Primary Location

PO Box 208

Forest Falls, CA 92339 US



Chapter 8

Chapter 8



Cultivating Mindfulness

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

Pema Chodron

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

James Baraz

“Learning how to stop all you’re doing and shift over to a ‘being’ mode, learning how to make time for yourself, how to slow down and nurture calmness and self acceptance in yourself, learning to observe what your own mind is up to from moment to moment, how to watch your thoughts and how to let go of them without getting so caught up and driven by them, how to make room for new ways of seeing old problems and for perceiving the interconnectedness of things, these are some of the lessons of mindfulness.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.”

Wu Men

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die,
and then he dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama

We particularly like the last quote. Mindfulness is a discipline that allows you to be in the now, in the moment, fully experiencing and celebrating the full tapestry of your life. It also provides you with tremendous opportunities to passionately engage your life with creativity, purposefulness, and emotional intelligence.

What would you see if you were to eavesdrop on one of our Mindful Choices therapy groups? You would see a group of 8 to 10 people wholeheartedly engaged in personal transformation, consciously choosing life and healing over what Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to as “automaticity.” What is “automaticity?” It’s living your life on autopilot, following a predetermined script, guided by beliefs that don’t serve you very well, dominated by inaccurate thoughts taken as literal truth or as commands that must be obeyed, mindlessly reacting your way through life, unaware of a multitude of great choices for making your life better, often unaware that you have choices at all.

Although we emphasize many tools, part of our two-hour group session is devoted to mindfulness meditation, certainly not the only way to develop mindfulness skills, but an extremely valuable tool nevertheless. So, what would you see if you observed group members meditating?

If new to meditation, you might think that our group members were relaxing, daydreaming, or even asleep. You might not realize they were intensely engaged in “non-doing,” practicing being fully present, aware, and focused in the here and now. As stated by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “They are actively tuning into each moment in an effort to remain awake and aware from one moment to the next.”

We told you previously that all of our choices are interrelated, with each choice affecting the others. This is certainly true of Choice 1 and Choice 4. Basic to any mindfulness practice is learning to be more aware of your breathing, and basic to any stress management practice is the combination of learning mindfulness skills and mindful awareness of your breathing.

You met Matt in Chapter 1. Let’s continue with Matt’s journey toward well-being:

Matt learned diaphragmatic breathing from Robin during his first session. It was magic! Previously, stress and anxiety had seemed overwhelming and the effects were felt in his work-life, his relationships, and his health. His quality of life had been at an all-time low and he didn’t like the life he was living. In fact, life seemed bleak and pointless, one stressful day after another with no enjoyment – just more stress.

The “breath work” brought about major changes. Matt hadn’t realized he had been breathing mainly from his upper chest, breathing becoming more rapid, shallow and irregular with increasing stress – and he was almost always stressed. In fact, Matt wasn’t much aware of his breathing at all until he began the practice. Spending just 10 minutes a day practicing diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly” breathing made him aware of his breathing 24-7. That heightened awareness allowed him to catch himself being “up-tight,” such an awareness serving as a cue reminding him to plug in a learned relaxation response, quickly lowering his level of stress and anxiety. Moreover, Matt had learned to take three deep diaphragmatic breaths whenever he was aware of being stressed, a “mindful pause,” and the additional step worked wonders.

Matt had also been learning about “self-talk.” We all talk to ourselves, but most of us aren’t much aware of self-talk or the incessant inner chatter that typifies how the human mind works.

Our minds are always busy generating thoughts, and some of those thoughts are destructive. Matt learned we often disturb ourselves with automatic negative thoughts, or long held core beliefs that aren’t accurate and don’t serve us very well. He also learned about “schema,” self-destructive patterns learned mostly in childhood that lead us to re-create the conditions of our childhood that were most difficult for us (more about schema in Life Choice 5).

An epiphany! When he was up-tight, or in fight or flight mode (which was often the case), Matt wasn’t much aware of self-talk at all. It was only when he slowed himself down with diaphragmatic breathing that he became fully conscious of things he was telling himself. He realized it wasn’t so much what was happening that was important, but what he was telling himself about what was happening. When calmer, he could mindfully observe his own thoughts, see them as only “stories” his mind was telling him, decide that those stories were not particularly useful, and choose a different and wiser direction.

Diaphragmatic breathing alone wasn’t enough, nor was redirecting his self-talk in and of itself sufficient. It was a team effort – well practiced diaphragmatic breathing combined with more realistic self-talk, leading to more useful choices that dramatically lowered his stress. Doing one without the other was like having one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake — not very effective. In combination however the results were dramatic. Matt discovered that he could breathe deep, slow, and regular, while talking to himself in a calm and self-soothing way, gently reminding himself: “It’s okay. Let it be. There is no emergency here, I’m a fallible human being, just like all other human beings – and that’s okay.”

Matt realized self-talk had a tone, and the tone was important. His thoughts could be loud, demanding, or scary, or they could be soft, gentle, and quiet. There was also an urgency and tempo. Matt became aware of having racing thoughts when he was stressed, or slowing his thoughts and focusing when he decided on a different and more reasonable direction. It was a choice. Be frazzled, or calm down, slow down, and let go!

Exciting possibilities – Matt felt more in control of his life than ever before. It was quite a paradox. While desperately seeking control over his life, life seemed unmanageable. Letting go of volcanic struggling however, opened the door to a life of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction. What an insight! Over control is out of control. You have to give up control to actually find control. Sometimes you have to slow to grow.

Matt thought – this is great! Where do I go from here? Realizing that old habits die hard, and would resurface given the opportunity, Matt was eager to take this new learning further. In therapy, he learned that this process actually had a name – “mindfulness.”

Matt had begun what was to become central to his life, a journey of self-awareness, a journey of transformation. Matt was learning to be awake and purposeful rather than on autopilot, in charge of his life, intrinsically motivated, reinventing himself, and reshaping his future. Exciting possibilities! Where do you begin? In the words of the 15th century Indian poet Kabir: “wherever you are, that’s the entry point.”

Mindfulness is a discipline, a skill that can be developed with practice. Mainstream culture and psychology seem to just now be discovering the power of mindfulness, but it’s actually a 2500 year-old concept. Resources are plentiful, both in print, and on the Internet. For example, you might check out the many mindfulness videos on YouTube.

In our work with stress management, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, relationship issues, and all addictions and compulsions, the concept of mindfulness takes center stage. Recovery and growth, and the achievement of emotional balance, regardless of the problem being addressed, cannot take place without developing mindful awareness and the ability to take a step back and observe your own thoughts, feelings and images – particularly your “stories.” Stories are elaborate explanations for what’s happening in your life, explanations that may be totally lacking in accuracy or usefulness. Your mind is not always your friend.

People with chronic stress and anxiety have a lot of negative learning to overcome. They have learned how to view unexpected events, conditions, and certain people as threatening. They've learned to doubt their ability to cope with stressful situations. They have learned to “awfulize” and “catastrophize,” expecting the worst. They have learned to think negatively about themselves and others. They are often out of touch with their needs and don't feel successful at getting their needs met. They often feel an inordinate amount of guilt, and they're prone to worry. They may feel disconnected from their values, the things that matter most, and they often don't know how to be joyful. They're living in an anxious past or a threatening future, and are having a tough time slowing down and being fully present in the “here and now.”

Being mindful simply means paying attention. It's tuning in with all your senses, calmly deferring action or judgment while you observe what is, what’s going on within you and around you this moment. It’s not having to do anything immediately. With a calm shift to full and focused awareness of internal thoughts, feelings, and physical states, as well as awareness of everything occurring around you, you become able to consciously and purposely participate in your reality in a powerfully positive and realistic way.

Mindfulness skills require practice and the cultivation of four of these skills can continue for a lifetime. The skill of awareness is about learning to focus attention on one thing, rather than many things, while becoming aware of everything going on within you, such as your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, as well as everything your senses are telling you. The skill of nonjudgmental observation is about noticing your experiences without judging them as “good” or “bad.” The skill of staying in the moment is about paying attention to, and participating in, the here and now, rather than being preoccupied by memories of the past or expectations for the future. The skill of beginner’s mind is about observing things as they are without preconceived notions or expectations, while being open to a multitude of possibilities.


DIRECTIONS: Under each description, choose the number that best represents agreement with your behavior for the past week and record that number on the following table.







fghijby 2=


0= not true at all, 1= mostly not true, 2= partially true, 3= largely true, 4=totally true

  1. I Practice Present Moment Awareness. Throughout my day, I am aware of being in the present moment with whatever I am doing, whether it is eating, walking, sitting, working on a task or simply observing something. Being in the present moment means that I am attending only to what is happening to me in that moment, striving to let go of thoughts involving the past or the future and giving full attention and awareness to information coming in from all of my senses

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

b. I Regularly Check In With Myself. Throughout my day, I engage in Mind/Body checks as a means of preventing stress from building up, or as a means of becoming more aware of my stress level and purposefully decreasing it. I utilize Mind/Body checks as a way of taking brief breaks from my usual activity to tune into my present state with full awareness.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

c. I Am Mindfully Aware of Physical Tension. Throughout my day, I am often aware of areas of tension in my body, and I allow myself to gently relax those areas.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

d. I Am Mindfully Aware of Thoughts and Feelings. Throughout my day, I take the time to become aware of what is happening in my mind and emotions, adopting a passive observer attitude and just making a mental note of my thoughts and feelings. Once aware, I focus on my breathing, quieting mental chatter. I am able to use conscious breathing to stay focused in the moment and not get caught up in fighting my thoughts or avoiding them.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

e. I Use Mental Reminders For Self-Calming. Throughout my day, I take the time to repeat to myself special stress-reducing affirmations or mantras, or to simply remind myself: "Let it go," or "Slow it down," or something similar to help me shift from high stress to a state of calm.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

f. I Practice Slowing My Breathing, Appreciating, and Being in the Now. I am aware that rushing through my day is not only stressful but often leads to bad habits and healthcare compromises such as eating for convenience, forgoing sleep, not taking the time for exercise or stress management, or not being available for important relationships. I make a concerted effort to slow down, breathe, and appreciate the now.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

g. I Create Calm By the Way I Structure My Day. I do not over-schedule my day. I allow myself time to simply think and reflect on my life. I am able to create calm.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

h. There Is Balance in My Choices. I am able to carefully evaluate my commitments. I ask myself if my commitments are truly satisfying, part of a healthy balance, and consistent with taking good care of myself.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

i. I Give Myself Free Time. I purposely have unscheduled time in my day, time to reflect or spontaneously engage in family connections or fun activities. I am conscious of guarding my free time by being prepared to say “no” to requests that are not consistent with my commitment to set aside free time.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

j. I Give Myself Time to Practice Mindfulness. I set aside time to meditate or engage in contemplative prayer, helping me to stay more conscious and balanced. I am able to be a spectator, simply observing my own thoughts as they come and go. I am able to ground myself in peace and calmness.

Select 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 and record your score in the STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS table above.

The following is an example of the table squares a-J filled in with 10 scores, each square representing the 0-4 score on that particular statement. The scores are then totaled in the last square, for a total of 20 that is then divided by 2 for a final score of 10.



























by 2=


The score of 10 is then located on the grid below, falling near the dividing line between Needs Improvement and Good. This means that for the past week STAYING PRESENT BY CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS performance was close to the “good” category. Overall, this means that the person taking this pretest was doing only a fair job in cultivating mindfulness skills. There is still substantial room for improvement.


Okay, now it’s time to enter your score on the grid below.


How did you do? Remember, no matter how well you have done on this pretest, there is much you can do toward improving Staying Present and Cultivating Mindfulness.

The possibilities for growth and mastery are limitless. How good do you want to be in your ability to Stay Present and Cultivate Mindfulness?

Let’s first take a deeper look at the rationale behind the 10 statements in our pretest,

The thoughts behind the Life Choice 4 assessment statements

a. Throughout my day, I was aware of being in the present moment with whatever I was doing, whether it was eating, walking, sitting, working on a task or simply observing something. Being in the present moment meant that I was attending only to what was happening to me in that moment, striving to let go of thoughts involving the past or the future and giving full attention and awareness to the information coming in from all of my senses

The goal of training in mindfulness skills is developing the ability to be fully aware of what’s happening right now. In addition to having accurate awareness of what’s going on all around you, mindfulness means being aware of your inner world, your thoughts and feelings and your core beliefs and values. Mindfulness means having the ability to calmly observe and reflect on your thoughts and feelings, and recognize what your needs are in the moment.

Being stressed, anxious or depressed often means that you are telling yourself something scary and threatening about your present situation and your ability to cope. Instead of being fully present in the here and now, you may be ruminating on past events or engaging in “what if thinking” about dire events that might happen in the future.

It’s been said that depression tends to be about holding on to the past, while anxiety is mostly about worrying about the future. While reflecting on past mistakes and regrets can provide you with a compass to better live your values, and concern about the future can help you more consistently move in the direction of your values, being dominated by a focus on either the past or the future can rob you of the opportunity to fully experience the richness of life this moment. In short, you could live your entire life without really being here, without ever being able to slow down and connect with all that is wonderful and beautiful about this world. That would be tragic. Mindfulness is about learning how to tune in your life with acceptance and appreciation, and without judgment – savoring the now!

Being mindful in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn means: “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Think of it is falling awake.

b. Throughout my day, I engaged in Mind/Body Checks as a means of preventing stress from building up, or as a means of becoming more aware of my stress level and purposefully decreasing it. I utilized Mind/Body Checks as a way of taking brief breaks from my usual activity to tune into my present state with full awareness.

This is a strategy we recommend for our clients who are dealing with severe stress and anxiety, but it’s also a good idea for all of us. Once you have begun the Mindful Choices 1 work of Breath Awareness and Retraining, you’re all set to use Mind/Body Checks as a way of keeping stress and anxiety from building, or as a way of quickly reducing your stress and anxiety.

Stress and anxiety are cumulative, building throughout your day. In some cases panic attacks result when your stress level rises high enough. In most cases, the result of unrelieved stress and anxiety is exhaustion, depression and having everything that you would otherwise enjoy and value seriously impacted. In more extreme cases, you might be waking up with severe anxiety, even your first panic attack of the day. This is a result of stress and anxiety so unrelenting, and so unresolved from the previous day, that it hits you full force when you first open your eyes.

Mind/Body Checks allow you to take frequent short stress relieving breaks, mindfully checking in with your mind and body, choosing to make a shift.

It can be as brief as three deep breaths, such as recommended by Thomas Crum in his book by the same name. It could involve a Mind/Body Scan which might take several minutes and is more like a meditation where you tune into what’s happening in various parts of your body, and what’s happening in your mind, taking the time to release tension and shift your thinking to thoughts that are more practical and positive.

Find a place to sit quietly in a relaxed position with legs and arms uncrossed. Begin to breathe more deeply and slowly while taking a moment to scan your body, beginning with your feet and moving throughout your body, noticing any areas of tension and breathing in relaxation to that area. If you already know that you hold tension in specific parts of your body, such as your neck and shoulders, you may focus on relaxing those areas. Once you have relaxed your body, you can focus on what’s happening in your mind, passively noticing your thoughts and feelings. This is your opportunity to practice the skill of defusion that we discuss in regard to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In any given moment, you can choose to accept, let go, and move in a direction more consistent with your values.

As we’ve said, stress is cumulative. Get in the habit of putting a number from 1 to 10 on your level of stress and anxiety. Let’s assume that at 8 or 9 you will feel on the verge of panic. It need never get that high. How about catching it at a 3 on its way to becoming a 4. Taking the time to do a Mind/Body Check and plugging in self calming strategies or defusing self-talk keeps your stress and anxiety managed, or even significantly reduced. You can reduce your stress over and over again, as often as necessary.

c. Throughout my day, I was often aware of areas of tension in my body, and gently allowed myself to relax those areas.

Do you carry your stress and anxiety in specific areas of your body? Often people who are breathing from their upper chest with their breathing becoming even more rapid and shallow and irregular when stressed, are literally “up-tight.” We like that expression as it so literally true. Many of our clients experience chest pain, shoulder pain, stiff neck, or headaches. Not surprisingly, these complaints tend to go away in direct proportion to how good our clients become at breath awareness and retraining.

Stress and anxiety also results in aches and pains, and general discomfort in other areas of the body as well. Learn where you hold your tension and direct your awareness to gently softening and relaxing those areas. Utilize the methods discussed in b above.

d. Throughout my day, I took the time to become aware of what was happening in my mind, adopting a passive attitude and just making note of my thoughts and feelings. Once aware, I focused on my breathing, quieting the mental chatter. I was able to use conscious breathing to stay focused in the moment and not get caught up in fighting my thoughts or avoiding them.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers very useful strategies in dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. Russ Harris in his book The Happiness Trap discusses the ACT strategy of “defusing” troublesome thoughts and images rather than “fusing” with them.

Thoughts are just thoughts and your mind is in the business of generating thoughts. That’s what a mind does. Sometimes thoughts are scary. Sometimes they are irrational. Often they don’t serve you well. Often your mind is not your friend. If your best friend talked to you the way you talk to you, would he or she remain your best friend?

You get into trouble when you “fuse” with your thoughts, or accept them uncritically at face value believing you must listen to them, see them as an absolute truth, or obey them as commands. “Defusing” on the other hand, means calmly taking a step back, accepting and observing the thought, acknowledging that the thought is only a thought and nothing more, and deciding whether the thought is useful or serves you well in your present situation.

You can be constantly preoccupied with “fused” negative thoughts, beliefs and images, with the result that you are distracted from everything in your life that would otherwise be valued or meaningful. You can also battle to push these things out of your consciousness, and you may use drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or other compulsions and addictions to accomplish this end, or you may simply exert enormous energy in your struggle to stay in control.

Diffusion is simply accepting that the thoughts exist, while granting yourself permission to move in a more practical direction, fully engaging in the things that matter, the things you value.

e. Throughout my day, I took the time to repeat to myself special stress-reducing affirmations or mantras, or to simply remind myself: "Let it go," or "Slow it down," or something similar to help me shift from high stress to a state of calm.

Bill doesn’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point he became very conscious of kinder, gentler, more encouraging, more accepting-self talk. Not surprisingly, this shift coincided with the elimination of panic attacks and a huge increase in his ability to effectively manage stress and anxiety. As stated by Bill:

I’m now acutely aware of experiencing my thoughts, almost as if I’m hearing them. They now have a kinder quality and a softer tone. They are not so loud, strident and demanding as they were when I was younger. They no longer have an anxiety provoking “what if” quality. They are no longer urging me to run faster, work harder, do better. They are no longer punishing when mistakes inevitably happen. My favorite mantra is now “Let it be! Yes, I still make mistakes, but they are only mistakes and valuable in that I can learn from them. So, does that mean I have accepted mediocrity? No, I never will, but I now enjoy achievements, high productivity AND low stress, and I’m enjoying the journey.”

f. I was aware that rushing through my day is not only stressful but often leads to bad habits and healthcare compromises such as eating for convenience, forgoing sleep, not taking the time for exercise or stress management, or not being available for important relationships. I made a concerted effort to slow down, breathe, and appreciate the now.

Do you have a cruise control option? Do you know how to purposefully calm down, slow down, relax, and pace yourself through your day? If like most Americans, you eat on the run, get insufficient sleep, skip exercise or exercise only now and then, putting off tending to relationships because there is much too much to do, you’re probably doing serious damage to your life and well-being.

Practicing mindfulness skills is part of the solution. It goes hand in hand with all the other things we have to say about excellent self-care. If you’re being mindful, you’re reminding yourself to slow down and savor your experiences. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with all aspects of effective self-management, and having a life worth living.

g. I did not over-schedule my day, allowing myself time to simply think and reflect on my life. I was able to create calm.

Can you create calm? Yes? Are you doing it, and are you doing it frequently? It takes a little planning and it takes time management. The bottom line is you need to create space in your life to be mindful. It can’t happen if you’re committed to setting a frantic pace from the time your feet hit the floor in the morning until you turn out the lights at night.

We recommend a “modified” time management practice of establishing your goals for the day in terms of A, B, and C priorities. The A priorities are the things that are most urgent and important. The B priorities are important but not urgent. The C priorities are not highly important and can wait. The recommended time management practice is to work on only the A priorities, moving to the B priorities when you either run out of A priorities, or can’t work on them any longer. If you never get to the C priorities, it’s okay. That’s why they are C priorities.

Here’s a vital “modification.” Make sure that your A priorities include time for self-care, time to be creative, time to connect with the important people in your life, time to live your values, and time to be with your thoughts and reflect on your life.

We can almost hear the protests. What? You want me to take more time when I already don’t have enough time? No, our aim is not for you to take more time. We’re simply asking you to look at your priorities and choose to make your health and well-being, and your mindfulness practice, a top priority. It’s all about choices

h. I was able to carefully evaluate my commitments asking myself if my commitments are truly satisfying, part of a healthy balance, and consistent with my goal of taking good care of myself.

Mindfulness is about clarity. It’s about seeing your life and your life’s choices in clear perspective. Are you living your values? Are your commitments about the really important stuff? Is there a healthy balance?

Mindfulness is about taking the time to get to know yourself better. It’s about asking yourself the important questions, and listening to the answers.

Perhaps the most important question is: “What is it that is really, really, really important anyway?” Is your life about living your values, finding meaning, achieving balance?

i. I purposely had unscheduled time in my day, time to reflect or spontaneously engage in family connections or fun activities. I was conscious of guarding my free time by being prepared to say “no” to requests that were not consistent to my commitment to set aside free time.

Does having free time make you feel stressed and anxious? We think it’s vital that you don’t schedule yourself to the very last minute of your day. There has got to be time to catch your breath, time to really listen to the important people in your life, time to lean back, put your feet up on the desk, and reflect on what’s really important and where you’re going. Mindfulness practice thrives in such an atmosphere, and becomes impossible if you haven’t left any space for it.

j. I set aside time to meditate or engage in contemplative prayer, helping me to stay more conscious and balanced. I was able to be a spectator, simply observing my own thoughts as they come and go. I was able to ground myself in peace and calmness.

Although mindfulness is something you can engage in whenever you choose, such as regularly taking “three deep breaths,” it’s also important to give yourself time for meditation. While it may take time to develop a meditation practice, the time spent is well worth it. There are mountains of evidence on the benefits of meditation, such as becoming more just, moral and compassionate.

It should be very apparent from our writing that we’re big on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.  The following is a list of scientific evidence-based reasons for learning mindfulness and mindfulness meditation:

  •  Mindfulness practice leads not only to feeling less stressed but also to physiological changes such as lowering damaging levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Mindfulness also helps in moment to moment management of stress and in quickly recovering from stress.
  •  Mindfulness helps us see ourselves more objectively and compassionately, with less self judgment.
  •  Mindfulness skill helps improve cognitive abilities.
  •  Mindfulness helps in pain management, along with reducing stress and fatigue resulting from pain.
  •  Mindfulness results in brain changes that are helpful in dealing with anxiety and depression.
  •  Mindfulness meditation changes the way the amygdala (part of the brain’s limbic system with a primary role in the processing of emotional reactions) responds to unpleasant stimuli.
  •  Mindfulness meditation facilitates being less judgmental and more compassionate with self and others.
  •  Mindfulness meditation in combination with therapy helps people going through chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
  •  Mindfulness meditation decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation for older people while aiding their health by reducing inflammation related gene expression.
  •  Mindful yoga may lower levels of depression for pregnant women.
  •  Mindfulness programs in schools may help teens experience less stress, anxiety and depression.
  •  Mindfulness training is helpful in meeting weight loss goals and reducing binge eating.
  •  Mindfulness training helps achieve better sleep through lower activation at bedtime and better management of emotions and behavior during the day.
  •  Scientists have found that meditation may reverse the effects of aging on the brain.  Meditators have a thicker prefrontal cortex and significantly greater blood flow to their brains. 
  •  Meditation may decrease the body’s production of stress hormones.  Loving-kindness meditation may increase the activity of oxytocin in the brain, the “feel-good” hormone that is also linked to lower blood pressure and faster healing of wounds.

So, is it any wonder we love mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, for ourselves and for our clients.  The benefits listed above are not an exhaustive list and more studies appear almost weekly touting the benefits of meditation.  Over 25 million Americans now practice meditation and the number seems to be rapidly increasing  

Staying Present Discussion

So, what do you do with this state of mindfulness? How will being more aware and focused in a calm way help you transcend problems such as managing chronic stress, breaking the cycle of binge eating, eliminating panic attacks, or overcoming substance abuse? How will it help you break free from your resistance to growth toward a high level of well-being? How will it help you get rid of self-defeating behaviors such as emotional reactions that wreck relationships? How will it help you achieve balance and a state of peace and optimism?

Mindfulness skills are incredibly powerful. With mindfulness, you can choose to manage your emotions (not stuff them), act calmly and purposefully, and in many cases perform an action opposite to your initial emotion, thought or impulse.

That means taking control of severe anxiety states and achieving a high level of self calming skill that heads off panicky feelings before they really get going. It means managing conflicts and choosing to mindfully calm down, slow down, give up control, give up having to be right, give up having to win, give up having to fix anything, instead consciously choosing to pursue understanding and collaboration, finding real solutions and building great relationships in a truly masterful way.

Mindfulness means being conscious and intentional, solving real problems in direct, purposeful and powerful ways, rather than avoiding difficulties, distracting oneself with addictions and compulsions, or reacting your way through life, dealing impulsively with whatever comes up and grabs your attention. It means managing your emotions, rather than having your emotions manage you. The end result of all this can be summed up under the heading of "Emotional Intelligence."

What Is Emotional Intelligence? In 1994 Daniel Goleman wrote "Emotional Intelligence." In his book, Goleman talked about the value of being and acting intelligent about emotions, something we used to call "maturity." Goleman and others contended that EQ far outweighs IQ in contributing to career success and success in relationships. Moreover, EQ can continue to grow for a lifetime while IQ is fixed at an early age.

Our disappointment in the earlier books on emotional intelligence was that while they were loudly and convincingly proclaiming the value of EQ, there wasn't much being written about how to effectively develop emotional intelligence competencies. Yes, it was easy to see that this was great stuff, but how do you do it?   

 Our search for a basic way of doing this has led us to a 2500-year-old Buddhist concept, cultivating and practicing Mindfulness as a central life discipline. We became convinced that Mindfulness is how you develop, refine and implement emotional intelligence. Becoming mindfully aware of emotions, self talk, and physical qualities such as breathing and muscle tension is the first step.

Developing mindfulness skills not only helps in accomplishing all the things that constitute emotional intelligence competencies, but mastering mindfulness also leads to greater wisdom, a higher level of moral behavior, and greater compassion for self and others. These benefits are often seen after years of mindfulness practice, but may be immediate.

Sound impressive? We think so and we are so convinced that we have been incorporating mindfulness skill building in every aspect of our therapy for many years. Although we use a variety of tools to deal with the many facets of mindfulness, in Choice 5 we focus on Rational Emotive Therapy (modified in our practice to be consistent with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, as a tool for cultivating mindfulness of self-talk and core beliefs

What Is Mindlessness? The opposite of mindfulness is "mindlessness." Mindlessness is a lack of awareness of what's going on within yourself and outside of yourself. It's not paying focused attention and being conscious and intentional, but instead mindlessly reacting one's way through life. Mindlessness also involves being unaware of inaccurate and destructive negative self talk and core beliefs. It's a lack of awareness of how we disturb ourselves and remain prisoners of our self- generated disturbance.

Mindlessness is what prevents us from getting real solutions to real problems. It allows us to perpetuate ineffective solutions, missing out on taking ownership of ourselves and growing toward wholeness and deep satisfaction with being alive. All of the problems we deal with in our clinical practice are perpetuated and made worse by "mindlessness." The cultivation of mindfulness skill is a central part of finding solutions and bringing about lasting positive change.

So, how do you do "mindfulness," and how do you incorporate it into your daily anxiety and stress reduction plan? How do you cultivate mindfulness as part of well-being?

If you are new to the practice, we recommend you make a habit of checking in with yourself at least once each hour throughout the day. If you have been practicing diaphragmatic breathing as explained in Choice 1, thereby becoming more conscious not only of your breath but of your level of anxiety as well, this step should be relatively easy.

At first, schedule an hourly time. Take a moment to focus first on your breath. You have probably noticed that paying attention to your breath changes the way you breathe. Since you've been practicing, simply focusing on your breath usually results in breathing from your diaphragm. Reflect back on how you have been breathing prior to this shift. Have you been breathing from high in your chest or low from your diaphragm? Has your breathing been deep and full, or shallow? Has your breathing been fast or slow? Has your breathing been pressured or effortless? Stressed or gentle and relaxed?

Next perform a mind-body scan. While breathing diaphragmatically, take an inventory of your entire body, from your toes to your head. Is there any part of your body that feels particularly tense, such as your neck and shoulders. What's happening in other parts of your body?

Take time for 10 healing diaphragmatic breaths, counting backwards with each exhalation. Imagine breathing relaxation into any area of your body where you are carrying tension. Imagine letting go with each breath, and allowing yourself to go to a deeper level of calmness each time you exhale.

We can hear the protests already. "What? You want me to stop what I'm doing and practice breathing every hour? I already need 36 hours a day to get everything done. Are you serious?"

This reminds us of the corporate exec approaching burnout or collapse who recently told us he was "too busy for stress management," and asked: “Are you serious?” Yes, we are serious. Checking in with yourself once an hour takes only a couple of minutes, and there are 1440 minutes in a day. Believe it or not, taking the time to slow things down will make you more effective, and more importantly, will help you avoid the major negative impact of escalating stress on your well-being.

As we’ve said, stress is cumulative. If you allow it to continuously build throughout the day, you may find yourself exhausted, stressed, and depressed. Taking 2 minutes an hour to check in with yourself, and slow things down, is like resetting the stress machine at a lower level.

Sound simple? Actually, it’s not simple at all – or easy. We agree with Jon Kabat-Zinn when he states that the hardest part of being mindful is remembering to be mindful. What’s needed is a new habit, the practiced discipline of quickly noticing your distress or discomfort, and quickly responding by remembering to be mindful and following through with positive actions. Toward that end, we work with our clients in developing an Early Warning System.

Your Early Warning System

We thoroughly enjoyed driving the length of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway which traces the Oregon coastline along Highway 101, winding past marshland, rugged and rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, lush agricultural valleys, wind sculpted dunes, and awe-inspiring temperate rainforests. It’s easy to see why this stretch of coastline is one of the most photographed areas of the nation. However, we were also struck by something we’d never seen before.

Frequently we encountered tsunami warnings with signs proclaiming: “Tsunami Hazard Zone – in case of earthquake, go to high ground or inland.” Other signs indicated tsunami evacuation routes. It reminded us of being in Florida during hurricane season, or Texas dealing with tornadoes. There are even plans for an earthquake early warning system in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska giving people a few seconds of warning on their cell phones.

Reflecting on the tsunami warnings Robin said: “Having a warning is a good thing, but it also makes me a little uneasy.” I replied: “Yes, but imagine having no warning, being caught off guard when there were probably things you could’ve done to protect yourself. “That’s true,” replied Robin, “It’s always better to be aware of what’s going on, and having some choices, some control over where you go from there.”

Our conversation shifted to our work. We want our clients to be mindful. We want them to quickly notice their distress, and rapidly move to emotionally intelligent choices. Metaphorically speaking, we want them to see the tsunami coming and move to higher ground.

That’s the problem! We are creatures of habit and for the most part, we are mindless most of the time. That’s not a put down, it’s just human nature. We tend to react our way through life, following a learned script, responding as we’ve been conditioned to respond, often being managed by our emotions, rather than the other way around, living our lives on autopilot with little awareness of choices, or how to quickly make better choices.

We are certain, mindfulness is the key to making conscious, intentional, and positive choices, but how do you get people to make mindfulness and mindful choice a new habit? How do you get people to habitually remember to be mindful? How do you get people to be mindful, the very moment distress appears, and in that moment, to choose mindfulness and values-based choices?

Okay,” Robin said,. “What we need is an Early Warning System. We need a way to help people develop their awareness to the point where they quickly perceive their distress symptoms, and just as quickly use those symptoms as a cue to remember to be mindful, following through with choices that take them well beyond stress reduction, choices that help them grow toward a higher level of well-being.”

We’ve frequently said: “Life is the sum total of all your choices.” However, we’re really talking about making “great choices.” More basically, mindfulness is the key to making emotionally intelligent choices. At an even more basic level is remembering to breathe, slow down, and focus – choosing to be mindful. At the most basic level, there is noticing discomfort or distress, and choosing to make a shift toward greater awareness and choice. This is your “Early Warning System.”

So, here’s what your Early Warning System looks like:

Warning System

Your pattern of distress is unique. If you can learn to mindfully pay attention and notice signs of distress early, before you are stuck in fight or flight mode, avoidance patterns, or destructive choices, you can use these early warning signs as cues to calm down, slow down, become aware and focused, and choose positive coping techniques.

Step One

Get in the habit of reviewing upsets as if you were watching a video and rewinding the tape to discover the first signs of distress as they appear. Create a Early Warning Signs List with the distress symptoms that you experience. Add to your list as needed.

Step Two

Consolidate your list. Create a new list of your unique distress signals.

Step Three

Keep a daily journal for at least two weeks of distress signals you’ve been aware of for each previous 24 hours. Also, record the time, the situation or event, and your response. Feel free to add to your list of distress signals as you become more aware.

Step Four

For an additional 2-4 weeks keep a Mindful Awareness Journal where you track distress signal, situation, and your Mindful Choice response.

You will notice that with increasing awareness of distress signals, more and more you will catch yourself when those signals arise. With attention to quickly shifting to mindful awareness and positive Mindful Choices, you will find strong new and positive habits emerging. You will be able to see your tsunami coming and move to higher ground.


Early Warning Signs List

You are learning to mindfully pay attention and notice the signs of distress early, so that you can slow down, remind yourself to be mindful, and apply positive coping techniques such as defusion and conscious choice. Think about times when you felt distressed and underline the items below that apply. With increased awareness and practice at recognizing these distress signs, you will find they serve well as cues to quickly notice your distress, and just as quickly choose positive coping strategies.

Emotional Signs

Helpless, lonely, regretful, depressed, hopeless, defeated, rageful, powerless, bored, outraged, dread, rejected, hostile, distressed, disillusioned, bitter, suspicious, inferior, hateful, cautious, confused, scornful, disturbed, grief stricken, spiteful, disliked, guilty, numb, resentful, hurt, alienated, exhausted, melancholic, insecure, disgusted, weary, agitated, uptight, alarmed, scared, angry, worried, anxious, restless, overwhelmed, fearful, confused, frustrated, annoyed, angry, worthless, irritated, jittery, disappointed, out-of-control, tired, nervous, sad, panicky, restless, jealous, self-conscious, ashamed, embarrassed, shaky, tense, uneasy, worried, disgusted, miserable, indecisive, paralyzed, fed-up, impatient, debilitated, defensive.

Other emotional signs and symptoms :__________________________________________

Physical Signs

Numbness and tingling, dizziness, chest pain, headaches, neck tension, stomach upset or nervous stomach, pulsing in the ear, burning skin, nausea, shortness of breath, electric shock feeling, heart palpitations, weakness in legs, inability to rest, sleep problems, change in appetite, muscle tension, heart burn, headache, urination problems, back pain, grinding or clinching teeth, sweating, cold hands or feet, or clammy hands, jaw pain, muscular aches, muscular weakness, nervous tics, tension headaches, difficulty breathing, fainting, dizziness, trembling, constipation or diarrhea, unsteadiness, dry mouth, fatigue, choking sensation, muscle spasms, lump in throat, feeling hot, pressure in chest, rapid breathing, shallow breathing, feeling there isn’t enough air, high blood pressure, stomach acid, notable changes in patterns of eating or sleeping, excessive perspiration, feeling “keyed up, or “on-edge,” hot flashes or chills, an exaggerated startle response, “butterflies” in the stomach, a racing heart, sweaty palms.

Other physical signs and symptoms :__________________________________________

Cognitive Signs and Symptoms

Difficulty being creative or thinking “outside the box,” Memory problems, difficulty being logical, negative or overly pessimistic thinking, preoccupation and rumination, distractibility, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating and focusing, indecisiveness, frightening thoughts, distorted thinking, getting lost in fantasy or daydreaming, confusion and/or being “in a fog.”

Other cognitive signs or symptoms:

Disturbing thoughts

“I’m not smart enough, and I never will be.”

“If I let people get close to me, they will reject me.”

“I can’t do it. I’m incompetent.”

“I must hate myself to be successful.”

“I’m not someone anyone could love. I’ll always be alone.”

“This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to me and I can’t handle it.”

“I can’t stand it. It’s absolutely bad.”

“Things will never get any better, and they’ll probably get worse.”

“Whatever I attempt, I screw it up.”

“I’m not good enough and I’ll never be good enough.”

“I can’t live with this. It’s absolutely intolerable.”

“It’s not fair. It never works out for me.”

“Bad things always happen to me, things that don’t happen to other people.”

“Every moment is an opportunity to fail.”

“Other people can see through me. They know I’m a loser.”

Can you think of some of your own disturbing thoughts? ____________________________________________________________




Cognitive Signs and Symptoms

Difficulty being creative or thinking “outside the box,” Memory problems, difficulty being logical, negative or overly pessimistic thinking, preoccupation and rumination, distractibility, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating and focusing, indecisiveness, frightening thoughts, distorted thinking, getting lost in fantasy or daydreaming, confusion and/or being “in a fog.”

Behavioral Signs

Sleeping difficulties, lack of punctuality, absenteeism, withdrawal, exhaustion, addictive or excessive behaviors, unhealthy eating habits, risk-taking behavior, job difficulties, suicidal talk or behavior, frequent accidents, hand wringing, avoidance, restless pacing, nailbiting, foot tapping, fidgeting with hair or hair pulling, nervous mannerisms, hurrying, changes in social behaviors, drinking, smoking, unnecessary medication or drug use, procrastination, chronic lateness, hyperventilation, apathy, impulsive behavior, lack of motivation, nightmares, unkempt physical appearance, inability to be still, loss of sexual desire, sexual difficulties, shallow breathing, frequent deep sighing, irritability, aggression, crying spells or spells of sadness, OCD -like checking behaviors, overeating, undereating, fears about eating, addictive or compulsive behaviors, loss of control, self-defeating behaviors, engaging in unhealthy, risky, or self-destructive behaviors..

Other behavioral signs and symptoms: _________________________________________________


Quick Start: things I can start doing today

  •  Continuously refine and practice your Early Warning System, as described above.
  •  Retake the Mindful Choice 4 Self-Assessment if you haven’t done so within the last 24 hours. You may have taken the self-assessment previously, and not fully understood the meaning of each statement, or why the statement was created. Now that you’ve done the reading, you should be much clearer on the importance of cultivating Mindfulness. Re-take the self-assessment daily for the next 30 days. Strive to get your daily scores consistently in the optimal area.
  •  Mindfulness skills are best learned if you have been developing an awareness of your breath, such as described in Mindful Choice 1. Breath work provides a foundation for developing mindfulness. You begin by simply observing your breath, noticing it without having to change anything. Observe what happens with a deeper, slower, fuller breath. Notice any judgments or need to control or avoid, or do it “right.” Guess what? You’re starting to be mindful, more present in the here and now, noticing what is happening in this moment.
  •  If you notice anxious thoughts as you begin to pay attention to your breath, or tightness in your chest or shortness of your breath, simply accept these things, and begin to gently shift the start of your breath to lower in your chest. Remember, don’t force it. You’re striving to have your breath be gentle and relaxed. Frequently during your day, remind yourself to take three deep diaphragmatic breaths. Focus on your breath being deep rather than shallow, slow rather than rapid, regular rather than irregular, and quiet rather than noisy. Strive to make your breath as effortless, and gentle as possible, virtually, letting your breath breathe itself. Again, don’t judge your performance and don’t force your breath. Just noticing is enough.
  •  Continue practicing throughout the week in whatever way you desire, simply noticing what comes up. If you find yourself having difficulty with diaphragmatic breathing, don’t worry about it. Just noticing the breath is the practice. If you’re forgetting to practice, just notice that you are forgetting.
  •  On a daily basis, practice the following exercise:
  1. Get into a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting. For sitting posture, keep your spine straight and allow your shoulders to drop as your hands rest comfortably in your lap.
  2. Close your eyes. If it feels comfortable to do so, or pick a spot or object to focus on and soften your gaze.
  3. Bring your attention to your breath, and if you can comfortably do so, focus your attention on your belly and feel it rise or expand gently on the in-breath while falling on the out-breath.
  4. Maintain a focus on your breathing, practicing being with each breath from beginning to the start of a new breath. It might help to count each out-breath, thereby keeping the focus on your breath
  5. From time to time, you will notice that your mind has wandered. That’s okay, don’t judge yourself. That’s simply what minds do. Just notice where you mind went and then gently return to an awareness of your breath. Your mind may wander many times. Just notice, and gently return to a focus on your breath.
  6. Try to pick a convenient time every day for you to engage in a 15 minute practice. It shouldn’t matter whether you “feel” like doing it or not. Remind yourself of why you have chosen to learn mindfulness skills. The rewards are great but they only happen with practice. Remind yourself that you’re learning what it’s like to have a discipline of mindfulness.
  7. At the same time, remember that you’re simply discovering what it feels like to have a disciplined mindfulness practice as part of your life, and all you need to do is commit yourself to spending some time each day being with your breath while not having to do anything.
  •  Regularly stop and experience the moment. Notice what’s happening. If you’re sitting in a chair. Notice how you are sitting in the chair and how your body is making contact with the chair. Notice the sounds that you might otherwise ignore. Notice the feel of the air on your skin. Is it cooler than your skin or warmer? What’s happening with your thoughts. Simply observe your thoughts as they flow through your mind without having to change them in any way. What’s happening with your breath? Are you breathing rapidly or slowly? Are you breathing from high in your chest or low in your chest?
  •  If you experience anxiety or distress with your breathing practice, simply notice, without judgment. If you are overly focused on shifting to diaphragmatic breathing to the point that it’s interfering with your practice, just drop that part of it for now and go back to simply noticing your breath.
  •  Following your introduction to mindfulness, we recommend you learn more about the practice of mindfulness by reading books like Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. You’ll find a number of other books in our reading lists.
  •  Speaking of Jon Kabat-Zinn, you will find a number of very informative YouTube videos covering every aspect of mindfulness training and mindfulness meditation. You could easily spend many hours getting an in-depth mindfulness education, along with guided practice.
  •  Persevere. Remember that cultivating the mindfulness skills of awareness, nonjudgmental observation, staying in the moment, and having a beginner’s mind require patience and commitment. It may be difficult, but just keep practicing and you will find you have grown in your ability to be more aware of what’s happening within you and around you, in this moment, than you might ever have imagined.

If you find yourself running into difficulty, you might try answering the following questions:

Mindful Choice 4 Personal Development Worksheet

Step 1: Identify a foundational value, or values. In other words, why is this Mindful Choice important to me? For example, why do I value being fully present, and aware in the here and now? Do I value cultivating mindfulness skills for health benefits such as stress management? Do I value cultivating mindfulness skills for helping me be conscious and intentional in my relationships?


Step 2: How would I describe my present Choice 4 performance?


Step 3: In regard to cultivating mindfulness, what is the behavior I want to change?


Step 4: What is my personal vision for Mindful Choice 4? Imagining some point in the future, what do I see myself doing in regard to Life Choice 4?


Step 5: What do I hope to get from cultivating mindfulness skills?


Step 6: To pursue the cultivation of mindfulness skills to the point that I am much more aware of what is happening in the present moment, how will I have to be in ways that might constitute a major stretch for me? Do I need a new way of being that would constitute a paradigm shift? Are there radically different ways of being (thinking, feeling, acting) that contribute to the cultivation of mindfulness skills and getting what I want to get?


Step 7: In regard to cultivating mindfulness skills, How will I have to act on a daily or ongoing basis so that I wind up doing what I want to do, and getting what I want to get, and being the way I want to be? How do I have to discipline myself to have consistent, routine, and well practiced daily or ongoing actions that steadily contribute to the results I really want and value in my life?


Step 8: What are the barriers such as negative self talk or lack of time that might prevent me from reaching my Mindful Choice 4 goals?


Step 9: Who will be helpful or supportive in my Mindful Choice 4 change efforts?


Step 10: How will I be rewarded while I am accomplishing the changes I desire?


Step 11: How important is this to me on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely important? How might I sabotage the plan, or allow others to sabotage the plan?


Step 12: I am committing to the following SMART goals (Specific as to actions I will take, Meaningful and in alignment with my values, Adaptive in that I strongly believe my life will be improved, Realistic and achievable, and Time-framed with specific time dedicated).


Further Reading

Cullen, M. & Pons, G. (2015). The Mindfulness-based Emotional Balance Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. Bantam.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever You Go There You Are. Hachette Books.

Simpkins, A. & Simpkins, A. M. (2014). The Yoga and Mindfulness Therapy Workbook. Eau Claire, WI: Pesi Publishing and Media.

Teasdale, J., Williams, M. & Segal, Z. (2014). The Mindful Way Workbook. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Please Feel Free To Contact my Office Anytime. Text me at 951-235-3409

Serving California

All sessions are now online through tele-counseling

Online Office Hours

Text or Call (951)-235-3409 to request an appointment!



Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment


Online by Appointment