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What Is This Thing Called Mindfulness?


Mon Oct 27 2014

What Is This Thing Called Mindfulness?

Mindfulness. Mindful. Being mindful. Practicing mindfulness. Look around these days and you’ll find a myriad of discussion, news, groups, and classes all around this thing called mindfulness. From the Huffington Post to Time magazine, mindfulness and being mindful is more than a hot topic. Mindfulness is THE hot topic of the early 21st Century.

But is mindfulness here to say? Some say that mindfulness is just another flavor of the day. A fad. The latest thing of the moment. Regardless of if you or I think mindfulness is a fad, its presence is real. Mindfulness is here—right now.


But what is this thing called “mindfulness?” What is “mindful?” What do these words mean…really mean? How are they defined? Of the definitions out there, whose is right?

A search of the words “mindfulness” and “mindful” on the internet pulls up more than 2 million results. Let’s take a look at the more common or well-known definitions.

  • Founder of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in Full Catastrophe Living as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding experience moment to moment.”

  • Out of the University of California Berkeley, the Greater Good offers a definition of mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

  • Another well-known figure in the field of mindfulness is Sharon Salzberg. Her definition of mindfulness is “the state of being fully present, without distraction.”

Some would argue or present the argument these definitions are Westernized, and they engage in a dance of debate of the definition of mindfulness as well as question its origin. (We’ll save that discussion for another blog post, though.)

I prefer a definition that is simple, and I tend to go old school and lean on a reliable and respected source such as a dictionary. Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as, “The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” To make the definition even simpler, when I am asked, “What is mindfulness?” my answer is, “Mindfulness is awareness.” Quick. Simple. Short. Easy to remember. Easy to understand.

Mindfulness is as complex as the word love. Actually, the word mindfulness reminds me of the word love. Ask 10 people the question, “What is love?” and you’ll more than likely get 10 different answers. Heck, ask 50 people on Facebook “What is love” and you’ll receive some long answers, some short answers, and some answers that are as long as a peer-review journal article.


And in the workplace, mindfulness also differs from person to person, team to team, division to division, and organization to organization. 

What matters is what YOU think mindfulness is? How do you define mindfulness? What does it mean to you?

While the industry and field of mindfulness is unregulated, I always caution clients and people I talk with about adopting another person’s opinion as fact or truth for their own beliefs. I suggest doing these few steps in order for you to come to a definition of mindfulness.

Steps to define mindfulness:

  1. Write down or use a tablet to capture your thoughts about the word “mindfulness.” What do you think it means?

  2. Then ask, “Why do you think it means this?”

  3. Now explore on Google, through books, articles, discussion with co-workers, family, or friends what are their thoughts around the word mindfulness. Capture all of these in a central document.

  4. After collecting the information from steps 1-3 go back and review what is collected. Reflect on this information. Think about what was captured.

  5. Ask yourself (and the group if in the workplace) “why does it mean this?” How did it get to this meaning? Why not something else? Where did these come from?

  6. Create three columns: 1) can live with, 2) neutral, and 3) can live without. Identify and place these potential definitions and comments into each of the three columns. Anything that falls into the neutral column, repeat steps 2-5 until they get placed in a non-neutral column.

  7. Review what’s placed in the “can live with” column and condense and create /into a definition of mindfulness. Now you have your definition of mindfulness.

These steps can be done individually or they can be done as part of team work within an organization, school, or home. Once completed the result is an agreed upon definition of mindfulness; one that will work for you, the office, team, school, and at home.


Let’s continue this discussion. Send us your comments and thoughts about this blog, as well as your experiences and outcomes of going through the process of defining mindfulness.

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