• The Roots of Mindfulness and an Exercise from the Old Days, MINDFUL SCIENCE, JUNE 2017

    Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw

    You might be surprised by this story. 

    It will explain when modern mindfulness first emerged while also giving you an “old-fashioned” thought-training technique.

    Because our mental structure is the same as in the past, this technique remains effective for managing our thoughts and feelings today. 


    Mindfulness trains our brains to make us happy, think more clearly and execute mental tasks more effectively.

    “Hypnosis” is really just organizing the thought-stream—and techniques for hypnosis were discovered near the turn of the 18th century.

    As far back as Plato’s time, highly effective people used thought-stream training for vocational success, attainment of life-goals and improvement of relationships.


    Going forward from Plato, we see that modern work-lives and modern mindfulness techniques emerged at the same time.

    We see the roots of today’s mindfulness’ movement in practices from the 1700s—when the Industrial Revolution started.

    This period was called “The Enlightenment.” Science and rigorous systemization began to touch many areas of human life in American and Europe at the time.

    Franz Mesmer (1734 – 1815) was a child of the Enlightenment. The word “mesmerized” comes from his discoveries. He devoted his life to training attention.

    As “mesmerized” suggests, he brought people into sharp states of focus. He’d sit silently with clients, knee-to-knee, putting his attention on them while bringing them toward deep states of concentration—or what’s called, hypnosis.

    Observing his technique, people called it ”auto-suggestion.”

    They said he was teaching people to “suggest” things to themselves.  

    This healed them of the sicknesses he was hired to cure.


    Though CAT scans and other technologies not known in Mesmer’s time now reveal how complex mindfulness’ biological expressions are, and the practice itself can be challenging because it breaks habit, mindfulness is really simple to understand and easy to begin.  

    How hard is it to say a few words inside your head?

    This is one way mindfulness works—through “suggestions” to the self.

    Today, this technique is widely used and broadly proven. A recent Pyschology Today blog reviewed the many studies that confirm its effectiveness in granting us more happiness, health and vocational success. 


    After Mesmer’s time, auto-suggestion was taught more explicitly by the influential (and ever-cheerful!) Frenchman, Émile Coué (1857 – 1926) later in the 1800s.

    A few months back, Coué was quoted by my fellow Mindful Science blogger, Jorge Borges.

    Jorge shared Coue’s mantra: “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

    Just like the ancient yogis, Coue’ figured out that silent repetitions of a word-phrase will condition the feeling-state of the mind.

    As you can see, the words he used were near-childlike.

    This makes his mantra simple to experiment with!


    Here is an exercise for you.

    You may do just parts of it, or you can do it all:

    1) Write, “Every day in every way I am becoming better and better” on several pieces of paper

    2) Tape them in prominent places around your house–and tape one in the space between your wallet folds (that way, you’ll see it by surprise throughout your day).

    3) Make a screensaver with the phrase.

    4) Before you get up, and when you go to bed each night, sit up straight for meditation (laying down or slouching will retard or prevent the practice’s effectiveness–but sitting on chair, or your bed’s edge, or even sitting yogi-style on your bed’s pillows, is A-OK). Put the words on paper in front of you and repeat them silently for 5-10 minutes—or even 30 minutes.

    Just like bodily workouts, the more time you spend, the more effective the practice will be.

    5) Say the phrase to yourself as you move throughout the day—as often as you remember to do so.

    Do this for 3 days.

    A few moments of this practice will have an immediate impact, but if you do more than one of the operations above, or do any for a longer time, it will powerfully compound the effect.


    The first step in most mindfulness practices is to become aware of your mental content.

    The second step is often auto-suggestion. 

    It also travels under the label of “self-affirmations.” 

    To optimize our mental activity, we want to become mindful of mental content, then make the tone of that content positive.


    Coue’s phrase does this well, and you can learn other strategies of this type in the courses offered by Mindful Science.

    As you go forward:

    Trust that the effectiveness of mindfulness is proven over centuries

    Explore auto-suggestion through the exercise offered here, or get creative, making your own affirmations.  (You can also tie them to a religious tradition–using Jesus’ name, for example–if that is important to you.)

    Subscribe to Mindful Science to unlock all its practices including new self-affirmation approaches.


  • There are no responses so far.

    Leave your response

Share This