Five Simple Steps to Learn Mindfulness That Really Work

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

Fifteen years ago a colleague dragged me to a Mindfulness Training for mental health professionals. At that time, mindfulness was not considered a fully valid concept in psychology.

As a psychologist who valued science, I viewed it as nothing other than new age, mystical hippy nonsense. I anticipated a flaky conference, and I was not disappointed. At one point, they had us all stand up and mill about aimlessly while humming for 20 minutes. Then we had to ask and answer some very personal questions with the strangers next to us.


Fast forward to 2015, where Mindfulness and Science have met and married. And oh, what a glorious union it is! Mindfulness studies are pouring from many of the best researchers in the world. And the meaning of mindfulness has matured from simply “being in the moment” to a richer, more complex definition.

Mindfulness: Being aware of what you are doing, experiencing and feeling in the moment.

Here’s a brief list of just a few of the benefits of meditation/mindfulness that have been proven by research in the last few years:

  1. Helps you sleep better Black et al., 2015
  2. Reduces your stress levels Zeidan et al. (2013)
  3. Actually changes the structure of your brain (for the better) Hölzel et al., 2011
  4. Changes your body on a cellular level to fight cancer Carlson, et al., 2014
  5. Helps you lose weight and maintain a lowered body weight Loucks, et al., 2014

I have noticed that certain types of people struggle more with mindfulness than others. In fact, it is particularly absent and difficult for people who grew up in families which were not tuned in to the present moment or their emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect).

Did your parents notice what you were feeling as a child? Did they help you name your emotions, express them and manage them? Attending to your inner experience, and especially to your own feelings, does not come naturally to most. If your parents didn’t teach you how to do this, then you have to teach it to yourself.

But never fear. Because the good news is, you can! In fact, one of the best things about mindfulness is that it is astoundingly learnable.

Here is a simple exercise which combines both vital aspects of mindfulness: 1) focusing and controlling your mind; and 2) being aware of what you are feeling in the moment. It is taken directly from my book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

If you take five minutes to do this exercise three times a day, you are forcing your brain to perform a function that is novel. You are forging new neural networks which get stronger and perform better each time you do it, even when you are not successful in identifying or naming a feeling.

Identifying and Naming Exercise

Step 1: Sit in a comfortable chair in a room alone. Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.

Step 2: Ask yourself this question:

What am I feeling right now?

Step 3: Focus in on your internal experience. Be aware of any thoughts that might pop into your head, and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on:

“What am I feeling right now?

Step 4: Try to identify feeling words to express it. You may need more than one word.

Step 5: If you are able to feel something but have difficulty putting a word or words on it, it may help to use a list of Feeling Words.

If you’re having difficulty identifying any feelings, it’s okay! Do not put pressure on yourself. Coming up with a word is less important than simply going through the process of trying to focus your attention and feel your feelings.

Imagine that there is a brick wall between you and your emotions. Each time you follow this four-step process, you are putting a chip in that wall. If you keep chipping away, again and again by doing this exercise, eventually you will, bit by bit, break down the wall, and gain control of your own mind and access to your emotions.

If I went to a Mindfulness Training today, I would view it very differently than I did in the year 2000. I would see it as a remarkable opportunity to learn more about an amazing, cutting-edge approach to improving mental health in this world.

I would see it as a way to combat Childhood Emotional Neglect in this generation, so that it will not be passed on to the next. I would see it as a tool that can bring calm, sleep and health to anyone who is willing to invest ten minutes per day.

Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?

To learn more about Emotional Neglect or The Identifying & Naming Exercise, see the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Photo credit: Tokyosucks via Flickr

Living Life on Autopilot? 3 Steps to Find Your Vitality

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read


Do you feel bored in your life? 

Do you enjoy happy occasions less than you should? 

Do you sometimes feel emotionally numb? 

Do other people seem to experience more intense joy, love or closeness than you do? 

Do you sometimes question the purpose and value of your life? 

Do you put others’ needs before your own? 

If you answered “yes” to two or more of the questions above, it may be a sign that you’re on autopilot. What does this mean? It means that you do not have enough access to your true emotions.

In my work as a psychologist, I have heard many people express these concerns. Almost all have been fine, good-hearted people who are successful in many areas of their lives. But for them, something is missing. Some mysterious ingredient that makes life feel full, rich and stimulating is simply not there for them.

Continue reading… »

Love and Wealth are Not Enough

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

What’s the most important ingredient for a happy life?

Philosophers, clergy, psychologists and researchers of all kinds have offered opinions on this question over the last five decades. Some say wealth, some say religion. Still others say family is the most important thing.

But one factor emerges over and over in study after study as a primary ingredient which must be present in childhood to produce a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult. That factor is emotional attachment, warmth and care. In a word, love.

This factor was recently studied very specifically by Harvard researchers (Vaillant, 2012) who wanted to compare the effects of childhood financial wealth with childhood warmth. By following over 200 men (yes, only men) over an extended period of 70+ years, they were able to identify clear patterns. They saw that childhood financial wealth has little to do with adult success, satisfaction and adjustment. And that parental warmth and care throughout childhood is a much more powerful contributor.

Some may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Don’t virtually all parents automatically love their children?”

In my years as a psychologist, I have seen for myself that money is not enough to raise a healthy child. But I’ve also seen that love is not enough. At least not the generic, “I love you because you’re my child” kind of love.

Continue reading… »

A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

The Fatal Flaw: A deeply buried, un-nameable sense that:

Something is wrong with me. I am missing some vital ingredient that other people have. I am set apart, different. I do not quite fit in anywhere.

Fortunately the Fatal Flaw is not as bad as it sounds, because it’s not a real flaw. Instead, it’s something far more powerful than a flaw. It’s a feeling.

Legions of people walk this earth held back by something which they cannot understand, and for which they have no words. It’s a feeling with the power to hold brilliant men back from achieving their full potential, and powerful women back from becoming presidents of companies. It’s a feeling that will not break you, but it will dog you. It will keep you standing alone at the PTA meeting, or sitting pretending to work while others chat freely at a conference. Unaddressed, it can set you apart so that you feel alone, and gradually wear away your connection to the world.

Continue reading… »

Got Issues? It’s All Your Parents’ Fault

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

Everything that’s wrong in your life is the fault of your parents. Whatever your struggles, your mistakes and your pain, you are not to blame. You are an innocent victim of those who raised you.

At least that’s the way some folks interpret my definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

The definition of CEN: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. People who grow up this way go forward into adulthood out of touch with their own emotions, feeling empty, alone and disconnected, and are baffled about what is wrong with them.

Here’s a comment that was posted on Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline:

Are you saying that when a parent fails to teach their children this skill well enough, that parent is guilty of Childhood Emotional Neglect? This article was insulting.

I’ve received many such comments. They point to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.

Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they are as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”

Continue reading… »

Big Boys Don’t Cry: The Emotionally Neglected Man

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read


Luke prepares himself to walk into the office party. Despite his reputation as the most helpful and productive salesperson in the company, his self-confidence flies out the window when he has to face people socially. “I never fit in anywhere,” he thinks to himself.

Often they are referred to as, “the strong, silent type.” They are giving, reliable, stand-up guys. They may be excessively driven, but that drive is mostly to provide for their families. They are there for others but ask for little in return. They are baffled by other people’s emotions, and typically just want to escape when anyone cries, yells or shows intense feelings of any kind. They live in dread of the moment when their wife says, “I need to talk with you about something.”

Feeling numb, isolated, empty and alone, these men mistake their intense individuality for strength.  But since they are out of touch with their own feelings, they sense that they lack some vital ingredient that other people have; and deep down, they feel overlooked and unseen.

Continue reading… »

3 Ways to Harness Your Brain’s Power & Change Your Life

By Jonice Webb • 2 min read

Between psychology, medical science and neuroscience, we have never known so much about the human mind. Recently I’ve been amazed at the number and quality of studies which are showing us the amount of pure power our brains have; powers that are truly amazing. Powers that change the meaning of the old phrase, “put your mind to it.”

Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of what our brains can do:

  1. Build muscles and increase your metabolism: In a study by Ranganathan, et al., 2004 a group of people who listened to guided imagery of themselves going through a strength training work-out built almost as much muscle mass as people who actually did the work-outs. Scientists think that the mental process of imagining a work-out releases the same hormones to build muscle that are released during an actual exercise session.

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Man vs. Woman: The Effects of Childhood

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

Do boys and girls respond differently to the same childhood experiences? How do those differences play out as the boy becomes a man, and the girl grows into a woman?

In my work as a psychologist, I have seen remarkable gender differences in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). First, a quick review. 

CEN in a nutshell:

When children’s emotions are not validated enough by their parents, they minimize and push down their feelings in order to get along in their family. As adults, they lack enough access to their own emotions. Since emotions are a primary source of connection and richness in life, these folks end up going through their lives feeling vaguely empty or numb,  disconnected, and confused about what is wrong with them. You can see other results of CEN in the table below. (To learn more about CEN, visit

When boys and girls grow up this way, are they affected differently? Does a CEN man feel differently than a CEN woman? The answer is yes.

First, two caveats: The masculine effects often appear in women and vice-versa, so please do not take these differences as absolute. Second, these observations are based upon my own clinical experience and have not been specifically researched.

Continue reading… »

The 5 Essential Steps to Change A Personality Trait

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

People don’t change.

Or do they?

It has long been believed that personality, the ingrained set of traits that determine our behavior and decisions, is entrenched and virtually unchangeable.

In the late 1990s, psychologists identified five traits which are believed to form the basis of personality. They are:

  1. Openness to experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism

The notion that personality is not changeable has been tremendously impactful upon the population at large. For example, people diagnosed with personality disorders have felt sentenced to a lifetime of discomfort. Introverts and extroverts have resigned themselves to the negatives that go with each style as permanent limitations.

But now a door has been opened to a new way of thinking. A way of thinking that may forever alter how we view personality, personality disorder, growth and change.

Continue reading… »

The Four Greatest Psychological Discoveries of 2014

By Jonice Webb • 2 min read

Every day of every year, scientists toil away in their efforts to understand the workings of the human mind. What makes us happy? How do our emotions work? What should we be doing differently in our lives to make ourselves healthier, happier and stronger?

Each year, a few studies stand out as particularly helpful by outlining a clear path to accomplish a better and healthier life; studies that everyone should know about. Here are four such studies from the year 2014. I hope they will help you to shape your coming year.

  1. We look for happiness in all the wrong places: We typically think of major life events, raises, large purchases, and success as the main sources of happiness in our lives. 

Continue reading… »


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