a psychologist's reflections on mental health studies for inspiration and hope
Are You Mind Full or Mindful?
Are You Mind Full or Mindful?

Are You Mind Full or Mindful?

Thoughts are just products of our minds. They are a part of ourselves, but they do not define us. Our thoughts influence our behavior, but they do not control it. This idea is central to mindfulness.

We tend to believe that our thoughts are true representations of reality. However, our thoughts are often erroneous: cognitive biases prevent us from thinking rationally. When we assume that our thoughts are facts, we let them influence us in both positive and negative ways. The point is that we let our thoughts have a great impact on us.

If we do not pay conscious attention to the present moment, our thoughts take us into the past or the future. We think about what has happened and what might happen. Some estimates suggest that we invest as much as 50% of our waking hours in mind wandering.

When our minds wander, we become mentally absent from the present moment. The human brain likes to produce thoughts of all sorts so if we do not actively redirect our attention to the present moment, we quickly become absent. Why is that problematic? The present moment is all we have:

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” – Henry David Thoreau

As our thoughts occur so naturally and unconsciously, we tend to go with them (auto-pilot mode). I would like to illustrate how we can caught up in our thoughts and pay little to no attention to the present moment with this “driving car metaphor”:

One driver may turn on auto-pilot mode when he drives; he does not pay much attention to the driving itself, which allows his thoughts to wander. As a result, he cannot recall any details from a route he has just driven. He is mind full, not mindful.

Another driver may pay most of her attention to the present moment; she does not allow herself to be on auto-pilot mode: her thoughts spontaneously begin to wander, but when it happens, she redirects her attention to the driving itself and her surroundings. As a result, she is able to recall many details of a route she has just driven. She is mindful, not mind full.

I hope my metaphor made sense. The point is when we let our minds wander, it is impossible to be in the “here and now”. We do not let ourselves see or experience life fully, and we miss many of life’s opportunities or experiences because of that. We need to take control over our attention (actively and consciously) to increase our present-centered awareness.

In sum, when we are mind full instead of mindful, we are mentally absent from the richness of life. We worry about what has happened in our lives and how it will be. Research shows that we tend to overestimate the emotional impact of future events, i.e. we worry more about the future than we “should”.

Do we really want to live a life full of worries? Most people benefit from spending more time in the “here and now”. Research on mindfulness training shows that present-centered awareness improves mental health in many ways.

Please leave a comment if you have any experience with mindfulness training. I would like to hear how it works for you.


  1. Mindfulness practice and mindfulness meditation can be very useful tools, but one cannot simply live in a state of here and now. Planning ahead, and reflecting on past events, are essential for personal growth. Mindfulness is an excellent way to train your mind to essentially not get ahead of itself, to not catastrophize on current or future stressors, and to not ruminate on past painful and stressful events. But it’s not a state one may remain in on a constant basis.
    One of the examples I would use in my psycho-ed classes was taking a break from work. You’ve got a pressing deadline and are working hard to meet it, but decide to take a break to relax a little and clear your head, so you go make a cup of tea. Likely you will spend the entire time, watching the water boil, steeping the tea, and drinking it, thinking about it what you’ll do when you get back to your work project. Essentially, you haven’t taken a break at all, the entire “break” was spent worrying about how to proceed once the project is resumed. Mindfulness is very useful in such situations. When taking a break from a stressful work project, focus on the break activity, not the stressful project. If it’s a walk through the park, look at the trees, listen to the birds, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, enjoy it, be aware of it and nothing else. Live in the present. You will go back to your work activity refreshed and feeling more capable of resuming the task.
    Mindfulness practice is very useful in super high stress situations, like being at the hospital for yourself or a loved one. It is not helpful to worry about the outcome of any testing being done because you have no control over them, so you wait, remain calm for yourself or your loved one, then decide how to proceed once the testing and a diagnosis are made. But after that point, proper planning can be essential. In a crisis situation, having a plan and taking control of the situation are helpful to all concerned, and it’s difficult to plan ahead if one cannot take stock of past events (possibly factors that lead up to the crisis) and proceed based on that information and learning how to alter old habits and create healthier new ones.
    So, mindfulness definitely has its uses and practical applications, but it’s not meant to be a permanent state of being.
    Most importantly, I think, if you decide to indulge in a dessert or treat, don’t sit there worrying about how many calories it has or what it’s going to do to your figure and the next thing you know the treat is gone and you didn’t even taste it! Enjoy it! Live in the moment. 🙂

    1. Hi there!
      Thanks for your comment. A really good point and observations, and I agree with you. It was not my intention to make it sound like mindfulness is a state of “either or not”, but as I write in the article, most people benefit from spending more time in the here and now. Planning ahead is often necessary and it helps us in many situations, I agree, but I believe that I can plan ahead and be mindful at the same time in my daily life. I will even argue that daily mindfulness practice makes me better at planning as it trains my ability to concentrate. Mindfulness can also help me decrease my feeling of a static self, which, in turn, helps me detach myself from possibly harmful thoughts about myself and the world: thoughts that may worsen my ability to plan ahead in a way that is healthy for me. So, I don’t think mindfulness and problem-solving behavior (goal-oriented behavior) contradict each other, but I know that many people tend to think so. The last part of this youtube video emphasizes my point: http://youtu.be/S5UWEgC0A4c?t=29m43s. I will now ENJOY a cup of tea. 🙂
      Best regards

  2. Such good points here. I love your comment, Simon, that being in the now helps us plan and prepare for the future. In fact, I find that when I can clear my mind, ideas come more easily, reminders of things I need to do arise spontaneously without my worrying about remembering them, hunches of someone to contact appear which advance my work–it actually eases my daily tasks and puts me in a better position for my future. It takes a certain amount of trust to do this, as it’s counter to our conditioning, but once you find you can trust the result it becomes a bit easier. What’s your favorite way of “finding your eternity in each moment” as you go about your day?

    1. Hi Ange,
      Thanks for your comment – I really appreciate it.
      I “find my eternity in each moment” with guided mindfulness exercises, primarily. I find that it takes practice and time to develop this mindful attitude, but the more practised you are, the easier it gets to get “in the zone”, so to speak. Besides mindfulness exercises, I use a basic set of untraditional attention exercies. For example, whenever I feel like my mind is drifting (too far) away, I focus on using one of my five senses in one way or another. I focus on things outside my head, instead of inside. I find that I enjoy and appreciate things more when I am in the here and now, so I choose, or at least try, to be here, in this moment.
      Best regards,

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