Letting Go: Mindfulness and Negative Automatic Thinking

Abstract

Cognitive theorists describe mindfulness as a form of attention-awareness in which thoughts can be observed in non-judging, de-centered, and non-attached ways. However, empirical research has not examined associations between mindfulness and responses to negative automatic thoughts, such as the ability to let go of negative cognition. In the first study reported in this article, measures of dispositional mindfulness were negatively correlated with negative thought frequency and perceptions of the ability to let go of negative thoughts in an unselected student sample. In the second study reported, these associations were replicated in a treatment-seeking student sample, where participation in a mindfulness meditation-based clinical intervention was shown to be associated with decreases in both frequency and perceptions of difficulty in letting-go of negative automatic thoughts. Theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Standardized instructions available by request from the corresponding author.

  2. 2.

    It should be noted that the validity of Meditation Breath Attention Scores rests considerably on participants’ candid reporting of the extent to which they were attending to their breath during the meditation session. Specifically, there is no obvious means of confirming the veracity of participants’ reports. This said, however, in this study there was no evidence of demand characteristics biasing the report of high Meditation Breath Attention Scores since participants were not aware of the average level of performance expected for this task, were not aware of the level of other participants’ performance, and their scores did not demonstrate a ceiling effect but rather appeared to be normally distributed around a mean of 2.36 out of five.

  3. 3.

    Session outlines available by request from the corresponding author.

  4. 4.

    Common overlapping thought themes that participants volunteered in this study, as illustrated by actual examples given by participants, included: performance-evaluation (e.g., “I can’t do anything right”), pessimism (e.g., “Nothing will ever work out”), self-criticism (e.g., “People think I’m boring”), loneliness and/or negative social appraisals (e.g., “No one likes me”), family-related (e.g., “I’m going to disappoint/fail my parents”), and physical appearance (e.g., “I’m unattractive”).

  5. 5.

    It may have been advantageous to include the MBAS as a measure of treatment outcome, although in the absence of data bearing on the temporal reliability of this task it was difficult to justify for the present treatment outcome study, particularly in the absence of a control group. Demand characteristics to report improved mindful attention on this measure may also be high if MMCI instructors administer this outcome measure themselves, and future researchers are advised to have external research personnel administer this task if it is to be used as a treatment outcome measure.

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Correspondence to David J. A. Dozois.

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Frewen, P.A., Evans, E.M., Maraj, N. et al. Letting Go: Mindfulness and Negative Automatic Thinking. Cogn Ther Res 32, 758–774 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9142-1

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Automatic Thoughts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress