Mindfulness practice is a nutritious diet for the mind

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Our brains are hungry. From one moment to the next, our appetite for thinking can be insatiable. It seems as if our mind is always on the lookout for something to consume and chew on. But we can’t so much blame our mind. After all, our past has primed us to scan our environment for relevant cues and information we can use to get ahead and survive. But that was at times when our environment was far simpler than it is today. These days, there is an abundance of stimulus all around us or available to use on demand, in any moment of the day or night. What is more, similar to the impact of constantly consuming less healthy food options, we seem to be constantly bombarding ourselves with ‘food for thought’, and our mind can easily become weighed down. It’s not our brains fault though, it’s our lack of practise bringing conscious and skilful attention to what and how much we engage in thinking and information consumption. It’s whether or not we have honed our awareness and sensitivity to cues that we need to moderate our thinking and information scanning behaviours, or if in fact we are in need of a cleanse.

This is where mindfulness practise is becoming increasingly important. Investing time and effort in being present and slowing or stilling the minds thinking activity can act as a form of mental cleansing or dieting for those whose minds have become accustomed to the mental equivalent of a junk food diet. Mindfulness practise can, in affect, give us the time and space to find rest following a period of activity and to digest the thinking we have undertaken and information we have consumed. We can take time to do a form of mental detox, cleansing and letting go of waste information we don’t need to carry around clogging up our mind and body as we go about our daily experiences. If we fail to rest and digest, it’s the mental equivalent of chronic overeating and our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing and performance suffer. Many of us, however, do miss these opportunities on a regular basis. We need to instil new habits and routines in ways much like eating wholesome foods in the right quantity and frequency to be nourished and in balance.

What does this look like, you might be wandering? These examples are offering without judgment, but to surface some types of mental activity and modern information consumption and thinking habits that can be counterproductive. To be clear, our position is that no behaviour is good nor bad if it is done with the right intentions and in ways that optimise our functioning rather than compromising it. With that out of the way, think about how many of the following behaviours has become a habit that has consequences you sense can be counterproductive when done without being mindful.

Engaging in thinking, and tasks that require thinking, at times when it is not appropriate to do so.

The core example we’ll focus on here is a common one - technology addiction.

You will undoubtedly be familiar with times with you have been swept up in text messaging, emails, scrolling social media, or even taken phone calls at times when at one level you knew there were more important things you could be doing - whether that’s resting your mind and body, or engaging with a higher priority task.

I.e.

  • On Instagram before sleep, and/or as soon as you wake up
  • Sending texts and emails when your partner or bestie is trying to engage you in conversation
  • On Facebook when you actually have work to do, or when there is someone in the real world that would be valuable to engage with
  • On LinkedIn when your child would benefit from your attention before or after school
  • On Twitter when you’re at the dinner table with friends
    * On all of the above in the space of 5 minutes while on commute

Yep, many of us have been there, often. Mentally ‘snacking’ on things we know aren’t the best for us. Many of us even have a sense that our habits aren’t our ideal in the moment, or we regret them afterwards. Many of us recognise the feeling that we can’t seem to help ourselves - it’s as if these behaviours are out of our control and or hunger is insatiable. We’re addicted.

When we’re unmindful and operating on autopilot we can neglect to focus on and prioritise what we actually need. We might fail to bring about periods of stillness that allow the body and mind to refresh and reset to a state of greater clarity and calm. At these times and many others, we are in essence putting our mind on a junk food diet. If we continue to lack insight and self control around what information consumption and thinking we would benefit from moderating or eliminating from our mental diet, our minds begin to function like the equivalent of a sugar craving and obese body - addicted and automated - on a slippery slope to poor mental and physical health, wellbeing and performance.

It is now both common and desirable to have habits around nutrition that moderate the type, frequency and quantity of things we consume for our bodies health, wellbeing and performance.

It is, however, still largely rare to apply the same principles to how we consistently feed and fuel our mental activity, and give our mind periods to rest and digest.

So, what sort of diet does your mind need?
What routine ‘snacks’ do you need to moderate?
What daily rituals can you instil that will give you the time and space to rest and digest?