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With a growing body of evidence supporting its benefits, the practice of mindfulness has become a hot topic in psychology. But mindfulness can be hard to grasp for those new to the concept.
There are countless ways to practice and understand mindfulness, so we’ve put together a collection of 20 definitions of the concept from various sources, listed in no particular order. Some of these definitions might resonate more than others, so feel free to pick and choose which ones to focus on.
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This Article Contains:
Dictionary and Encyclopedia Definitions:
For a straightforward, concise definition of mindfulness, general reference books like dictionaries and encyclopedias are good places to look.
“[Mindfulness is] the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
“[Mindfulness is] the state or quality of being mindful or aware of something.”
“[Mindfulness is] the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”
“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”
Synonyms for mindfulness include: alertness, carefulness, caution, circumspection, concentration, concern, conscientiousness, consideration, diligence, direction, discrimination, effort, enthusiasm, exactness, exertion, fastidiousness, forethought, heed, heedfulness, interest, management, meticulousness, nicety, pains, particularity, precaution, prudence, regard, scrupulousness, solicitude, thought, trouble, vigilance, wariness, watchfulness.
Those are helpful as a starting point, but what does mindfulness mean beyond these dry, general definitions?
Definitions of Mindfulness According to Organizations
Organizations dedicated to increasing mindfulness have also offered definitions of the concept. If you’re interested in a specific kind of mindfulness, reading definitions written by organizations with that same focus can be especially helpful.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
“Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself.”
White Wind Zen Community
“Mindfulness is wordless. Mindfulness is meeting the moment as it is, moment after moment after moment, wordlessly attending to our experiencing as it actually is. It is opening to not just the fragments of our lives that we like or dislike or view as important, but the whole of our experiencing.”
Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles
“Mindful Awareness is the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences.”
Definitions of Mindfulness According to Experts:
The following people have all dedicated their lives to mindfulness. Read on to learn how they define the concept.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”
Daniel J. Siegel
“Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. . . . Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.”
“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way—with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.”
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”
Just out of curiosity, we collected definitions penned by people and organizations not focused on mindfulness.
“Mindfulness has many synonyms. You could call it awareness, attention, focus, presence, or vigilance. The opposite, then, is not just mindlessness, but also distractedness, inattention, and lack of engagement.”
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.”
“Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every momentwithout interpretation or judgment.”
“Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way. When a person is mindful, they:
Focus on the present moment
Try not to think about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in future
Purposefully concentrate on what’s happening around them
Try not to be judgemental about anything they notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”
“Mindfulness is a matter of being fully present in the moment.”
The Take-Home Message
As we examine the different definitions of mindfulness above, a few patterns stick out. The most obvious is that mindfulness has to do with paying attention. Several definitions underscore the importance of judgment in mindfulness—that is, that mindfulness involves nonjudgment.
Some definitions of mindfulness describe its internal focus and how it draws attention to the body and thoughts. Other definitions describe its external focus that allows us to notice what is going on around us. Some emphasize the importance of both approaches.
Finally, two definitions (from Daniel J. Siegel and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA) use “mindfulness” and “mindful awareness” interchangeably. We could even consider “mindful awareness” to be the shortest, simplest definition of mindfulness.
As you can see, while there are many similarities between these definitions, mindfulness means different things to different people.
Which definitions of mindfulness do you agree with, and which definitions do you disagree with? How do you define mindfulness? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.
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