Learned Mindfulness

A novel emotional intelligence perspective for living with purpose and relevance

Posted Jul 25, 2019

Mindfulness is a state of mind, a “presence” one experiences. An alert relaxedness, this state allows sensations, feelings, and thoughts to flow through mental space merely witnessed, noted, and allowed to move forward.

In a new book, Learned Mindfulness, I set out a new paradigm for mindfulness. Learned mindfulness is both the knowing and the showing of mindful awareness in everyday living. It is meeting yourself where you are. Emotional intelligence joins mindful awareness to innovate mindful living. Problem-solving and decision-making skills refine themselves.

Mindfulness is an asset in adult life and as a parenting skill for raising responsively successful children.

Frank John Ninivaggi MD, 2009
Approaching Clear Mind, original oil by author, 2009
Source: Frank John Ninivaggi MD, 2009

Learned Mindfulness 

Learned mindfulness is education. It can prevent and improve the burnout syndrome. Burnout is an occupational hazard, not a medical condition. Burnout leads to toxic stress causing a range of physical and mental disorders. These include the worsening of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and major clinical depression. Feeling overwhelmed with technology, finances, and proper nutrition is stress. Degrees of burnout show up in everyone’s life. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, irritable, and exhausted are tell-tale signs.

Cynicism and depersonalization/numbing are self-sabotaging byproducts. Integrating mindfulness into everyday living decreases the chances of burnout.

Once learned, mindfulness exists as a health-promoting orientation.

Relaxation is a forgotten skill. Life experience is typically “off-balance”; things never move in precisely controlled ways. One’s daily task is managing a reasonable balance among life’s responsibilities, using the ballast of emotions.

The last decades have offered advances in technomedicine as, for example, the full range of psychotropic drugs shown effective in improving several mental disorders. Mindfulness, whether as a practice, a meditation, or a psychological orientation, is neither a drug nor a “stress pill.” It is an approach to a lifestyle of mindful awareness consciously embedding itself in moment-to-moment living. 

“Mindfulness memory” is the capacity to recall and be mindful of ideas, feelings, and activities conducive to health, well-being, and wellness. Learned Mindfulness is true to this definition by emphasizing its eclipsed foundation: emotional awareness as an alerting, energizer for a holistic self-attentive knowledge. Leveraging the best at each experiential moment improves a mindful quality of life. It is “Mindful Mindedness,” paying attention mindfully. “Practicing pause,” central to achieving mindfulness, is a clinical tool and exercise used daily in this system to build a mindfulness work memory.

Learned Mindfulness Enhances the Lost Memory of Wholeness

Mindfulness memory is the capacity to recall or know of the ideas, feelings, and activities conducive to health, well-being, and wellness—in toto, even nonconsciously. No experience is ever lost, only put “on hold.” Not having enough information at hand stifles problem-solving and decision-making. 

Implicit in ideas about mindfulness is the purposeful, self-regulation of attention. Immediacy and non-judgment are parts of this. Tendencies forcing “ought to” directions are not helpful and avoided.

Few hard-coded rules define this minded awareness because of individual differences. Diversity and context are real; even the notion of subgroups cannot explain the breadth of "mindful mindedness" for everyone. Remaining not overly defined is a strength. The foundations of learned mindfulness rest on two psychological pillars:

1.) equanimity: emotional composure 

2.) equipoise: an even-minded balance of both emotional and cognitive awareness

Learned mindfulness emphasizes the mind’s eclipsed essential: emotional awareness as an energizer for a holistic self-attentive knowledge. This is the foundation of mindfulness (Ninivaggi, 2017). This novel integration is reawakening the memory of wholeness. The pith of learned mindfulness means the only change intended is enhanced conscious awareness. 

Sensory awareness of experience, not just details of perception, define emotionally intelligent mindfulness. Consciously experiencing how one is present with what is—now—is primary. Thus, creatively improvising “experiencing” becomes the rhythms of everyday living. 

Knowing, just here and now, and adaptively using it in everyday life defines learned mindfulness. It aims to assimilate thought with emotional resources. The skill is the literacy of awareness: flexible, receptive, and inclusive.

Unlike approximating a virtual emptiness of mental activity in classical meditative protocols, learned mindfulness is a layering process. This rebooting orientation has stratified phases:

1.    pause 

2.    quieting the mind 

3.    reducing but not eliminating thoughts 

4.    centering mental endeavors in the moment of current experience 

5.    becoming alert to emotion as it unfolds 

6.    seamlessly assimilating emotion with thought 

Poise, equanimity, lowered anxiety, increased relaxation, clarity of orientation, and focused direction emerge. Mental clarity is a mind empty of intentional clutter.

The Benefits of Learned Mindfulness: Real-time and Neurologically

Keen awareness facilitates the assimilation of information as knowledge. This absorption is “embedded knowing” rather than unintegrated memory.  This enhances growth mind-sets.

Embedded knowing is substantive intelligence. Assimilative understanding is using and applying embodied mental processing. The wholeness of deep knowing behaves as spontaneous wisdom, not effortfully regulated critical thinking. 

For example, it reconfigures brain neurocircuitry to become a summation of clear attention together with spontaneous recalling. This building of coherence of neural networks links the amygdala and hippocampal brain tracts. Reactions more automatically become better choices. Studies in these areas of emotional memory are promising (Kirkby et al., 2018).

Thus, learned mindfulness is both an orientation and practice with real-life results. For example, Simple yet important illustrations are not letting your gas tank reach empty, remembering ahead to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, and showing gratitude with an effective “thank you.” 

Learned mindfulness aspires to take its place as a unique “mindful” executive function. Organizing the direction of attention in intended ways produces a mindful dominance with suitable performance. Mindfulness focuses awareness on the process, not the goal. This shifts perspective toward a dynamically engaged knowing—“on the spot.” 

An Approach to Learning Mindful Mindedness

Mindfulness focuses on four primary domains: 

1.)  body

 2.) sensations/feelings

 3.) mental contents. 

The fourth domain in establishing learned mindfulness is attention to diet, nutrition, breathing, relationships, fitness, values, and work-life balance. All contribute to an integrated lifestyle. Mindfulness changes the caliber of the mind’s constant discourse. Learning to live from the inside, not the demands of outer-directedness empowers choice about choices.

Once mindfulness establishes itself, disengagement from exclusive reliance on critical thinking occurs. Mindfulness becomes an everyday attitude. “Here and now” experiencing has clarity with non-judgment. “Clear mind” is a base level of mindful awareness. Distinguished researchers link this with studies showing deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex (Brewer, Garrison, and Whitfield-Gabrieli, 2013).

Mindfulness then becomes an unbroken recall when accessing that knowledge. The process rests on one’s intention toward improving. This dynamic attitude of engagement focuses on the immediacy of awareness at hand. Learning becomes a seamless course of non-critically assimilating information. This is dynamic knowing. These elements define a mindfulness-based program for authentic living, honest and transparent to self and others.

When mindful awareness operates, comprehension and decision-making occur more effortlessly. Forceful control using logic and reason fades. Forced thinking only strengthens resistance to mindfulness. 

Learned mindfulness is deep knowledge acquisition rather than detailed training resting on surface awareness. Its intention is orienting focus to engage experience so that assimilating it occurs effortlessly.

The Take-Home Message 

Learned Mindfulness is my emotionally intelligent version of mindfulness: a state of awareness and evolving mindfulness-based practice (MBP).

Learned Mindfulness and emotional intelligence bring greater clarity to the wholeness of awareness. They decrease anxiety, conflict, and confusion. The need to erect defense mechanisms against anxiety diminishes. 

Learned Mindfulness moves with life changes and personal development. Mindful adults lead meaningful lives. Modeling mindfulness to children is first-class parenting. Mindful people are less stressed and more engaged in quality living. Relaxation follows, in the form of non-reactivity to charged mental contents rather than pure muscle relaxation in isolation.

Twitter: #@constantine123A



Ninivaggi, F.J. (2017). Making sense of emotion: Innovating emotional intelligence. Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield.

Ninivaggi, F.J. (2019). Learned Mindfulness: Physician Engagement and MD Wellness. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Ninivaggi, F.J. (2010). Biomental Child development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield.

 Kirkby, L.A., Luongo, F.J., Lee, M.B., Dawes, H.E., Chang, E.F., & Sohal, V.S. An Amygdala-Hippocampus Subnetwork that Encodes Variation in Human Mood. (2018).  Cell, 175, 1–13.

Brewer, J. A. Garrison, K. M., and Whitfield-Gabrieli, S. (2013) “What about the “self” is processed in the posterior cingulate cortex?” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7: 647.