What Is Mindfulness? (And What Does It Mean To You?)

Have you ever driven your car somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realise you remember nothing about your journey? Or started eating a packet of chips and then suddenly noticed all you had left in your hands was an empty packet? Most of us have!

These are some common examples of ‘mindlessness’ – A state we also often refer to as being on ‘autopilot.’

When we slip into autopilot (and research shows that the average person is in autopilot 47% of the time (1)) our attention is absorbed in our wandering minds and we are not really ‘present’ in our own lives.

Some teachers talk about autopilot as being a dreamlike state because in that mode we’re simply not fully ‘there’ in that moment.

In this busy, hyper connected world we live in it’s all too easy to lose ourselves in autopilot for much of the day….every day.

Living this way we often fail to notice the beauty of life, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us and we all too often become stuck in mechanical conditioned ways of thinking and living that may be harmful to ourselves or others.

On autopilot we tend to get lost in ‘doing’ so we find ourselves constantly striving and struggling and ‘getting stuff done’ instead of really living.

We also become vulnerable to anxiety, stress, depression and reactivity. Research shows, in fact, that the more our minds wander, the less happy we are (1).

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness.

It means waking up out of autopilot and ‘taking the steering wheel’ of our attention again.

We practice mindfulness by maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves non-judgment, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings with the attitude of an impartial witness — without believing them or taking them personally.

Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as:

“Paying attention;

On purpose,

in the present moment, and


I like this definition because it allows us to see exactly what the components of mindfulness are. Through this definition Jon shows us that there are three specific ways in which our attention ‘shifts gears’ when we practice mindfulness.

Firstly our attention is held…

1. On Purpose

Mindfulness involves the conscious and deliberate direction of our attention.

When we’re on autopilot our attention is being swept up by a never ending (and not always positive) current of thought processes but when we’re mindful we ‘wake up’ and step out of that current, placing attention where we choose.

Another way of saying ‘on purpose’ is consciously. We are living more consciously, more awake, more fully ourselves when we pay attention in this way.

Secondly our attention is immersed…

2. In The Present Moment

If we leave it to it’s own devices our mind habitually wanders away from the present moment. It constantly gets caught up in the replaying the past and the projecting into the future. In other words, we’re very rarely fully present in the moment.

Mindful attention, however, is completely engaged in the present moment experience – the here and now. We let go of the tension caused by wanting things to be different, the tension of constantly wanting more, and instead we accept the present moment as it is.

And third, our attention is held…

3. Non Judgmentally

When practicing mindfulness we’re not aiming to control or suppress or stop our thoughts.

We simply aim to pay attention to our experiences as they arise without judging or labelling them in any way.

Mindfulness then allows us to become the watcher of sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions as they arise without getting caught up in them and being swept away in their current.

Becoming the watcher in this way, we’re less likely to mechanically play out old habitual ways of thinking and living. It opens up a new freedom and choice in our lives.

 How Do You Practice Mindfulness?

There are two forms of mindfulness practice. The first is the formal practice of mindfulness, which is commonly referred to as meditation.

A meditation practice is commonly done sitting, usually with eyes closed, but can also be done lying down or even walking. some meditation practices also involve mantra (sound) or movement.

The informal practice is the rest of your life! You see, anything we do in daily life with full awareness can be said to be mindfulness practice.

You can do the dishes mindfully, wait at the traffic lights or go for your morning walk mindfully. Any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice when you bring your full attention to it.

What Can Mindfulness Do For You?

Thanks to research and exposure from the media, mindfulness is no longer hidden in ancient spiritual texts, monasteries and ashrams. Today, it is practiced by millions of people the world over.

It is now being taught in schools, in workplaces, in hospitals and in homes all over the world. As people continue to discover for themselves the incredible benefits of living mindfully, the interest continues to skyrocket.

There is now a huge body of research on the benefits of mindfulness.

Here are some of the proven ways that mindfulness can benefit you…

-Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety and other destructive emotions (2). (Mindfulness actually shrinks the the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.; this is the part of the brain responsible for so many destructive emotions like fear, unhappiness and anger.) (3)

-Mindfulness reduces depression (clinical trials are showing that mindfulness is as effective as medication with no side effects!). (4)

-Mindfulness reduces insomnia (4), increases your sense of well being (1), reduces lethargy and increases energy both mentally and physically.

-Mindfulness is also very effective for pain management. (5)

-Mindfulness sharpens your memory (6) and increases your focus and attention (7).

-Mindfulness improves your emotional and social intelligence and develops your empathy and compassion (8). It is also shown to improve realtionships (9).

-Mindfulness improves health and boosts immunity (10). In fact, mindfulness is shown to have beneficial effects on many serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease (11).

-Mindfulness creates clearer, more focused thinking and improves efficiency at work and at home (6).

-Mindfulness improves confidence and emeotional resilience (12).

-Mindfulness reduces compulsive and addictive tendencies (13) and has also been shown to work better than any diet for effective long-term weight loss (14).

-Mindfulness turns out to also be the single most important determining factor in whether or not you will be happy in your life (once your survival needs are met).

In other words, the more mindful you are the happier you are (1).

Mindfulness can literally transform your entire world from the inside out and for the millions of mindfulness practitioners around the world it’s doing just that!

If you haven’t already, why not find out for yourself, the first hand, what it’s all about?

You might just discover the most incredible and wonderful surprise. That everything you’ve been searching for ‘out there’ — feelings of fulfillment, peace and wholeness — have been within you all along.

Warmly, Melli

P.S. If you want to know more about the research on mindfulness and how it relates to your happiness Don’t miss this video! 

Also – check out this blog post to find out how I recently used mindfulness to deal with an extremely stressful situation 


(1) Harvard Gazette: Wandering mind not a happy mind

(2) A multi-method examination of the effects of mindfulness on stress attribution, coping and emotional well-being

(3) Baer, R.A., Smith, G.T., Hopkins, J.K., Kreitemeyer, J. & Toney, L. (2006), ‘Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness’, Assessment, 13, pp. 27-45.

(4) Greater good research digest: Mindfulness better than antidepressants

(5) Mindfulness based stress reduction clinical trial for insomnia

(6) Mindfulness improves cognition  including working memory study

(7) Mindfulness improves attentional control and focus study

(8) Mindfulness develops compassion and empathy study

(9) Mindfulness improves relationships study

(10) Mindfulness and immunity study

(11) Effects on mindfulness on heart disease study

(12) Mindfulness and resilience

(13) Mindfulness as a treatment for addiction

(14) Mindfulness, weight loss and treatment of obesity


  1. Great post! 🙂

  2. Hi,
    I just happened to come across this post when doing some research on mindfulness for a class that I am teaching. Very nice…..and helpful. I want to offer a possible correction though…..mindfulness and meditation actually shrinks the area of the amygdala which is the primitive brain stem. This is responsible for flight or fight. The pre-frontal cortex actually grows and gets thicker. Thus the increase in compassion, kindness, empathy and reasoning skills.

  3. That is a really well-written, in-depth introduction to mindfulness practice.

    It is nice that you mention formal and informal practices, since many meditators are only familiar with formal meditation.

    The benefits of continuing the practice throughout the day, should not be underestimated. In addition to maintaining the momentum, you actually practice even though you are reading or walking the dog, which makes for progress. Should you so choose to enter a deep state of meditation, that is made easy, thanks to the momentum…

  4. Jacinta Huskey says:

    Thank you so much for this article. Very informative. This practice will definitely help myself first, so I can in turn help others subdue the battlefield of the mind. To find peace oneness. That surpasses our understanding.

  5. Mindfulness can be so powerful and transformative! I came to mindfulness as a way to mitigate the severity and frequency of debilitating panic attacks. The practice of focusing on my senses, deep breathing, and embracing individual moments was the only successful way I found to get the attacks under control (…and almost completely stop happening!). I only wish I had known about the power of mindfulness sooner!

    To pay it forward, I’ve started building in mindfulness activities into my classroom. In the shot term, sharing these types of strategies with students has made a difference in the classroom culture as well as student engagement and focus.However, I feel really good knowing I am giving them tools that will help them engage with future stressful situations in positive, focused, and peaceful ways long after they leave my class!

    Thanks again for this awesome piece!

  6. Trinh tran says:

    It helps me alot when im searching on internet to undersramd more about mindfulness. I have just practised these days : drink meditation , eat meditation , walk mediration with mindfullness. Its really a miracle… thanks a lot. Im follow reading some books of master Thich Nhat Hạnh from plum village. Have you heard about him ?

    • Of course. He’s an incredible teacher. I’d like to visit plum village one day too. How wonderful to hear about your mindfulness in daily life. It sounds like it’s very nourishing for you : )

  7. AllOneProject says:

    A very interesting reading! Good job and good blog!

  8. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your posts. Actually, I don’t know when I signed up for them, but this morning is first time I’ve actually read one. Then I looked at a lot of the links you put is this post and read them too. It’s been a good morning 🙂 I’ve been practicing meditation for about 10 years now. I started on my own – having suffered depression and all that comes with it since young adulthood. Over that time it has changed me immensely…very slowly at first. I still struggle, but not nearly as much. Your posts offer actual tools for implementing mindfulness into daily life. Anyway, thank you so much.

  9. Hmm it looks like your website ate my first comment (it was
    extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up
    what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any tips for first-time blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  10. Great post and you are right that mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. I look forward to follow your blog closely in the future. We have made a complete mindfulness section that could bennefit your audience at http://www.coachingandlife.com/mindfulness and a free ebook to download as well. Keep up the good work and do you have any great subject we will be happy to let you guestpost on our site.

  11. Arthur J. Marr says:

    Here is a brief and simple argument that ‘meditative states’ actually represent the overlap of two distinct neuro-physiological states: somatic and neurologic rest. The more formal argument, derived from affective neuroscience, is linked below.

    A Note on Resting States and Resting Brains

    A resting state, or ‘somatic rest’, would seem to correspond with a brain at rest or ‘neurologic’ rest, but by definition, somatic and neurologic rest are entirely different things. A resting ‘state’ or somatic rest represents the inactivity of the striatal musculature that results from the application of resting protocols (continual avoidance of perseverative thought represented by rumination, worry, and distraction.). Resting states also are affective states, as they elicit opioid activity in the brain. Resting states in turn may occur in tandem with all levels of non-perseverative thought that are passive or active, from just passively ‘being in the moment’ or being mindful, to actively engaging in complex and meaningful cognitive behavior. The latter cognitive behavior is also additionally affective in nature due to its elicitation of dopaminergic activity, and resulting opioid-dopamine interaction results in a perceived state of ‘bliss’ or ‘flow’. On the other hand, a resting ‘brain’, neurologic rest, or the so-called ‘default mode network’ is a specific type of neural processing that occurs when the mind is in a ‘passive’ state, or in other words, is presented with no or very limited cognitive demands. This results in ‘mind wandering’ that can entail non-perseverative (creative thought) or perseverative thought (rumination, worry). As such a resting brain may or may not correlate with somatic rest, and is correlated with a level of demand, not a kind of demand, as in somatic rest.



    • Hey thanks for taking the time to post this and for your thoughts. Very interesting Do you meditate yourself? I’d be curious to know about your own direct experience with mindfulness and how it’s going for you as well : )

  12. Mindful Student says:

    In class we have to do a project on mindfulness. If this website was rated- i would give t 5 out of 5 stars. It has helped me sooo much! Even a kid like me can understand it. You have worded and explained everything neat, correctly and beautifully. THANKS SO MUCH!


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