In the past weeks I’ve been writing about both Mindfulness and Critical Thinking.  I began with Reflection #46 on the Neuro-Semantics of Mindfulness.  Now I want to put these together.  Both are at the very heart
of NLP and Neuro-Semantics.  How do they connect?  One aspect of mindfulness is critical thinking- being mindful about how you are reasoning, thinking, and using language.  When you are engaged in critical thing, you are expanding your mindfulness.

Mindfulness inevitably builds critical thinking skills for several reasons. First of all because mindfulness requires an openness to experience, an openness to perceiving things from multiple views, to seeing multiple possibilities, and an openness to being wrong.  The possibility of being wrong arises due to the presence of cognitive distortions and biases.  We are all liable to mis-perceive, mis-hear, mis-evaluate, etc.  To not be open is to become less mindful, less aware of our fundamental fallibility.

Mindfulness builds critical thinking skills secondly by recognizing the role and predominance of our creativity.  If we become mindless when we go on automatic, operate by habit, live by routine, then we increase mindfulness when we play around with ideas, when we adventure into new and different
ideas, when we maintain our curiosity about how things work.  Mindfulness enriches creativity and yet creativity without reality-testing, quality controlling, checking the facts, and getting feedback from our innovations can become unrealistic, fantastic, and crazy creativity.

What’s the solution?  It is to complete the creativity.  That is, to move from the wild-and-crazy stage of brainstorming to the innovation stage of testing its reality.  That’s where we apply our critical thinking skills. We need both.  When both are working in unison we have creativity-and-innovation and in human personality, we have mind-to-muscle. We not only have great ideas, we also have the ability to embody and
actualize them in lifestyle.

One aspect of mindfulness involves being able to step back, and get the big picture.  Doing this can orient you to your world and enable you to gain perspective.  That takes you up and uses your self-reflexive consciousness in a highly creative and practical way.  But don’t stay there.  Your next step will be to bring that big picture down so that you can see the details of how you can operationalize it in practical actions.  In Neuro-Semantics we call this meta-detailing.  It is one of the prerequisites of genius which is more fully described in the book, Sub-Modalities Going Meta.

Getting the big picture enables you to gain perspective about the details. Yet if you keep generalizing and keep moving up you will over-generalize. Then the categories that you create and the classes that you generate will become less and less useful and can even blind you from the critical distinctions that you need to make.  It’s critical thinking that brings mindful awareness down to the critical details.  This is precisely what we do when we use the NLP Meta-Model of Language.  The “Specifically what …who … where … when” questions focus our attention on the critical details.  And that’s where mastery is- Mastery is in the details.  That’s what distinguishes an expert from a novice.  By specifying the critical success details the expert gets to the heart of things.

Both mindfulness and critical thinking enable us to “come to our senses” in new ways so that we can be here-and-now- fully present to life in the moment we are living it.  And both do this by enabling us to “lose our mind”-the old mind of habit, routine, thinking we “know it all,” and assuming there’s nothing else to learn.  It is that mind which so often blinds us to the here-and-now.  Then we’re not present.  Eyes we have but we see not; ears we have but we hear not.

One tool which I’m constantly recommending to our Meta-Coaches for this is the skill of effective interrupting.  At a very basic level just asking a person to self-reflect as they speak tends to interrupt their “talking off the tip of their tongue” and becoming mindful so they can think critically. “Did you hear what you just said?”  So in Meta-Coaching, the coach will ask this from time to time.  And clients most of the time will say, “What?  What did I just say?”

At a more advanced level, a Meta-Coach may ask, “Did you just hear that resource (or, solution, insight, limiting belief, presupposition, etc.)?” And again, this will interrupt most clients and they  will have to ask you to repeat what they said so that they can begin to hear what they are saying and what’s hidden in their words.  I’ve even had clients question me, “Did I say that?  Really?  Are you sure?”  The interruption interrupts their mindless chattering and calls them to a mindful awareness.

Another coaching interruption that we often do relates to a pattern of behaviors.  This occurs when we ask someone if they have noticed that they have now used a particular expression or linguistic phrase three or four or seventeen times.  “I’ve noticed that you have used X-pattern some five times now, are you aware of that?  Are you aware of how this may be limiting (or enhancing, empowering, sabotaging, etc.) you?”

We often do this with the linguistic distinctions which the Meta-Model of Language offers.  That’s because each distinction has the possibility of creating mindlessness.  Unspecified nouns and verbs do this which is why we ask, “What specifically are you talking about?”  The speaker may think he’s clear, but his words do not create precision.  This is even more true for nominalizations, lost performatives, cause-effect statements, complex equivalences, and presuppositions.  Inside of these types of linguistic patterns we can really become mindless- so much so that when we are interrupted and asked to explain ourselves- we can’t!  “What are you referring to when you say X?”  “What exactly do you mean by Y?”

This is where learning and using the Meta-Model enhances mindfulness.  It enriches your ability to be present and to engage in critical thinking about how you have and are mentally mapping things in your world.  I mentioned this with regard to some of the language used by the media in Ferguson (Reflection #48) and in the metaphorical language of calling the heart a “brain” (Reflection #49).  In the next Reflection I will do this with regard to one of the most inflamatory subjects on planet Earth.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Neuro-Semantics Executive Director

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THE NEURO-SEMANTICS OF MINDFULNESS

It is not uncommon for people who experience the Meta-States Training that we call Accessing Personal Genius (APG) to come away from it telling others that it is a training in mindfulness.  I have heard this many, many times. Others may not describe APG in those words, but will say that in learning the Meta-States Model, they have added so much to their understanding and competency in being mindful.  Recently I have had several people write and ask where I got the information about mindfulness that they were exposed to in APG.  And a few others have asked that I write more about mindfulness. So here we go.

What do we mean by mindfulness?  To be mindful is to be present to your current situation, aware, appreciative, and in sensory-awareness.  It is to be here-and-now in your awareness.  It is to be conscious of what you are experiencing- present, and not lost in thought about some other time and place.  When a person is not mindful, he or she is somewhere else or worse, may be mindlessly responding in an automatic way from old programs that may or may not be appropriate or useful for today.

Mindfulness fulfills the oft-quoted phrase from Fritz Perls when he said, “Lose your mind and come to your senses.”  The “mind” here is the chatter-box mind where we talk and talk and chatter to ourselves about all kinds of things while experiencing something- chatter that all-too-often causes us to miss the moment.  NLP took this phrase as Perls’ call for
coming into sensory-awareness so that a person sees, hears, feels, smells, and tastes one’s present moment.

The opposite is mindlessness.  Mindlessness speaks about a state of mind wherein we are not present, not conscious of the richness of the moment and so we miss out on the present.  Mindlessness occurs when we use our previous learnings in our ongoing experience of the world.  So instead of experiencing the world in a fresh way, we see it through our categories, judgments, and ideologies.  We then  dismiss things with a flip of the mind, “Oh, that’s X.”  “Oh that’s success.”  “That’s failure.”  “That’s old stuff, I already know that.”  Then, using these constructs we become blind to what is actually available to us.  Korzybski would say that this is seeing and experiencing the world intensionally rather than extensionally (note, it is intensionally, not intentionally).

By way of contrast to the automatic, robotic, and unconscious style of mindlessness, being mindful is responding with our full senses (“mind”), fully conscious of the here-and-now.  Instead of the blind and dull repetition of being mindless, in being mindful we see everything as fresh and new.  We see what we have seen a thousand times as if for the first time.  Maslow described self-actualizing people in this way.  He said they are able to see the thousandth sunrise as if it was the first one ever seen.

Another contrast is that in being mindless we use previous cognitive frameworks (judgments, evaluations, conclusions) rather than being open to the moment-that is, being mindful.  The mindless see but do not really see. “Eyes they have and see not; ears they have and hear not.”  Ellen Langer describes their mindset is that of being “motivated-not-knowing.”  Having decided that one already knows, one turns consciousness off and then dismiss whatever is present, paying it no attention.

Numerous problems can arise from that way of orienting oneself in the world. Langer also describes mindless as being trapped in one’s categories.  When a person lives by one’s labels, categories, classifications, etc. one loses the real world and lives solely in a world of constructs. “Just as mindlessness is the rigid reliance on old categories, mindfulness means the continual creation of new ones.” (Langer, 1989, p. 63).

Being mindful means making distinctions.  This is especially what we train in Coaching Mastery -how to make refined distinctions so that a person can listen so actively and intensely, one seems to enter into an entirely new world.  Whereas being mindless turns off one’s sensory awareness of the present, in mindfulness you come to your senses in a heightened way.  This explains why being mindful and living life from a state of continuous appreciation are so highly correlated.

Being mindful also entails continually creating and trying out new categories for things.  This means being able to re-experience situations and contexts in new ways thereby making the world  that is well-known new and fresh.  In other words, playfulness isn’t just for children.  As an adult you take continue to play and to be playful as you move through life.
You can mindfully play with ideas and categories.  Yet to do so requires an openness that reveals a mental receptivity to new possibilities.

In being mindful, your previous frames for understanding and interpreting a situation are not rigid or static.  You can frame things in ever-new ways. As you learn to reframe in playful and unexpected ways new meanings emerge. Maybe this explains why framing and reframing belong to the mindful- to those with an open and active mind.  The mindful can playfully re-interpret things to their benefit and to the benefit of others.

Being mindful means that you can stay aware of the process of making real choices as you move through the world.  This requires a process orientation, that is, an orientation to reality as a dynamic process, and not a static one.  Being mindful means we are alert to the variables within any decision so that we then think-through our decisions rather than deciding in a
reactive mindless way.

In the APG training that presents the Meta-States Model, mindfulness also shows up in terms of the ability to step back, expand one’s perspective, and reflexively move up the psycho-logical levels.  More about that next week.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.