Mindful living: the power of heedfulness in cultivating a meaningful life

What you think, you become. What you imagine, you create. What you feel, you attract.”

What you think can have a profound effect on how you live. This article provides an overview of what it means to be heedful, the benefits of heedfulness and practices to cultivate it, and proven strategies for mindful living.

Definition of heedfulness

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of heedfulness is “paying careful attention to something or someone.” In other words, heedfulness involves being attentive and aware of the world around you. The concept of heedfulness is also essential in Buddhism, where its translation “appamada” provides the foundation for the practice of meditation. Embraced by monks, appamada is viewed as the act of being uncomplacent. It includes understanding that all human actions in life (whether small or large) can make a real impact. As such, appamada underlines the importance of seizing the moment and realizing the full potential of yourself and of others.

The connection between heedfulness and mindfulness

The term heedfulness has increasingly fallen out of use in the popular lexicon in favor of its more modern counterpart: mindfulness.

According to the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, mindfulness involves maintaining awareness of your current thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment with a lens of acceptance rather than judgment.

The goal of mindfulness practice is to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way and let them pass without engaging in destructive or unhelpful habits and behaviors.

As is the case with heedfulness, the groundwork for mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditation. In more recent years, mindfulness has been used as a tool in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and both clinical and positive psychology.

Benefits of heedfulness

If you implement an attitude of heedful care—wherein you’re more attuned to the people and environment around you—you may see benefits in your work, family, and university life.

Improved concentration

Attentiveness, or concentration, is inherent to the practice of being heedful. Conversely, heedlessness is associated with a lack of focus, which can make you more susceptible to distraction and wandering thoughts.

Some researchers believe that a strong connection exists between attention and working memory, which temporarily stores information in our brains for future recall.

Results from one study found that participants who received mindfulness training had faster reaction times and attentional improvements as well as a peaceful state of mind.

Enhanced emotional well-being

Heedfulness, particularly being mindful of your thoughts and feelings, can also benefit your emotional wellness. Mindfulness is significantly correlated with improved emotions, life satisfaction, and overall physical and mental well-being.

Activity in the right prefrontal cortex is associated with depression and feelings of anxiousness, while high activity in the left prefrontal cortex is associated with happiness and an energetic effect.

A study on the effects of brief mindfulness meditation showed that those who practiced it demonstrated significantly decreased emotional intensity in response to positive as well as negative emotional stimuli, decreased response time for emotional memory, and decreased duration of attention bias toward negative emotional stimuli.

Strengthened resilience and improved decision-making

Resilience refers to your ability to adapt to change and persevere in the face of challenge.

When you become more resilient, it can help you to improve your ability to manage your emotions and behavior, avoid distractions, and learn from past experiences so you can make better decisions in the future.

Not only can you enhance your resilience by practicing various mindfulness techniques, but you can also become more aware of the situations and emotions that tend to derail your success so that you can be more proactive in counteracting them.

Improved self-awareness

Self-awareness involves being conscious of your own character, motives, feelings, and desires. Understandably, heedfulness and self-awareness are inextricably linked. However, you may be unaware that mindfulness is also related to the application of character strengths.

Not only is mindfulness meditation considered a means of relieving suffering in Buddhism, it’s also a method for cultivating positive characteristics such as empathy, compassion, perseverance, and wisdom.

Mindfulness can help you leverage your personal strengths by helping you to better understand the inner workings of your mind, assess your motivations and pitfalls to success, and determine how to best use assets to help you to meet your goals.

Strategies for cultivating heedfulness

Below are three proven techniques that you can use to help promote mindfulness in your daily routine.

Breathing exercises: Two deep breathing techniques that you can use to calm your nervous system and cultivate mindfulness are called 2-4 breathing and energizing breaths. As the name suggests, 2-4 breathing involves inhaling for two counts and exhaling for four. The purpose of extending the exhalation is to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and slow breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

The latter is based on a Kundalini yoga technique of segmented breathing that helps to boost alertness and energy. To get started, fill your lungs fully by inhaling in four distinct segments and then exhale and empty your lungs in one continuous segment. Then, repeat three or four times.

Practicing gratitude: Showing appreciation for the people and events that you’re grateful for can help to boost your emotional resilience and happiness. A great way to do so is by creating a gratitude journal.

Depending on your personal preferences, use a physical journal, a Word document, or even the notes app on your smartphone as your journal. What’s important is that you plan to write about three items that you’re grateful for at the end of each day.

While taking note of the major people or circumstances in your life is valuable, feel free to also journal about the small things in your day that made an impact, such as a kind interaction with a neighbor or cashier.

Remember that showing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to your journaling practice. When you express appreciation to your friends, family, and co-workers, the show of heedfulness can improve your mood and theirs.

Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a practice that allows you to focus on the moment, accept your thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment, and calm your body and mind.

If you’re new to meditation it can feel intimidating, so start slow by committing five minutes each day to mindfulness. You can also download an app for guided meditation tools that provide direction until you feel more comfortable on your own.

Helpful tips for mindfulness meditation include:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable place where you will not be disturbed.
  • Initially, set a timer on your phone for five minutes. As you gain confidence, increase your sessions incrementally until you can meditate for 30 minutes per day.
  • Become heedful of the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body, including the rise and fall of your belly and the temperature of the air in your nostrils.
  • Don’t try to ignore or suppress thoughts or emotions, simply witness them until they pass. It can be helpful to use a mantra such as “So Hum” to anchor your breathing and re-focus on the present if you get distracted.
  • Remember that learning how to meditate is a process of acceptance without judgment (and is certainly not about perfection), so try not to be hard on yourself!

Apply heedfulness to different aspects of your life

Although it takes some careful deliberation, becoming more heedful in personal, professional, and academic realms is advantageous and entirely within your reach.

Relationships and communication

The ability to be heedful in the way you interact and communicate, whether with your partner, co-workers, or peers, is an important skill to cultivate. In fact, there are specific qualities that are associated with mindfulness in relationships.

  • Openness refers to being willing to listen, be vulnerable and honest, and learn.
  • Patience allows you to be present with the challenges and feelings of the other person, as well as your own.
  • Compassion in relationships permits you to be kind, empathetic, and thoughtful.
  • Curiosity involves being interested in understanding someone else’s experiences, perspectives, and ideas.

One of the most important ways that you can introduce heedfulness into your communication is to listen actively. In this case, the goal should be listening to understand, not to respond. Active listening requires full attention to what the speaker is saying (including verbal and non-verbal messages), making eye contact, asking open-ended questions to increase understanding, and reflecting on what you hear.

Collaboration and performance

Practicing heedful interrelating in teams involves interacting with attentiveness to the task at hand, while being aware of how your actions may affect the overall functioning of the group.

In one study on the effects of heedful interrelating and collaborative student teams, researchers found a significant positive relationship between heedful interactions and quiz performance, metacognition, and positive interdependence. Additionally, most students who participated believed that heedfulness training was beneficial in supporting positive group experiences.

Results from another experiment focused on self-managing teams established that teams with members who displayed greater attentional distribution and more responsive communication experienced stronger feelings of collaboration. The level of responsive communication was also correlated with team performance.

Self-care and well-being

As mentioned above, incorporating heedfulness practices into your daily routine can significantly impact on your overall well-being.

For example, yoga combines the relaxation aspects of self-care with mindful movements that allow you to focus on the present and improve your flexibility. Going for walks in nature can also help you to practice mindfulness and boost your mood while engaging in physical activity.

If you’re interested in therapeutic approaches to mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating issues including anxiety disorders, depression, marital problems, and more. This treatment centers on changing dysfunctional thinking and behavioral patterns through strategies such as:

  • Learning how to recognize and counteract distorted thought patterns
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with life’s challenges
  • Developing a greater confidence in your own abilities
  • Learning how to calm your mind and body
  • Facing your fears rather than avoiding them

Another option to explore is the field of positive psychology, which focuses on pinpointing the character strengths, positive emotions, and behaviors that support feelings of meaning and purpose, deep satisfaction, and the ability to flourish. A leading authority on positive psychology, Martin E.P. Seligman, is also the director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center and the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Learn more about applied positive psychology at Penn LPS Online

The Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology at Penn LPS Online introduces you to tools and practices to enhance personal, organizational, and community flourishing and well-being. This four-course program explores the theoretical and empirical foundations of flourishing, including how well-being is measured and which strategies and activities help humans to thrive.

This certificate in applied positive psychology also prepares you to:

  • Explore key research themes such as positive emotions, character strengths, relationships, and meaning and accomplishment
  • Apply findings in the field by practicing techniques that influence well-being
  • Investigate how to apply positive psychology in business, education, healthcare, and nonprofit professional settings

If you haven’t already, apply to Penn LPS Online today and explore what the Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology has to offer. You can also view our course guide to learn more about what’s available in any upcoming term.

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