Be Well Blog

The Health Benefits of Mindful Living

elephant being ridden

It's Mindful May!  This month's wellness theme on our WellAware platform is focused on mindfulness.  

What is mindfulness? The practice of mindfulness is as simple as focusing your thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time and in many different ways, including:

  • Single-tasking (not multitasking)
  • Mindful meditation
  • Mindful breathing exercise
  • Mindful eating

Why Mindfulness? The practice of mindfulness has incredible advantages to your health and happiness. Mindfulness reveals that by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on auto-pilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, boost performance and experience happiness more often.

Consider a morning when you argue with your partner over something trivial, get stuck in unexpected traffic on the way to work and arrive at work feeling stressed and a little angry. These feelings sit just behind the conscious mind as you unpack your things and greet your coworkers.

Without mindfulness, the feelings may manifest in ways you don’t intend, such as acting angry or making a hasty decision. Over the course of the day these feelings of stress and loss of control may increase while you try to go about your regular work.

With mindfulness, you have the power to stop for a minute and reflect on WHY you are feeling stressed and out of control. Recognizing this emotional and automatic reaction to a stressful morning will put you back in control, help you realize that your emotions do not need to control your actions and can help you analyze a solution to your feelings of lack of control.  

The metaphor “rider and the elephant” helps to illustrate this example. In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the author argues that all humans have two sides:  

  • An analytical/controlled/rational side (its rider)
  • An emotional/automatic/irrational side (the elephant)

The rider is the conscious mind – rational and able to plan and choose the best path. The mindful elephant is the unconscious mind. It acts unconsciously, irrationally at times. The rider is unable to control the elephant by force, so must act thoughtfully to guide the emotional elephant toward the best path.

The metaphor helps to represent why we may have trouble managing our own situations and our own weaknesses. Acting wholly out of rational thought may not consider the emotional outcomes. Acting wholly on emotions – sometimes outside of conscious consideration – can lead to Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of a mindful life.

Read more about the rider and the elephant in Haidt’s book, the Happiness Hypothesis or in Chip and Dan Health’s book, Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard.