In this post, I’ll go in-depth on the three components of mindfulness, plus provide you with 15 life-changing quotes about mindfulness that will change the way you think. Be sure to check up my follow-up post, 10 Ways to Cultivate Mindfulness Today, where I provide you with ten simple and effective practices you can do today to cultivate a more mindful life.
This word has been gaining recognition and popularity over the past several years (for good reason), becoming more than just a concept reserved only for experienced meditators and skillful yogis. From mindfulness coaches to mindfulness bloggers (*raises hand*), we see reminders to be mindful all over social media, blogs, and news sites.
But what exactly does this mean?
I’ll be the first to admit that when I first heard the term mindfulness, I had no idea what it was actually referring to. From what I knew of the word mindful, I had some guesses: it probably had something to do with awareness and maybe having respect for yourself and others, such as to be mindful of your words or to stay mindful of somebody’s personal space. That didn’t seem too difficult. From that fuzzy and uncertain definition, I was pretty sure I already had a solid foundation in mindfulness already built up for myself.
Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
I’m not sure I ever actually sought out an actual definition of mindfulness. Rather, the practice found me, and as I opened myself up and made space for it in my life, more resources and guidance came to me to help me in my journey.
While meditation has been my greatest teacher in helping me discover mindfulness, you absolutely do not have to meditate to cultivate mindfulness. We begin cultivating mindfulness the moment we return our awareness to this present moment (and when our minds inevitably stray, gently bringing it back to the now, over and over again).
In this post, I’ll break down what mindfulness really means, including its three core components, as well as give you fifteen powerful quotes from past and present thinkers and visionaries on what mindfulness is, what it does, and why it’s important.
What Is Mindfulness?
This morning, as I was applying my makeup, I noticed that I chose the exact same eyeshadow from my eyeshadow palette that I’ve been unconsciously choosing for probably a week straight. I pointed my brush right at the little rectangle and dipped it into the neutral, beige-ish powder without even thinking about it, probably just as I had yesterday and the day before. Today, though, I paused for a second. Then I looked at the other colors on the palette. I recognized what I was doing, made the conscious decision to keep using that same eyeshadow again, and then applied my eyeshadow.
As small and seemingly inconsequential as this moment was, this is an example of mindfulness.
We all have unconscious behaviors we engage in every single day. And that’s okay! We don’t need to fight or avoid these unconscious behaviors. To be honest, it’s kind of nice to go on autopilot every once in a while and perform actions that don’t take tons of thought.
Mindfulness is, in many ways, the art of noticing. In my example, choosing the same eyeshadow color I’ve been picking for the past week was an act of simply noticing. I was able to pause in the middle of my unconscious act and simply observe myself.
Going Beyond Just Noticing
Now, if we deepen our definition of mindfulness, we see it as a little more than just noticing: it’s non-judgmental awareness in the present moment.
Here are two reactions I could’ve had when I noticed that I picked the same eyeshadow color for the umpteenth time:
- “Good God, Zanna, what is wrong with you? You should’ve been paying better attention. You’re not mindful. You’re just going through the motions again!”
- “Huh. That’s interesting.”
Mindfulness does not mean you notice and then berate, bully, and judge yourself for your thoughts and actions.
Mindfulness means you notice and observe without any judgment.
(But if you realize that you are judging yourself, that’s okay. This is my absolutely favorite thing about mindfulness: we can stray as many times as we want and always come home to ourselves. So if I had chosen that first reaction above, I could’ve observed my own judgment and then thought, “Huh. Okay. I’m judging myself. That doesn’t align with who I am. I think I’ll choose again.” The important thing is not to let this become a domino effect. If you notice yourself judging, try not to judge yourself for judging. Instead, choose again. Choose differently. Be gentle with yourself. Just the act of recognizing and choosing again is going to be of far greater service to you in your journey than being a perfect mindfulness student all of the time.)
My favorite descriptor for our individual roles in a mindfulness practice is to be an objective observer. This means I have the power to step outside of myself in the present moment and notice my thoughts and actions without judgment or criticism. And when I see that my thoughts are returning to stories of the past or future, I can gently guide myself back to this moment right now. And I can do that again and again and again, as many times as I need.
So here’s my personal definition of mindfulness:
Mindfulness is non-judgmental, conscious awareness in the present moment.
And to be mindful is to be an objective observer of oneself.
And that’s it. Of course, we can continue to dive deeper as we explore and discuss mindfulness, but for a definition, it’s truly that simple.
The 3 Components of Mindfulness
So from my definition above, we can break down the concept of mindfulness into three components:
- Conscious Awareness: To recognize your thoughts, words, and actions as you’re thinking, speaking, and acting. This is the opposite of the “autopilot” mode we all fall into once in a while. Conscious awareness is taking a step back, recognizing the autopilot mode, and choosing how you think and feel in this moment.
- Lack of Judgment: Autopilot mode is normal. So is letting our minds wander to the past or future. So is anger, fear, sadness, pain, anxiety, worry, boredom, and all kinds of emotions that we label as good or bad. The key to mindfulness is to not judge ourselves for our thoughts and emotions. Simply notice. Observe. Choose again.
- Returning to the Present Moment: I think about the past a lot. I also think about the future a lot. And that’s okay. I can also recognize that the only real thing in the world is this moment right now. We can think about the past and future, but don’t live there. Live in this moment. That’s what mindfulness does for us; it allows us to honor and recognize the beauty, value, and importance of this moment right now.
15 Powerful Quotes
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz
“What would if be like if I could accept life – accept this moment- exactly as it is?” – Tara Brach
“That’s life: starting over, one breath at a time.” – Sharon Salzberg
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
“Wherever you are, be there totally.” – Eckhart Tolle
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” – Sylvia Boorstein
“Pure awareness transcends thinking. It allows you to step outside the chattering negative self-talk and your reactive impulses and emotions. It allows you to look at the world once again with open eyes. And when you do so, a sense of wonder and quiet contentment begins to reappear in your life.” – Mark Williams
“We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.” – Dan Harris
“Whatever state I am in, I see it as a state of mind to be accepted as it is.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj
“Learn to slow down. Get lost intentionally. Observe how you judge both yourself and those around you.” – Tim Ferriss
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.”- Allan Lokos
Want to Learn More About Mindfulness?
Check out these awesome resources!
- UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness
- Awakening Joy
- Short animated video by Happify: Why Mindfulness is a Superpower
If you’re thinking about starting a meditation routine but aren’t sure where to begin, be sure to check out my post, 7 Types of Meditation Practices for Beginners. And if you have any questions about mindfulness or meditation, leave a comment below or connect on social media! I’d love to hear from you!