What is Mindfulness and What are its Primary Benefits?

Mindfulness is a game changer! And, it needs to be on your radar.

This is not something I have always thought. In fact, if you would have asked me about mindfulness a few years ago, I would have thought of you as “hippy-dippy.” And, I am assuming that you may have some of the same thoughts (or you have may have already moved on to another webpage).

Since it is so important, yet largely underappreciated and neglected, I am going to spend this and the next two blog posts on the topic.

Let’s start at the top.

What is mindfulness?

Mindlessness

I think mindfulness becomes clearer when we start by considering the opposite of mindfulness: mindlessness.

When we are mindless, we operate using automated nonconscious processes. This doesn’t only mean that we engage in behaviors without really thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it. It also means that our processing is based upon our habits, routines, and distinctions we have drawn in the past.

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Examples of being mindless include:

  • Reacting defensively when given performance feedback, as opposed to consciously seeing the performance feedback for what it was: an opportunity to learn and grow

  • Shutting our brains down when we hear someone promote a political point of view we don’t agree with

  • Accepting something we hear or read without questioning it

The problem is, we all like to think that we are operating in our lives very consciously, leading us to believe that we are largely mindful. But that simply is not the case.

Interestingly, research has found that for most people, 90% of our actions—including thinking, feeling, judging, and acting—are driven by nonconscious automated processes.

In other words, most of us operate quite mindlessly most of the time.

What if we can go from having 90% of our actions be driven by noconscious automated processes to 80%, 70%, or even 50%? Wouldn’t that make a huge difference in your ability to navigate life more effectively?

Mindfulness

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is being present and aware of yourself, others, and the world around you in the here and now. It is a skill, not unlike a muscle, that enhances the more you exercise it.

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When we are fully mindful, two things are occurring. (1) Our attention is fully on the present moment. With our attention fully on the present moment, (2) we become aware, even observers of ourselves, our feelings, others, and our circumstances.

As was explained to me by my mindfulness expert friend, Chris Reina: When we become mindful, we go from being an actor within the TV to being on the couch observing the actor on TV.

As this mindful observer, we are able to disconnect from our emotions, step away from our habitual reactions and impulses, and to see the broader picture. All of which, allows us to address our current realities more effectively.

Examples of being mindful include:

  • You have an employee or a coworker that is taking longer to complete something than you expected and now you are running out of time. A mindful person does not react by jumping in and doing the task for the other person. Rather, a mindful person is able to step back and ask: How urgent is this really? Is this something that this person needs to learn? If I step in now, will I become the default person to do the task moving forward? Then, based upon the answers to these questions, you are able to respond to the situation in a way that is best for you, for your colleague, and for the future.

  • You have a child that is bossing around a younger sibling. A mindless person might be inclined to react by stepping in and saying, “Who is the parent here?” But, a mindful person is willing to step into the present by being an observer and ask: Why do I feel inclined to exert my dominance as a parent? Is this really a big deal? Could I help my child to be a better mentor or trainer? These questions will not only lead you to deal with the situation in a more effective way, but you will likely learn something about yourself that will allow you to handle similar situations better in the future.

Hopefully, both of these examples portray the idea that when we become mindful, we give ourselves the option to deviate from our automatic, habitual, and/or nonconscious course. Additionally, when we become mindful, we are able to step outside of the emotions in the moment, appreciate and experience them for what they are, yet not allow them dictate our actions.

Three Immediate Benefits of Mindfulness

There are three immediate benefits of mindfulness that, in turn, have a whole host of downstream benefits (this will be the topic of the next blog post). These benefits are:

  • Attentional stability – Sustaining attention on a current target with less mind wandering

  • Attentional control – Appropriately direct your attention amid competing demands or distracting information

  • Attentional efficiency – When we have more an attentional stability and control, we become able to employ our attention much more efficiently and effectively.

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Stated more simply, when we are mindful (present and aware in the here and now), we are able to think better and navigate our environment in much more effective ways.

Who wouldn’t want greater ability to lock into the tasks we are engaging in, be less sensitive to distractions or external pressures, and as a result, much more efficient with not only our thinking, but also our time.

Additionally, I hope, by the description of these three benefits, you can see how mindfulness is like a muscle. Thus, it is something that we should invest in strengthening (how to do so will be the topic of the third blog post).

Moral of the story: mindfulness is a game-changer that we need to take much more seriously because it enhances our ability to navigate our moments, days, and life more effectively.

If you are interested, I have a daily email that is designed to help you become more intentional and mindful. You can learn more and subscribe here:

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, check out my second post in this series: The 25 Benefits of Mindfulness According to Research.