9 Mindfulness Myths Busted

15 January 2018

The increase in the popularity of mindfulness is inevitably leading to the development of some popular myths surrounding it. Advocates will likely encounter some of them when introducing mindfulness to stakeholders or employees, and will need to be ready with a rebuttal to ensure the continued development of mindfulness programmes as an important route to improved mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. With the help of The Mindfulness Initiative's 'Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace' report, we bust nine of the most popular myths about mindfulness.

1. Mindfulness is ‘religion by the back door’

Although the origins of mindfulness can be traced to many contemplative traditions and the most similar approach is found in Buddhism, it is not owned by any individual group or religion. In the context of the workplace, mindfulness is a practice of entirely secular mental training and requires no commitment to spirituality or spiritual tradition.

2. Meditation and Mindfulness are the same thing

Mindfulness refers to the broader ability to be present with your personal experience and pay attention to what you are experiencing in any given moment, whereas meditation is a method for enabling this type of awareness and cultivating it further. Different types of mediation suit difference purposes. 

3. Mindfulness is about the ability to ‘empty your mind’

Although some types of meditation encourage clearing of the mind, mindfulness is not about stopping thoughts or zoning out. Conversely, it involves becoming aware of the unique patterns of your thoughts and therefore being able to notice when they are drawn away from something or attracted to something else.

4. The chief aim of mindfulness is to become relaxed

Although feeling more relaxed is a welcome by-product of practising mindfulness, it is not the main objective. Mindfulness requires you to ‘turn towards’ personal experience, even if it’s unpleasant, which, although not always relaxing, allows you to learn from negative experiences and become more adept and skilful at responding to them.

5. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to your breathing

Probably engendered by images of people sitting with their eyes closed and legs crossed, there is a common misconception that by concentrating on your breathing you can become more mindful. In reality, breathing is used as a method to notice when your thoughts have wandered and a way of returning them to a more useful place.

6. Mindfulness is good for everyone and helps with everything

Whilst there is evidence that it can be effective across diverse groups and help with a multitude of problems, research also indicates that mindfulness practice benefits some groups more than others and there are some for whom it is neither suitable nor appropriate. Furthermore, standardised research into the benefits of mindfulness across large cohorts is still in its infancy, so there is further work to do before we can say for certain that it offers the benefits it promises to.

7. Mindfulness is dangerous

The risks involved in a concerted effort to practice mindfulness are few and far between, but the ‘turning’ of the mind towards difficult experiences can be particularly troubling for recently bereaved individuals or those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a natural human capacity, mindfulness is not dangerous at all, and an individual’s ‘trait’ levels of it are associated with desirable qualities such as emotional resilience and complex decision making.

8. Mindfulness creates ‘passive’ employees and cannot change toxic organisational cultures

Someone acting mindfully can outwardly appear to be in a less reactive state, but is not acting passively. Rather, they are using a developed ‘moment to moment awareness’ to analyse their experience and develop wiser, more useful ways of responding.

With regards to the myth that implementing workplace mindfulness courses doesn’t change the poor practices of toxic leadership, some research suggests that implementing mindfulness with coaching does make a difference to leadership behaviours.

9. Mindfulness is purely being exploited by businesses for capitalist ends

A chief concern about the implementation of mindfulness in the workplace is that the motivation for it is to ‘squeeze’ more work out of already overloaded or stressed employees. It would be naïve to ignore the need to run successful, profitable business, but it does not have to be an either/or situation; effective wellbeing programs that support good health are ethically sound and make good business sense. To truly improve working lives, there needs to be a widespread understanding of what constitutes quality mindfulness training and quality teacher/trainer accreditation.


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