science Delusion
Research has shown that in general mindfulness has numerous benefits such as enhancing positive emotions and lowering stress.

For most people, most of the time, practicing mindfulness is an effective and healthy way to foster well-being. However, it is important to recognize that to achieve the benefits of mindfulness it must be practiced properly and carefully [not incorrectly].

Although more research is needed to clearly establish the conditions under which it is more or less beneficial, there is enough evidence to suggest that some caution is called for. The actual bottom line is: Sometimes, in some ways, mindfulness can be bad for you [if you're doing it incorrectly].
AUTHOR: Dr. Jamie Gruman, Ph.D., is a full professor in the Department of Management at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) and also a founding member of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. Online: Some books, Twitter, LinkedIn.

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