I'm looking forward to seeing the Disney Pixar "emotion picture," Inside Out because I love the concept of personifying our emotions in order to better understand why we behave the way we do.
But the ability to "watch" what is going on in your mind isn't just for animated movies. Learning to notice the "voices" inside your head is one of the many benefits of mindfulness.
You could say that mindfulness is like a personal app that allows you to see what's playing out in your mind whenever you pause to notice it. Without this awareness, the unnoticed thoughts, beliefs, memories, and feelings sit at the control panel of your mind, pushing your buttons and controlling your behaviors.
Contrary to popular misconception, the purpose of mindfulness isn't to shut everything out. The purpose of mindfulness is to notice what "everything" is, without judging it, so you can choose what to pay attention to. This awareness opens the door to new possibilities because it gives you a choice:
Will I allow this emotion (triggered by that thought, fed by that belief, based on that memory) to cause me to act in a particular way simply out of habit? Or, would I prefer to simply acknowledge the emotion, thought, belief, and/or memory, then choose to focus on something else that will bring me the results I really want?
Let me give you a specific example from one of our Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program participants. Julie (not her real name) caught herself as she was picking up a third brownie:
I thought, 'Why am I doing this? I'm not hungry. What is going on?' I paused to do a body-mind-heart scan and noticed that I had an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it wasn't hunger. I realized that I had been thinking about my performance evaluation the next day and I was feeling anxious. Why? My work had been good and that there was really nothing to worry about. I searched my memory for other times I felt this way and immediately recalled sitting at the dinner table as my dad criticized me for my grades, my chores, my clothes and just about everything else. Aha! Of course! I was eating brownies to calm myself down. As soon as I realized what was going on, I set the brownie down and took a few deep breaths and grounded myself in the present. I told myself that, 'Yes, evaluations are stressful. Everyone feels a little nervous, but the purpose is to get constructive feedback, set goals, and improve my performance.' I allowed myself a few minutes to walk around the building to diffuse the anxiety, then I went back to my desk, threw the brownie away, and got back to work.
Practice using your personal "mindfulness" app to become aware of the little voices in your head and begin to take charge of your life!
Michelle May, M.D. is the founder and CEO of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training and the creator of the Mindful Eating Virtual Coach App for Apple and Android devices.