What is Mindfulness?

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: September 6, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully focusing on the present moment nonjudgmentally. It is closely associated with meditation, but mindfulness goes broader, including practices like gratitude that don’t fall under the umbrella of meditation.

Mindfulness is a huge topic, and it’s hard to know where to start, or even nail down exactly what mindfulness is.

Maybe you’re thinking of trying to meditate for the first time. Or maybe someone told you that mindfulness might help with a specific issue like a wandering mind, or anger. You may be confused as to why so many concepts, like affirmations and grounding, fall under the mindfulness umbrella (understandably so).

In this article, we’ll dive into common questions about mindfulness. At the end of the article, you’ll find a number of resources to explore this topic further.

What is mindfulness?

What Is Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about focusing your awareness on the present moment nonjudgmentally. Meditation can be considered only a part of a broad set of mindfulness activities, like gratitude and yoga.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to involve sitting still and silent for long periods of time. In fact, mindfulness can be practiced in any situation and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.

The goal of mindfulness is to cultivate awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, without judgment. When you’re mindful, you’re more likely to respond thoughtfully instead of reactively to whatever is happening in the present moment.

Mindfulness techniques, like setting an intention for your day, pausing to asses your triggers before reacting, and breathing exercises, can all help in bringing you more into the present.

Mindfulness has been shown to offer a range of benefits, such as improved focus, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved sleep quality.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

There are a number of benefits to mindfulness, including:

  • improved focus and concentration
  • reduced stress and anxiety
  • reduced overthinking and rumination
  • improved sleep quality
  • increased awareness and understanding of yourself and others
  • enhanced well-being
  • increased empathy and compassion for others

What are mindful thoughts?

What are mindful thoughts
Mindful thoughts are, above all, nonjudgmental observations of the present moment

Mindful thoughts are thoughts centered nonjudgmentally on the present moment, full of awareness and acceptance of what is happening.

Mindful thoughts can be about anything: the sensations you’re feeling in your body, the sounds you’re hearing, the thoughts passing through your mind, or the environment around you.

Mindful thinking can be thought of as the opposite of rumination. Rumination is when we get stuck in cognitive/emotional loops and overthink things that happened in the past, or that might happen in the future. We can even ruminate about our rumination!

An antidote to this unpleasant cycle is mindful thinking. When you’re mindful, you’re more likely to respond thoughtfully instead of reactively to whatever is happening in the present moment. This can lead to improved communication and relationships, reduced stress, and a more peaceful state of mind.

How do affirmations fit into mindfulness?

Affirmations are not exactly the same as mindfulness, but they can be a helpful tool to support your mindfulness practice.

The main difference between affirmations and mindfulness is that affirmations are are positive statements that you repeat to yourself, in order to boost your self-confidence and feelings of self-worth. Mindfulness, by contrast, includes a much broader scope of wellness activities.

A mindfulness practice can certainly include affirmations, especially affirmations that focus on gratitude and living in the present.

Many of us experience frequent negative self-talk. Affirmations are one tool to expose your mind to positive thoughts about yourself. Affirmations can be a great way to start your day, or to use when you’re feeling down or struggling with negative thoughts.

Just keep in mind that it’s important to be genuine and authentic with yourself when you’re using affirmations, rather than forcing something that doesn’t feel true to you.

Gratitude affirmations quote - Today, I'm grateful to be alive.
Affirmations can be mindful, but aren’t necessarily. They’re a tool for reinforcing thoughts.

What is the difference between mindfulness and grounding?

Grounding can be a part of your mindfulness practice, but the two concepts are different.

The main difference between mindfulness and grounding is that mindfulness involves being purposely aware of the present moment, but also open to observing any thoughts that arise nonjudgmentally. Grounding is about creating safety, which typically means that some thought patterns will be classified as “better” than others.

On the other hand, grounding is a tool to help bring people away from past negative experiences, and towards present safety. That might include assessing certain thought patterns negatively, in order to cultivate a different manner of thinking.

Mindfulness is focused on awareness, whereas grounding is focused on safety, and can be a tool to help you stay focused and calm during stressful situations.

How can I stop my mind from wandering?

Stop mind from wandering
You can’t totally stop wandering thoughts, but meditation can help keep your awareness on the present moment

The short answer: you can’t totally stop wandering thoughts. They’re part of human nature.

However, mindfulness and meditation are tools to train your awareness, and can help reduce wandering thoughts.

One of the main goals of mindfulness is to cultivate awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgment.

Meditation is especially helpful, as many techniques are essentially awareness practice: watching your thoughts, and bringing them back to the present moment after they inevitably venture into the future or the past.

Tools you can use in the moment to reduce wandering thoughts include:

  • Focusing on your breath
  • Focusing on the sounds or sensations around you
  • Noticing when your thoughts wander, and gently coming back to the present

The more you bring mindfulness and meditation practices into your life, the more you’ll notice when your mind is wandering. When it does wander, no problem: just bring your attention back to the present moment.

What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

The main difference between mindfulness and meditation is that meditation is a set of techniques that train your awareness.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, can refer to any activity you do throughout your day that involves focusing attention on what’s happening in the present moment, as well as other practices that improve wellbeing like gratitude and breathing exercises.

Is it better to meditate with eyes open or closed?

Definition of mindfulness eyes closed meditation
Eyes closed is most common, but some meditation traditions advocate for keeping your eyes open

There is no “right” way to meditate. Some people prefer to meditate with their eyes closed, while others find it easier to focus when their eyes are open.

Meditation with your eyes closed is the most common. One of the benefits is that you’re able to reduce visual distractions.

A common reason some people prefer to meditate with their eyes open is that they find themselves falling asleep when their eyes are closed. In addition, with certain meditation practices like Zen Meditation, your eyes traditionally remain open.

Allow yourself to experiment and see what works best for you.

Can mindfulness help with intrusive thoughts?

Yes. Mindfulness can help with intrusive thoughts.

When you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re more likely to be aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

This can help you better manage any intrusive thoughts that may pop up. Mindfulness can also help you stay grounded and focused during stressful situations.

Can mindfulness help with anger?

Mindfulness and anger
Mindfulness can help create space between a trigger, and your reaction to it

Yes. Mindfulness can be a productive way to help with anger.

First, when you’re mindful, you’re more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and you can better manage them. That means that when angry thoughts come up, you can pause to consider them before reacting.

Second, mindfulness can help you understand why you’re angry, and what your triggers are. Often, we experience anger, but don’t exactly know what’s causing it. When we stay aware of our thoughts, we’re able to better understand the patterns that lead to the emotion of anger.

Third, mindfulness can help you manage your reactions once you’re triggered and become angry. Whether it’s pausing before responding, taking a short break, using breathing exercises or communicating in a compassionate and empathetic way, mindfulness can help us deal with anger in a healthier way.

How can I be more mindful?

Mindfulness starts with intention, so if you’re asking the question “how can I be more mindful?”, you’re already halfway there.

First, set an intention to stay in better touch with your thoughts and feelings, and to bring yourself back to the present moment when you drift into ruminations.

Then, reinforce this intention by creating a mindfulness practice. Start by experimenting with different mindfulness techniques that resonate with you, whether that’s gratitude, breathwork, meditation, yoga, journaling, or something else.

Finally, stick with it. Mindfulness is a lifelong pursuit.

Learning more about mindfulness

Interested in exploring mindfulness further? Dive into these additional resources: