The area of research that will be of focal concern is conscious awareness in relation to the concept of ‘mindfulness’. In addition to this, analogous research surrounding the topic area will be integrated, with particular attention being paid to an important aspect of sport psychology known as ‘flow’.
Mindfulness has its roots in ancient spiritual traditions, namely Buddhism (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011), and is commonly defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003, p. 145). Definitions like the preceding are common in contemporary literature, however many authors have suggested that mindfulness is a somewhat elusive construct and that defining it in concrete terms is difficult (Brown & Ryan, 2004). It was recognised that the word ‘mindfulness’ had been used in array of contexts to describe a psychological trait, a state of awareness, in addition to a meditative practice, which together leave the concept ambiguous in nature.
In an attempt to clarify its meaning, Bishop et al (2004) proposed a two-component operational definition, with the first component involving the self-regulation of attention, and the second involving the adoption of an open, curious, accepting awareness of experiences in the present moment (Anderson, Lau, Segal, & Bishop, 2007). ‘Being mindful’ can therefore be contrasted with ‘being mindless’ or ‘being on automatic pilot’, and is predominantly characterised by sustained attention on the present-moment experience (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011).
The relevance of the application and integration of mindfulness into psychological theory, and subsequently into practice (Shapiro, 2009), first became apparent in the 1950’s when clinicians became immersed in the efficacy of mindfulness-based techniques in their therapeutic work (Melbourne Academic Mindfulness Interest Group, 2006). Beginning with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and the practice of mindfulness-based-stress-reduction (MBSR), which explored the use of mindfulness meditation in treating patients with chronic pain (Keng, Smoski, & Robins, 2011), a growing body of research concerning the cognitive-behavioural tradition emerged. Within this tradition it was assumed that cognition plays a vital role in determining behaviour (Huss & Baer, 2007), therefore, by drawing on the two components of mindfulness put forth by Bishop et al (2004), clinicians established that the development of mindfulness skills, such as focussed breathing (which cultivates the state of mindfulness), can lead to; increased self-awareness and self-acceptance; reduced reactivity to thoughts and emotions; and improved ability to cope with problematic situations (Linehan, 1993). In addition to this, research revealed that those who undergo mindfulness training also experience improved ability to sustain attention in the present moment (Marks, 2008).
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