Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment. When you are mindful, you are fully aware of your surroundings and able to closely observe the sensory experiences happening in the present moment. This can be a challenge for many people, as we are often caught up in our thoughts about the past or future.
Meditation teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Pema Chodron have used programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to demonstrate the power of mindfulness when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. Courses like this take advantage of a set of core attitudes designed to boost present-moment experience and shift your mind from anger and reactivity to peace and calmness. In this article, we’ll explore the 9 core attitudes of mindfulness and show you how incorporating these attitudes into your life can improve your daily experiences.
The Definition of Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” This simple description encapsulates the basic principles of mindfulness, although it’s also worth noting the profound impact this approach to present moment awareness can have; by promoting aspects of gratitude, acceptance, and compassion, mindfulness can bring you a newfound richness of life.
Tapping into the power of mindfulness requires much more than mechanically following a set of instructions. Unfortunately, you can’t just assume a meditative pose and expect something to happen or play a tape expecting it to change your life. It is only when the mind is open and receptive that learning and change can occur.
Mindfulness meditation practice requires close attention and present moment awareness. Developing an effective mindfulness practice can boost your concentration, give you new perspectives, and help cultivate a sense of mental and physical calmness. It can take time to start accessing states of calmness and relaxation consistently, and it’s important not to force it or give up, thinking that meditation is not for you. Sticking with this practice can bring great results.
A New Way of Looking
Cultivating meditative awareness requires an entirely different approach to the process of learning. We often think that we know our needs and aims better than anyone else, which causes us to become ingrained in our minds and caught up trying to control things. This attitude is antithetical to the practice of awareness and healing, which requires only that you pay attention and see things for what they really are.
Mindfulness can help you look at the world with a greater level of acceptance, receptivity, connectedness, and wholeness. None of this can be forced; you just have to create the right conditions and gradually learn to let go of negativity, calm the mind, and relax the body. The practice of mindfulness also encourages us to finetune our senses and observe what we can see, think, hear, taste, smell, and touch in the present moment. Doing this can improve our ability to acknowledge and accept our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgement. And this brings us to the second attitude of mindfulness, non-judging.
We are often quick to judge ourselves or be overly critical of our actions and behaviours (this also extends towards other people). Non-judging is an important attitude to cultivate within meditation and mindfulness. When we first start developing a formal mindfulness practice, we may struggle with thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not doing this right”, which can be frustrating; however, it’s important to try and demonstrate a non-judgmental attitude in these moments. Meditation can serve as a break from the constant judging that dominates our daily lives. It takes practice, but by becoming more aware of our thoughts and learning how to let them go, we can achieve greater happiness.
Acceptance is a crucial step when it comes to problem-solving. For people recovering from addiction or bereavement, acceptance is a super important first step, and the same applies when we’re trying to improve our minds through mindfulness and meditation. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up or resigning yourself to negative experiences and events without taking any action — it just means accepting the things that are in your control and identifying the things that aren’t. Making those distinctions can prevent you from wasting time and energy denying or resisting things, and allow you to focus instead on the things you can actively change. This can lead to a more intentional way of living.
It’s important to realise that sometimes things take time, and that interfering with natural or neutral events can be damaging to ourselves and others. For example, a child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its chrysalis. The butterfly doesn’t benefit from this as it’s under-developed and unready to emerge — the process cannot be hurried.
The same principle applies to mindfulness. We must be patient with ourselves and recognise that it takes a while to unlearn bad habits and put healthy new ones into practice. It’s totally natural to become tense, agitated, or frightened because of a supposed lack of progress, but we must give ourselves room to have these experiences. Why? Because they are happening anyway! When things occur within our lives, they are our reality, a part of our life unfolding right now. Try to treat yourself as you would the butterfly, and take the time to enjoy every moment and let things happen naturally.
4. Beginner’s Mind
A Beginner’s Mind attitude is all about viewing the world with the freshness, energy, awe, and sense of delight that a child has. This means appreciating the beauty in the ordinariness of everyday life. Too often we let our beliefs and principles shape our identity and see the world as something that never changes, failing the appreciate the wondrous, ever-changing aspects of life that we take for granted.
To experience the richness of the present moment, we must cultivate this Beginner’s Mind approach, viewing things as if for the first time and cultivating a deep sense of joy from this experience. Whatever mindfulness technique you’re using, whether it be sitting meditation, yoga, or something else, try to bring a Beginner’s Mind with you to each practice. This can help you become free from your expectations and assumptions, and increase your receptivity to new possibilities. Each moment is different from every other, and each has its own unique possibilities. Beginners’ mind reminds us of this simple truth.
Learning to be mindful and reaping the rewards of meditation requires a certain level of basic trust. Mindfulness causes us to look inwards more, which can help us place greater trust in our feelings and intuition. By listening to our feelings and intuition more, instead of forfeiting our trust in ourselves to a group or authority, we can become more mindful of how our mind and body interact with the things around us. Even if this sometimes leads to mistakes, it’s important not to discount or write off your feelings. After all, how can you expect to cultivate real, lasting happiness without being accepting, respectful, and open-minded about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions? Learning to trust yourself is a crucial attitude within mindfulness.
Within meditation and mindfulness, less is more. You can often achieve your goals by doing less and not trying to hit a specific goal or target. Instead of fixing a problem or striving for an aim, learn to simply observe and experience things in a non-judgemental way. Mindfulness asks practitioners to stop obsessing over solutions or focusing constantly on how things can be done more efficiently or effectively. A better way to approach your goals is to focus on your daily mindfulness practice and appreciate every moment that comes with it. When you practice mindfulness and meditation without the expectations of results, you’ll find that your aims are realised more naturally. This comes from intentionally cultivating the mindful attitude of non-striving.
7. Letting Go
As humans, we tend to hold onto a lot of memories, emotions, and feelings. We hold onto past memories and future plans, and rarely experience life in the present moment. Whether it’s ruminating on amazing past experiences, or suppressing painful thoughts, attaching ourselves to things in the past or future doesn’t usually do us any good. That’s why mindfulness and meditation practice aims to break away from these habits by ‘letting go‘. This form of wisdom is all about not putting these feelings on a pedestal or attaching too many emotions to them. Instead, we simply observe our experience, moment by moment, whether it’s good or bad.
As soon as we begin to pay attention to our inner experience, we quickly realise that there are certain thoughts, feelings, and situations that the mind wants to cling to. We try to prolong our pleasant thoughts, feelings, or situations and we try repeatedly to conjure them up again. Similarly, there are lots of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, experiences, and situations that we try to avoid and protect ourselves from having because they’re painful or frightening. The 8th attitude of mindfulness encourages us to simply let go.
It’s no surprise that more grateful people are generally much happier. Being grateful can have wide-reaching effects on our mental and physical health. Practising gratitude daily can make people can more optimistic, energised, and positive, and it can also release feel-good hormones and encourage compassionate interactions with others.
Showing gratitude for the simple things in life, whether it’s thanking your friend for making you a cup of tea, or calling up a parent to let them know you appreciate what they’ve done for you, can result in higher reported levels of attentiveness, enthusiasm, determination, energy, and sleep quality. Grateful people also report having lower levels of depression and anxiety, and a reduced tendency to deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. Those who think, talk, or write about gratitude every day are more likely to report helping others with their personal problems or offering emotional support to them.
Generosity can also provide a solid foundation for mindfulness practice. A good place to start is by trying to give yourself simple gifts and blessings, whether it’s some time each day to have no purpose, or a more concerted effort to practise self-acceptance. Practise being generous, while also telling yourself that you’re deserving enough to accept these gifts without obligation. After practising being generous with yourself, you can try extending this towards others, while also consciously noting and letting go of any ideas of getting anything in return.
The 9 Attitudes of Mindfulness
The nine attitudinal factors we’ve explored in this article constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice, as taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn. By developing our abilities of non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, gratitude and generosity, we can become truly mindful. Consciously cultivating these attitudes in an integrated way can improve your everyday life in a variety of ways.
Together, these nine attitudes constitute the foundation upon which you will be able to build a strong regular practice of your own. We’ve introduced these states of mind without diving into any specific techniques themselves because getting familiar with these attitudes early on will aid your practice as you move forwards. As you grow your mindfulness practice, keep coming back to these attitudes to identify ways you might continue to fertilize this attitudinal soil. Take a moment each day to try to implement the attitudes of mindfulness and see how your awareness widens. For some more guidance on how to do that, check out our article on how to practise mindfulness throughout the day.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How can I use these nine attitudes in my daily life, especially at work?
Implementing these attitudes into your daily life can be as simple as you make it; you can practice them sitting down, walking, or even while eating your lunch. Be aware that any of them can be used at any time, but don’t try and force it.
Which attitude should I focus on first and how long should I spend practising it each day?
Everyone is different; however, focus on the one you feel needs the most attention. As you start with one attitude, you will notice others are present as well. Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day and increase or decrease the amount of time depending on what you need.
What is the best way to practise these nine attitudes of mindfulness?
There is no best way to practise, because everyone is different. However, the best way to make these attitudes come naturally is to regularly pay attention to your surroundings. It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Here are some techniques on how to practice mindfulness anywhere.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.