Mindfulness Explained: 12 Questions About Mindfulness Answered By The Experts

Mindful reflection. Sitting meditation. Mindfulness practice. What does it all mean? Here's what the research says.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | April 16, 2022

For many of us, mindfulness can feel like an ethereal concept that's virtually impossible to describe.

Is it some mixture of Zen Buddhism, journaling, yoga, meditation, and nature-phelia?

Do I need to cut caffeine or go Vegan to embrace my mindfulness practice?

What if I'm a naturally reactive or emotionally-charged person, can I still build mindfulness skills to enhance my self awareness, self compassion, and help me focus on my core values?

This article separates facts from fiction. It does so by drawing on emerging research in well being and clinical psychological science.

Here are twelve mindfulness questions, answered below.

Question #1: What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment and act purposefully in a sustained and non-judgmental way.

It is a state of flow where your internal thoughts enmesh seamlessly with your external environment.

It is a feel-good state that encourages a focus on physical sensations and a sense of well being in your body, but it is not one where you are necessarily consumed with 'feeling good.' You are more focused on being present in the present moment.

Focusing on the present is the essence of an effective mindfulness practice.

Question #2: What does it mean to be a mindful person?

Mindful people are aware of their inner and outer surroundings and can behave productively even in the midst of stressful situations.

Stress resistance is a key part of being a mindful person, and it's one of the reasons why psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors encourage patients to develop mindfulness skills through their course of treatment.

Highly mindful individuals understand that:

  • There are no inherently 'good' or 'bad' thoughts, feelings, or emotions

  • Your thoughts and emotions don't define who you are

  • Just because something is off today doesn't mean that healing won't happen in the future

Mindful people are aware of what they think and how they feel but the difference is that they withhold judgment when they reflect on these experiences.

Question #3. Why is mindfulness important?

Mindfulness has been shown to have a wide range of mental and physical health benefits. For instance, highly mindful individuals exhibit:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels

  • Less fear of the unknown

  • Better focus

  • Better sleep quality

  • A greater ability to plan for the future and better control

  • Greater wisdom

  • Less emotion reactivity

  • Better physical health

  • Less of a tendency to feel bad over little things

Question #4: How do I know if I need to become more mindful?

There are many questions to ask here so seeking professional advice is recommended. In general, people who struggle with mindfulness have difficulty:

  • Simply sitting still

  • Remaining focused on the present moment or doing meditation exercises

  • Controlling their emotions

  • Quieting their racing thoughts

  • Realizing it's okay to sit without being distracted

  • Thinking about something the same way on different days

  • Finding their comfort zone

  • Finding things to be curious about

Question 5: Why are some people more mindful than others?

This is one of the more common mindfulness questions. The answer is: like many concepts in psychology, mindfulness is determined by a combination of genetic, environmental, and personality factors.

For example, someone who happened to grow up in an unstable household is more likely to struggle with mindfulness in adulthood. Or, someone who has a neurotic personality may find it more difficult to reflect on or practice mindfulness than someone with a calm personality.

Question #6: Can anyone become more mindful?

Yes. Even though some people have a natural proclivity towards mindfulness, everyone can become more mindful through therapy, practice, and exercises.

Mindfulness is a dynamic concept that changes in response to changing situations.

Actively engaging in mindfulness exercises can make a big difference, enhancing one's ability to exist in the present moment, regardless of personality type or background.

Questions #7: How do I become more mindful?

Mental health clinicians recommend various techniques to practice mindfulness, but they all begin at the same place: see a therapist.

Meeting regularly with a mental health therapist can help you identify the ways practicing mindfulness will benefit you in your day-to-day life and your therapist will help you map out a support plan for success.

Question #8: How do I practice mindfulness?

Some exercises that are recommended by psychotherapists are:

Breathwork

Taking note of your inhales and exhales can help stabilize runaway mental states. It is a key part of mindfulness. Counting your breaths or chanting some meaningful phrase during your exhales can help quiet overactive thoughts. A focus on breath not only helps oxygenate the blood and brain, it also takes our mind away from unproductive thoughts and sensations.

Meditative walking

Continuous, non-stressful movement, such as walking or easy hiking, can induce a meditative state that calms overactive thoughts and feelings. Because it is non-stressful (i.e., the heart rate stays within a normal range), these activities can be sustained for long periods of time. By the end of a long walk or hike, we often feel rejuvenated, as if our mind has returned to a blissful blank slate. Meditative walking is very similar to mindfulness meditation, discussed below.

Mindfulness Meditation

Sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and calming your mind down to a near trance-like state can also bring a higher level of mindfulness into your life and world. Repeating this dedicated practice regularly in the morning and evening can reduce stress throughout the day, especially when things get hectic and unpredictable. Participating in guided meditation, either at a local yoga studio or via an audio recording, is another great way to calm negative thoughts and improve your ability to stay in the present moment without judgment. Simply put, the experts say to meditate often.

Journaling and sketching

Keeping a journal or diary, though challenging, is a great way to practice thinking more intentionally about your daily activities and actions. The right questions to ask yourself are: "what has made me grateful today?" or "what brings a smile to my face?" This is a helpful technique to bring focus to the things you enjoy most about your life. Keeping track of other activities that make you happy on a daily basis reminds you to do more of them. This can create a virtuous cycle in which your daily routines and behaviors are more aligned with things that keep you focused on the present moment in a lasting and nonjudgmental way. Painting, drawing, or sketching is another important tool that unlocks a more mindful state of being. As some therapists comment, "if you want to do it, write it first, then practice it repeatedly until you feel comfortable with it."

Visualization

Creating positive mental pictures and simulations in your brain can help you practice redirecting your thoughts away from unproductive places. Think about things you'd like to achieve or objects, scenes, people, or relationships that make you happy. Then spend some time playing with those ideas in your mind. It's a great exercise to align your wants with your actions.

Take a technology detox

Our phones are great distraction tools, but they are terrible in terms of making us more mindful. Practice going at least one day per week without using your phone, or any technology for that matter. You'll notice your mind will calm down and you will become more focused on your present meditation instead of constantly feeling the need to distract yourself with information. Remember, your relationship with your phone is not a relationship.

Close attention and immersive activities

Finding activities that capture your attention to the point that you are fully immersed in the present experience, like meditation, can help cultivate a mindful presence. Examples can be:

  • Visiting an art museum

  • Attending a lecture on a topic you find intellectually stimulating

  • Solving puzzle games

Question #9. Will cultivating mindfulness make me not care about my ambitions, motivation, or success?

No. Becoming more mindful is different from simply adopting a philosophy of "going with the flow" or "letting things happen."

In fact, a recent research study found that highly mindful individuals were more likely to approach life from a goal-directed and ambitious frame of mind.

While this may seem counterintuitive, the researchers offer a good explanation for it.

They theorize that ambitious individuals have learned to be effective at balancing their attention and awareness to achieve their goals. In other words, the mental focus necessary to be an ambitious person and exhibit motivation translates into the same qualities associated with mindfulness.

Question #10: Can being mindful help me set better goals for myself?

Yes. Another research study found that mindful individuals are better at setting the right goals. It starts with understanding what is important to you, and relying less on what others might think is important for you. This is a challenge for some, but it can be done.

Question #11: What other benefits come with becoming more mindful?

There are many benefits, such as:

  • Improving your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers; developing stronger support networks

  • Reducing anxiety levels in your body

  • Helping with sleep

  • Improving your decision making

  • Improving your communication skills and social awareness

  • Meeting the world with a greater sense of happiness and appreciation

  • Helping your body recover

  • A heightened capacity to self reflect

Question #12: Where can I find someone to help me answer any other mindful questions I have?

The Therapytips.org website and its partner organization, Awake Therapy, are good places to start. Awake Therapy has a team of 20 psychotherapists who help people lead more intentional, fulfilling, and happy lives.

Mindfulness is a key component of effective psychotherapy and it is often used in conjunction with other popular therapeutic techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, and meditation techniques.

If you are in need of mental health assistance, either to address an existing issue or to bring more happiness and fulfillment into your life and relationships, you can begin here.

Concluding thoughts on practicing mindfulness

For many of us, mindfulness can feel like an unattainable standard. Sure, we can plan to be more mindful when everything is calm and in balance. But, it's another thing altogether to follow through with our mindfulness practice when real life kicks in.

But it is possible and there is hope. Psychotherapists, clinical psychologists, and professional counselors urge you not to give up on the challenge, as they have seen the benefits of mindfulness meditation exercises and mindfulness practices first-hand.

We wish you success on your journey to a more mindful existence.

Have your mindful questions/mindfulness questions been answered? Feel free to connect with us on our Awake Therapy website with any remaining mindful questions/mindfulness questions you may have. And let us know with a comment or email what you have been doing to improve your daily practice, whether through meditation, visualization, or other techniques.