Mindfulness, and the mindful living movement, have become widely known in recent years. It’s been promoted as a superpower that anyone can use to improve their quality of life and wellbeing.
But what does mindfulness really mean? And is it too overhyped to deserve your attention?
What is the point of mindfulness?
Mindfulness matters because we know what we don’t want: we don’t want mindlessness. We don’t want to be oblivious to the present moment. You won’t find many people arguing for this kind of automaton approach to living life.
In contrast, to work towards mindfulness is to orient your life with an intention towards being in the present moment. This can take many forms: noting your automatic reactions to what’s happening in your life; meditating; pausing before responding in the heat of the moment. Mindfulness is about living your life with intention, rather than living in a state of reactivity.
This is especially important in the modern world. I don’t mean to simplify the human experience of our ancestors, who most certainly had deep emotional lives (I’m looking at you, Buddha and Socrates). But we undoubtedly live in a more complex world than they do. We’re bombarded from all sides with opportunities from stress and anxiety and discontent: work, school, the news, politics, climate change, pandemics. The human brain was made for 150 connections. We’re a tribal species.
But the modern world hits us with non-stop global input. In the matter of a few centuries, we’ve gone from agrarian societies, interacting with extended families and nearby neighbors, to a hyperconnected society notified instantly of disasters on the other side of the world. More than perhaps any generation before us, we need mindfulness to navigate. We need mindfulness to help us manage this messy world through skills like patience and resilience and conscious consumption.
Has mindfulness become a cliché?
In short – sure, it certainly has in some places.
Let’s acknowledge that mindfulness is a tricky topic to tease apart, and in some cases, has been deployed as the latest marketable buzzword in spirituality and productivity.
In an era where everyone from corporate leaders to preschool teachers to social media influencers (and yes, bloggers) are talking about mindfulness, it can be hard to pin down exactly what this term even means. Has it evolved into simply a word that evokes a vague spirituality, without meaning anything? A sort of trite “mindfulness is important to me” bumper sticker?
Maybe – but this can also be seen as a beneficial development.
Hear me out:
How mindfulness contributes to spiritual wellness
Mindfulness is a useful secular language to discuss growth and spirituality in the 21st century.
As society has been getting less religious, many of the organizational forces pulling people toward a deeper consideration of their lives have slipped away. At the same time, we have the popularization of meditation in the 20th and 21st century, and the recent explosion in the use of the term mindfulness and a growing mindful living movement. Yes, it’s ubiquitous and yes, in some quarters it hardly means much anymore, but that’s okay: more people are being reached.
So the message is getting out there, helped by this more accessible language. In the past, people may have felt that something like meditation was too much for them (requiring hours-at-time dedication), or that it was too foreign. With mindfulness, we’ve landed on an overarching term that encompasses a healthy spirituality. It’s compatible with both secular and religious practices of gratitude, meditation and daily introspection.
6 evidence-based benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness has been widely studied and has a number of evidence-based benefits.
A few of them are:
- Less overthinking
- Stress reduction
- Memory improvements
- Improved focus
- Less emotional reactivity
- Improved relationships
What is mindfulness in simple terms?
So you’re sold that mindfulness matters and that it’ll help you, and want to know what mindfulness actually is. Where to start! It’s trickier than it should be. Mindfulness has become such a broad term that it can be challenging to define. We’ve gotten this far without really pinning down the concept, but let me try: Mindfulness means orienting yourself towards living life with intention. Researchers often define it as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.”
What does that really mean? Let’s split it into two approaches: activities (more concrete) and philosophies (more abstract).
Activities: Practicing gratitude, meditating, journaling, breathwork, yoga, conscious consumption, thinking before reacting, single-tasking instead of multi-tasking
Philosophies: Having a growth mindset, staying present rather than living in the future or the past, staying attuned to what the mind and body are feeling in the present moment
Why mindfulness is a superpower
As humans, we spend so much of our time thinking about the future or the past, stuck in cycles of emotional reactivity, and ruminating endlessly.
What if we could stop that cycle?
That’s why mindfulness is a superpower.
It continually nudges us onto the slow and winding path of growth and improved human condition. It helps us claw back time that we would’ve spent stuck in unhelpful thought patterns, and pull that time into the present. Once we’re in the present, mindfulness helps us with improved focus and a better day-to-day experience.
We all have the ability to continually learn and improve. We can push ourselves to grow, or we can shrink back from fear of discomfort. Mindfulness helps us slow down and pay attention so that we don’t miss out on the beautiful moments of life.
Use mindfulness to choose how to live
Mindfulness may sometimes seem to be a marketing or HR buzzword these days, but I’d encourage anyone struggling with that to look deeper at the mountains of evidence-based benefits mindfulness provides. Mindfulness matters because pushes us to transcend our nature in positive ways: from living in the past or the future to living in the present; from scattered to focused; from discontent to grateful.
And it matters because intuitively, in our core, we know that we don’t want mindlessness. We don’t want to walk automatically through life, oblivious to the present moment. We want to be more present, to have less stress, to have better relationships, to better manage our emotions – and mindfulness encompasses tools that help nudge us in the right direction.