Mindfulness: Changing Negative Thoughts by Observing Them


Mindfulness is a philosophy and practice rooted in Buddhist meditation that entails moment-by-moment awareness of our feelings, thoughts, and sensations – that is, our internal world, and the surrounding environment – the external world. It is the art of seeing things as they are in the present moment; neither the past nor the future have power or significance in this state. The two primary components of mindfulness include awareness and equanimity. While the former refers to awareness of one’s own body and the variety of sensations that accompany it, as well as the multifaceted layers of thoughts that rush through our mind, the latter refers to a state of being non-judgmental about this awareness. Mindfulness enables individuals to “see” their negative thoughts and move past them by cultivating cognizance about reality and one’s own place in the larger scheme of things.
While the philosophy is immaculate in that it is simple, profound and unquestionably the need of the hour, the essence of mindfulness is based on cultivating inner awareness which proves difficult in a world like ours, where not only are lives becoming increasingly more complex and stressful, but also minds are on autopilot, filled with thoughts that are mostly negative, unhealthy and unhelpful. In fact, according to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the underlying cause of any problem is certain negative core beliefs or maladaptive ways of thinking that we unconsciously adopt and enforce in our daily lives, through

  • ruminating
  • overgeneralizing
  • all-or-nothing thinking
  • “oughts” and “shoulds”
  • labelling
  • discounting the positive
  • emotional reasoning

We tend to think that mindfulness is an additional technique that we have to learn in order to be at peace, to change these negative patterns of thinking or reach our goals., The truth is, however, that mindfulness requires no addition – rather, it is a kind of subtraction of all the mind chatter from your being by observing what is. It is a state of being that allows you to be in the here-and-now and change your negative patterns of thinking by merely observing your thoughts without trying to manipulate them.

The real problem is not so much that we are not aware of what is going on within us – because intuitively on some level we always are aware – but that we react instantaneously to our negativity and feed it further. When a negative thought arises in our mind, we actively try to push it away, distract ourselves or rationalize it in some way. We do everything except stopping to take a look at it. This is because we do not know how to deal with the discomfort that comes with simply observing our own thoughts. It makes us uncomfortable to be still. It makes us uncomfortable when we are not constantly thinking or doing something.

When you are mindful, negative thoughts don’t automatically go away. They lose the power they hold and begin to fade away because:

  • they are not enforced by further negative thoughts,
  • you no longer react to them repeatedly and automatically,
  • you see thoughts as transient and temporary and are thus not enslaved by them
  • you begin to see the world as it is, in a realistic way
  • you accept yourself
  • you become naturally more positive and compassionate

According to recent research, mindfulness is proving to be an effective tool to prevent depression, as well as improve the ability to deal with existing depression by helping reduce or overcome day-to-day anxiety, stress and irritability. Studies show that individuals suffering from anxiety disorders who struggle with negative thoughts on a regular basis, also benefit from developing mindfulness, establishing itself empirically time and again as a practice that enhances inner well-being.

Awareness is integral to our being and has accompanied us since the moment we were born, since before we could recognize our own thoughts, since before we grew up and thoughts became more complicated. Mindfulness is thus not something you have to learn anew, but something you learn to go back to because it has been with you all along. In a way, you are already and always present – you become mindful when you become aware that you are.

Debanjali Saha

Debanjali Saha

Debanjali Saha is a therapist-in-training doing her postgraduate studies in Counselling Psychology. Debanjali is highly interested in expanding research in the area of Self-Compassion and has conducted several workshops on the topic in and around Bangalore. She is currently working on a 7-day intervention program on cultivating self-compassion as part of her thesis.
Debanjali Saha

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