My ABC Mindfulness Model
Mindfulness is an ancient Eastern practice that’s now thriving in the Modern West. So much can be said about it, from so many perspectives. While keeping things simple, let’s get under the skin of what mindfulness is and how it ‘works’.
The simple explainer
When you train in mindfulness, you learn to become more aware of what’s actually going on in and around you. By developing this ‘mental muscle’ – through regular practice of simple awareness techniques – you build new neural pathways to parts of the brain associated with calm, wellbeing and emotional positivity. It also counteracts unhelpful ‘autopilot’ thinking – when attention gets stuck in difficult thoughts and emotions – opening up access to higher brain functions for clear thinking. Mindfulness has been shown in clinical studies to lead to significant improvements in:
Performance: focus, concentration and productivity
Cognitive functioning: learning, memory, creative problem solving
Wellbeing: calm & emotional positivity
Relationship and communication: empathy and emotional intelligence
I’ve developed a highly effective and simplified ABC model for teaching mindfulness, as set out in my book 'The ABC Guide to Mindfulness':
Awareness: of your mind/body experience, grounding yourself, and creating space for reflection
Being with your experience: allowing your brain and body to process your thoughts and emotions
Choosing wise responses: accessing your wise mind to make good decisions
The in-depth explainer
Fundamentally, mindfulness is about being present in the here and now, rather than being caught up automatically in thoughts and emotions about the past and the future. It’s a skill that you can learn by training your attention to notice physical sensations – your body, your senses and your breath. When you practise this, your mind naturally settles and slows down – allowing you to notice and process the two major elements of your experience:
Thoughts: Rather than getting sucked in or hooked by thoughts, you can simply watch them coming and going. Paradoxically, when you do that, they start to slow down, and become less solid. You get to see how they are just mental patterns – and often unhelpful ones – rather than absolute truth, which is how we often automatically treat them.
Emotions: Emotions are felt in the body as physical sensations. In a mindful state you can allow all of them simply to be there, including unpleasant ones like sadness or anger, without needing to get rid of them or act on them instantly. Like thoughts, if you simply observe them, they can arise and pass away naturally in time.
So when you’re mindful you don’t get blown around by all the random movements of your own thoughts and emotions. Instead you stand firm at the centre of yourself, observing everything calmly and dispassionately. This enables you sink down beneath the usual surface world to a deeper place of stillness, wellbeing and clarity about yourself and your best interests. It’s also where you find all your natural qualities – like compassion, strength, joy, sensitivity, playfulness – that may have got buried beneath layers of false beliefs and unhelpful habits.
To make this whole process work, you need a balance of two different approaches:
Focus/discipline – it takes some effort and dedication to retrain your brain away from your deeply ingrained autopilot habits
Trust and allowing – mindfulness is about simply being more of the time, rather than always doing or thinking. This requires a big element of ‘letting go’ and trusting the truth of the new ‘data’ that you access when you calmly pay attention to yourself.
I also use a careful balance of these two complementary approaches in my work with you: providing calm support and understanding; alongside structure and rigorous challenge to get things moving.
This whole process is based on the fundamental idea that you have all the answers and resources you need, it’s just a case of accessing them. When you do, you don’t need to follow complicated models of change, because what needs to happen next just presents itself to you. My job is to help you draw this out. So I make very limited use of supporting theoretical models and tools, as I've seen time and again how they can make things more complicated than they need to be.
GET MY BOOK 'THE ABC GUIDE TO MINDFULNESS'