First, mindfulness is learning a specific way to pay attention. It’s learning to cultivate attention in a friendly, loving, non-judgmental, compassionate and impartial manner. By learning to hold the present moment in this way we’re able to see how much of our suffering is made by our minds reaction towards what is happening. We are able to differentiate between our stories of what we think is going on and the reality of what’s actually happening in the present moment.
An example of this is when you stub your toe, there is the physical pain of the stubbed toe and additionally layered on top, there may be negative self-talk for feeling stupid or clumsy for stubbing your toe in the first place. That mental pain can be bigger and actually cause more suffering then the initial pain of the physical stubbing. Mindfulness training teaches you see the difference between the two.
Mindfulness also allows you to see your habitual habits and patterns. You need to know what you’re doing before you can change it. This sounds obvious but our habits are rooted deeply in our brains. A stimulus occurs, neurons fire, and we act. When our neurons fire they create grooves in our brains. Without awareness we default to our habitual behaviors as a result. Often we find that just watching your behavior changes it. If you put something new into an equation the sum is different. The “new” in this case is the friendly observing. That awareness changes your experience.