How Mindful Are You?

One way to assess mindfulness is to look at what it's not. The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (Brown & Ryan, 2003) is frequently used in mindfulness research. The more you can endorse these traits and experiences, the more you tend to go through life mindlessly:

  1. I could be experiencing some emotion and not be conscious of it until some time later.
  2. I break or spill things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else.
  3. I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.
  4. I tend to walk quickly to where I’m going without paying attention along the way.
  5. I tend not to notice feelings of physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention.
  6. I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.
  7. It seems I’m “running on automatic” without much awareness of what I’m doing.
  8. I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.
  9. I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lost touch with what I am doing right now to get there.
  10. I do jobs or tasks automatically, without being aware of what I’m doing.
  11. I find myself listening to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.
  12. I drive places on “automatic pilot” and then wonder why I went there.
  13. I find myself preoccupied with the future or the past.
  14. I find myself doing things without paying attention.
  15. I snack without being aware that I’m eating.
It's interesting to consider that, in addition to being an assessment instrument, the MAAS is a great guide to how to be mindful. Each of the "mindlessness" statements above can be reversed to make a useful mindfulness practice. Number 15, for example, could easily become the core of a mindfulness intention: "I'd like to be fully aware of what I'm eating and how it tastes."

In our Mindfulness and Stress Reduction classes, we encourage our participants to make "mindfulness contracts" with the activities and places of their lives. A contract to be mindful while walking will help us to take in the pleasures of our bodies and our surroundings. A contract to be mindful when relating to a particular person will help us be less reactive and more skillful when we are with them.

One of the most important things to remember about mindfulness is that it's deliberate. It takes effort to establish it in a new area, because our habits will lead us to be mindless. But the payoff for making the effort is that we get our lives back.

Not a bad trade.

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