Christmas shopping, I hear someone asking a shop assistant for mindfulness colouring books. Six months on from the end of the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course, how mindful am I?
Why not use the same questionnaire I ask research participants to fill in? I look through the questions on the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills? Some examples:
I don't pay attention to what I'm doing because I'm daydreaming, worrying, or otherwise distracted.
I am somewhat of a daydreamer, although when trying to be mindful (e.g. when walking home from work) I can bring my mind back in focus when it strays, albeit it will need to be brought back again after a while.
I pay attention to sounds, such as clocks ticking, birds chirping, or cars passing.
I do think I am slightly more attuned to things happening in the present-before going into the class I was someone very occupied with the future and the past, as well as imagined scenarios, schemes and dreams. This is still true of me, but I think the present tense is breaking through more frequently.
I believe some of my thoughts are abnormal or bad and shouldn't be that way.
This touches on the non-judgmental aspect of mindful awareness. In general I haven’t been prone to telling myself I shouldn’t be thinking a certain way, at least not in many years, so I doubt the course was going to change that.
I had low to moderate stress levels going into the course, so perhaps I didn’t have the same motivation to use the techniques involved as someone coming to this technique with more problematic stress levels. Meditation is something I'm doing on and off at present. Nonetheless, sometimes when I feel stress coming on, or particularly when a broken-record stream of stressed consciousness arises, I can bring my attention back to the present (so maybe I do think some of my thoughts shouldn't be the way they are after all...).
The study I’m currently running involves a 6-month and a 12-month follow-up, to see if any changes induced by MBSR classes persist over time. Change is inevitable, progress in controversial. Changing people’s behaviour in a lasting manner, including one’s own behaviour, is tricky. Informal feedback from the caregivers has been positive so far, but it will be interesting to see what happens to cognitive performance (particularly sustained attention) and biomarkers of stress 6-12 months down the line. And I wonder if that shopper will be stressed if they don't get that colouring book...