A new study published in Acta Psychologica finds that mindfulness, or the ability to focus on the present moment and be aware of inner and outer experiences before acting, can have beneficial effects on the emotional and physical well-being of an individual. This trait, according to researchers, can be cultivated through mindfulness-based exercises and therapies, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
The following qualities can be identified in a highly ‘mindful’ individual:
- An awareness of inner and outer experiences
- An ability to behave productively even during stressful situations
- A non-judgmental perspective towards one’s own thoughts and emotions (i.e., a recognition that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ feelings)
To better understand the benefits of mindfulness, a team of psychologists led by Lisa Best of the University of New Brunswick in Canada conducted an in-depth personality study on 781 Canadian adults.
“The focus of our laboratory is to determine how specific psycho-social factors, including mindfulness, affect psychological and physical wellness,” says Best.
While most research on mindfulness and personality has focused on mindfulness’ connection to the ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions (i.e., emotional stability, extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness), Best and her team took a more nuanced look at mindfulness and personality. For example, instead of focusing on the overarching trait of conscientiousness, the researchers looked at specific sub-components of conscientiousness such as organization, productivity, and responsibility.
They found that mindfulness manifests in people’s personalities in two key ways:
- Through better emotion regulation (i.e, allowing people to stay focused on their goals and dismiss unpleasant experiences)
- And, through higher self awareness (i.e., being aware of internal and external experiences and staying open-minded)
The researchers point out a natural connection between mindfulness, mental health, and physical health. For instance, highly mindful individuals are more likely to engage in a variety of health-promoting behaviors, such as healthy eating and better sleep hygiene.
“Naturally, an individual who can accept and observe their inner and outer events without judgment and behave purposefully is more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, which leads to better physical health outcomes,” explains Best.
According to Best, mindfulness relates to psychological health in three key ways:
- It is negatively associated with psychopathological symptoms (i.e., depression)
- It is negatively associated with maladaptive coping mechanisms (i.e., rumination)
- And, it is positively related to emotional regulation processes
“Due to the strong interdependence between physical and psychological health, the influence of mindfulness in one can improve the other,” says Best.
For instance, mindful individuals are more resilient to life stress, which lowers the risk of physical ailments like cardiovascular disease and weakened immune systems, as well as psychological distress like depression and anxiety symptoms.
“Our take-home point might be that mindfulness allows people to enjoy their lives, despite physical and psychological challenges,” explains Best. “And, the exciting thing about these findings is that although personality is perceived as relatively stable throughout an individual’s life, mindfulness can be malleable through practice and therapy.”
A full interview with Psychologist Lisa Best can discussing this research can be found here: Learning this one trait can help you rediscover your psychological center