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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsCRAIG HASSED: Mindfulness sheds a lot of light on how the mind works and, perhaps, sometimes on how it doesn't work that well. And so there are things that we can actually reflect on that are very consistent with mindfulness can help us to understand that more and perhaps to deal with some of the stressors and frustrations and anger or fear or anxiety and even depression that can be a part of everyday life. So we're going to have a look at what I like to call 'The Big Four' cognitive practices of mindfulness-- cognitive meaning thinking. What can mindfulness tell us about how the mind thinks and perhaps how it could think better.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 secondsWe do tend to overuse the mind, and, in a way, mindfulness is not about complicating that, but by simplifying it. And the best simplification is to step out of default mind and back into day-to-day life. So the big four cognitive aspects of mindfulness are perception, letting go or non-attachment, acceptance, and presence of mind. So let's just consider them briefly one by one. Perception-- very often, if we're not mindful, we're perceiving stressors that aren't even there. In the middle of the night, we're building up catastrophes in our mind. We can build a lot of catastrophes and worries into the little space between the phone going and us getting to the phone to answer it. So the imagination can be very fertile.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsSo we often are reacting to stressors that aren't even there. There is no tiger out there. That tiger is in our mind. So the mind imagining and projecting, and if we're not mindful, we take the mental projection to be real. So learning to be mindful, one of the first things is to actually learn to see imagination or mental projection for what it is. We don't have to run from the imaginary tiger, because it's not actually there. Now, of course if we are paying attention in the present moment, and we do perceive that there really is a tiger there, then fight or fly or tame it, or do something. But we certainly do need to respond to a present moment situation.

Skip to 2 minutes and 4 secondsOnce we start practising mindfulness, if we're curious, and if we notice, we realise that the vast majority of stressors are in the imagination. Even, for example, sitting in a dentist's chair, and we're already suffering before we've even had any uncomfortable sensation at all, just an anticipation of what might happen. But of course, the next thing is perception can be distorted in other ways. We perceive something to be far bigger than it is. A mouse runs under the chair. We don't see a mouse, we see a monster and activate a fight or flight response way in excess of what's actually required.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsOr, for example, in the dentist chair again-- what a wonderful place to learn mindfulness skills-- we experience something that is really just a very small sensation like a needle, for example, but the amount of distress that causes is way in excess of what would be required. So we distort perception as well by making, as it were, a mountain out of a molehill-- seeing something as being bigger than it is. We might have a job. A student might be approaching, perhaps an assignment, and get so overwhelmed by how big it looks that we put it off and we procrastinate.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 secondsAnd, of course, when we get on with the thing then perhaps discover, as we often do, that it wasn't quite as big as we thought it was. So these are disorders of perception. And mindfulness can help us to address that, not to project so much onto situations, and not to take imagination to be real. The second cognitive aspect has to do with letting go or non-attachment. We very often get attached to thoughts, as we say, to hold an opinion. We get attached to feelings like to be in the grips of fear. We get attached to the positions we hold in our work. We get attached to possessions-- our car, our house, that favourite little bauble that we have.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsWe get attached to all sorts of things-- into relationships. And there's a difference between attachment in a relationship compared, in the sense of a kind of possessiveness, as opposed to a kind of connectedness, and that it might be actually quite healthy. But we get attached to all sorts of things. Now, that attachment creates a kind of stress and sometimes a distress. So the attachment to the possession, and it gets broken, we experience distress that we otherwise wouldn't have to experience if we just realised, well, things come and things go. It doesn't mean we don't care for those possessions. It doesn't mean that we don't enjoy them when they're there.

Skip to 4 minutes and 32 secondsBut if we can actually enjoy them, but without the attachment, it may mean that we're not so anxious about losing them or so distressed when they do go. But also, internally, not just those things outside of us, but internally as well. We get attached to thoughts, say. So there is an opinion, rather than just considering an opinion. We get attached to it. It's my opinion. And, of course, if somebody holds a different opinion, then it becomes a tug of war, not a mutual exchange of reflections and questions and mutual inquiry into the usefulness of that point of view. Now every emotion, pleasant or unpleasant, has come and gone throughout our life and will continue to come and go.

Skip to 5 minutes and 14 secondsBut if we get attached to them, when that emotion is there, we feel much more controlled by it. We feel, oftentimes, much more oppressed by it. So rather than trying to control the thoughts, control the emotions, is there a way we can learn to observe them with less attachment to them and not be so controlled by them. And so mindfulness meditation, of course, and being mindful in day-to-day life can help us to observe as thoughts come. And some are worth giving attention to, others not so. You can engage with the ones that we need to, leave the others alone. Emotions come and go. We don't have to necessarily feel oppressed by them.

Skip to 5 minutes and 51 secondsAnd so non-attachment can be very helpful to cultivate in our day-to-day life. Now the next one is acceptance. And this is a very big-letter item in mindfulness, and indeed, whole approaches of therapy that are based on mindfulness like Acceptance Commitment Therapy, or ACT, really headlined the acceptance side of things. Now if something's happening, it's happening. It could be raining, and we like that or we don't like that. It doesn't change the fact that it's raining. Might need to get an umbrella, might need to change our plans. But the acceptance, the attitude with which we experience those events can have a profound effect on how much stress it causes us.

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 secondsTo be accepting of things we find uncomfortable-- it could be physical pain, to be accepting of, perhaps, disappointment sometimes-- things didn't go the way that we'd like them to go. To be accepting of, perhaps, that we didn't achieve what we wanted to achieve-- the acceptance, paradoxically, helps us to acknowledge, learn from, and move on from that event. So the suffering we experience with something has much more to do with the attitude to it than the actual event itself. So mindfulness can help us to cultivate acceptance. The last one, presence of mind about being in the present moment. If the mind is not in the present moment, then it's absent-minded. It's in some other place, some other time.

Skip to 7 minutes and 12 secondsAnd of course, so many of our stressors are what might or might not happen in the future or something happened in the past, and we relive it vividly in our imagination thousands of times. So we take one stressor and we turn it into thousands. So mindfulness can really help us to come back to the present moment to be present. The senses are always the gateway back to the present moment. Mindfulness can help us to develop these cognitive abilities, help our mind to, perhaps, work in a different way. We do that, firstly, through mindfulness meditation. Now, of course, what we want to do is take that off the chair and back into our day-to-day life.

Skip to 7 minutes and 50 secondsNow, if we are lucky enough, we might be mindful in day-to-day life if something happens. And if we're just on automatic pilot, we react, we say something, we do something, we experience some emotional discomfort or something. But if we should be lucky enough to be mindful and to notice that something's pushed our buttons, for example, and emotion arises, we're actually able to observe it as it arises, and we might remember something like letting go. We might just remember something like, oh, acceptance. We might just remember something like, oh, just come back to what the present moment. We might remember something like, oh, perhaps the event is what it is, but how I'm seeing it might actually be amplifying it enormously.

Skip to 8 minutes and 31 secondsSo being mindful as we go about our life in the other 23 hours and however many minutes in the day can really help us to cultivate these cognitive aspects that might really help us to experience a lot less stress and distress even amidst the challenges and pressures of day-to-day life.

The Big 4 cognitive practices of mindfulness

Watch Craig provide an overview of ‘The Big 4’ cognitive practices of mindfulness (perception, letting go or non-attachment, acceptance and presence of mind) and explain how they can help to experience less stress and distress.


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Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance

Monash University

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