Four of the six ACT processes are part of broader awareness process called mindfulness. Mindfulness is an ancient concept found in many spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Western psychology has only recently begun to recognise the benefits of mindfulness in the past few decades.

Research in Western psychology has shown that practicing mindfulness can have significant psychological benefits and it is being used to enhance treatments offered within several different schools of therapy (Hayes & Smith, 2005).

“Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness and curiosity” (Harris, 2009; p8). This definition highlights three characteristics of mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness is an awareness process, not a thinking process – it involves bringing awareness or paying attention to your experience in the present moment, rather than being ‘caught up’ in your thoughts;
  • Mindfulness involves an attitude of openness and curiosity – even if your experience is difficult and painful you can be open to it and curious about it instead of fighting it, hiding, or running away from it;
  • Mindfulness involves flexibility of attention – the ability to consciously focus your attention in particular directions or aspects of experience, to narrow or broaden the span of attention.

The ancient spiritual traditions have sought mindfulness through the practices of meditation and contemplation. What ACT adds to this is a psychological model that delineates the key components or processes of mindfulness, and a set of methods or skills to develop and enhance these processes (Hayes & Smith, 2005).

Mindfulness skills allow us more control over how we respond to events in our life. While we cannot prevent painful events from happening, or change what has happened in the past, we can use mindfulness to shape what aspects of experience we focus on. Mindfulness helps us to improve self knowledge, to understand how we feel, think and react. It also helps us to consciously influence our own behaviour and increase our range of responses to the world we live in.

Mindfulness is difficult to achieve, not because it is beyond our capability, but because there are so many distractions and things that we can be mindful of (Hayes & Smith, 2005; p105).

These notes are based on Harris (2009), Chapter 1, unless otherwise stated.

Mindfulness as described in ACT is essentially similar to mindfulness as described in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) see G4i and G4ii but the approaches are sufficiently different and complementary to include separately here.