If you are anything like me, before you can really adopt a new habit or make a change in your life, you need to understand “how does it work?” or “how will doing this help me feel better?”

The diagram above illustrates one model of how mindfulness works that may enhance your understanding (first published in Shapiro et. al., 2006).

This model is actually summarized in a popular definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Mindfulness is paying attention, in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

So first, we are paying ATTENTION, in a particular way. We have an INTENTION to pay attention, on purpose, and in the present moment. Finally, we want to bring a particular ATTITUDE to our paying attention, which is a kind, interested curiosity, i.e. non-judgmentally. Because if we don’t have that attitude, our paying attention may take on a harsh, critical tone – and that’s not mindful!

Paying attention in this way illuminates the contents of consciousness – so we become aware, which is a necessary first step to change. As Carl Rogers, the great humanistic psychologist, said way back in the 1970’s,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

When we bring a non-judgmental attitude to our awareness, we are then able to observe our thoughts and our moment-to-moment experience with greater clarity and objectivity. This is called “insight,” which is why mindfulness meditation is also known as “Insight Meditation.”

As we pay attention in this intentional way, with interested curiosity, to what is happening in the present moment – both within us and around us – we have stepped out of autopilot, the “doing mode,” and moved into “being mode.” As a result, we experience a shift in perspective, which allows for new ways of perceiving and experiencing what was previously habitual, and this is what leads to personal transformation.

Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, and regular mindfulness practice. This is where an attitude of self-compassion, as well as patience, will come in handy. Remember, mindfulness is simple, but not easy – simple to grasp the basic concepts and practices, but not easy to stick with it in order to reap its many benefits. Hopefully, understanding how it works will help!