What is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation?

Sometimes people wonder what the difference between meditation and mindfulness. It can be confusing, especially if you are new to these topics. To be honest, I was confused for many years too!

Here is a quick overview of the topic and then a deeper dive into this fascinating topic.

What is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation?

There are many similarities between the terms but they are different things and the words are not interchangeable. There are many different ways to describe and place both of them and their real world applications are intertwined.

Lets start with a really simple way to think of the difference between the two:

  • Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, which is characterized by the ability to be fully present in the moment. It is a practice that can be done at any time and anywhere. Being mindful is a state of being aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings and it is the process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment.
  • Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice that involves focusing one’s attention on a particular object or idea. It can be done for various reasons such as stress relief or spiritual growth. When you meditate, you engage in a very specific practice.


Meditation typically refers to a formal, seated meditation practice. There are many types of meditation that may focus on becoming more aware of your breath, using mantras, using visualizations or using specific words. Here are a few of the most common meditation types:

  • Breath-awareness meditation
  • Loving-kindness meditation
  • Mantra-based meditation
  • Visualization meditation
  • Guided meditation

Meditation is really a very intentional practice. You need to set aside time to engage in a specific meditation practice in a specific place. Most of us for example will conduct a seated meditation and set a timer or listen to a mediation audio that is timed.

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When you are using seated meditation you begin with sitting or laying in a comfortable position and gradually bringing awareness to your breath and closing your eyes or focusing your attention on a specific thing in your one of vision. Most people meditate from ten to 30 minutes in a daily practice. More advanced meditators will do longer meditations, but this is very unusual for most of us to be able to meditation for longer than 30 minutes in a regular and consistent practice across many years of our lives.

Whatever you can fit into your schedule is a good starting place and sometimes that is only 5 minutes. The most important thing is to start and to build a regular habit. Once the habit is started, you can always add more time to it.


“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn is well known for really bringing mindfulness to the United States and popularizing it in western culture. He has often described mindfulness as a way or paying attention and noticing what is happening around you as you turn off the thinking and judging part of your inner dialogue.

The easiest way to think about mindfulness is this – it is being aware – noticing and paying attention to the outside world and what is going on while also paying attention to your interior world (your thoughts, feelings, behavior, mood, etc.).

You can show up and be more engaged and more mindful simply by tuning into these things. In short you can think of it as applying the mindset of meditation to your daily activities.

“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises when we non-judgmentally pay attention in the present moment. It cultivates access to core aspects of our own minds and bodies that our very sanity depends on,”  Jon Kabat-Zinn, from The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness Meditation.

Now that we’ve discussed the key definitions and differences, let’s explore some more interesting facts and perspectives on this topic. 

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The Top 3 Things You Should Know about Mindfulness and Meditation

Here are the 5 things you should  know about mindfulness vs. meditation:

1. Mindfulness is a Mental Framework for Daily Living, Whereas Meditation is a Specific Practice

When you meditate, you typically devote some time to sit and close your eyes and do a structured or unstructured meditation. This is usually time limited which could be as little as a few minutes or for many hours if you are a Buddhist Monk.

Mindfulness is more focused on the larger way of looking at all things in your daily life – it’s an approach you can bring to your entire day and all of your interactions across the course of the day.

2. You Can Add Mindfulness to Many Daily Activities!

People who meditate love to meditate. Most people to be honest find it difficult to maintain a consistent practice. Rather than be frustrated about this, it is often easiest for most people to start with adding the perspective of mindfulness to their daily lives.

It’s very simple and very easy to do.

In general, the approach is to slow down and pay attention. Put your phone away of course! And tune your attention into what is happening in the present moment.

You can easily start to add mindfulness minutes to your daily life. Here are a few fun and interesting ways to do this:

  • Mindful eating – pay attention to your next meal and observe how many bites you take of your food. How you are breathing as you are eating. How fast you are eating. And over time you can bring more attention to new details of your meal.
  • Mindful walking  – go on a nature walk by yourself. Pay attention to all of the trees and animals you come across. Listen for new sounds.
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3. Mindfulness is just one aspect of meditation

If you enjoy mindfulness you should try some meditation since it is a more focused practice and will allow you to get deeper, and especially deepen your concentration abilities.

In meditation typically you close your eyes and reduce external stimuli including noises and distractions. This helps prevent your mind from wandering and helps you re-train your brain to better focus.


In closing, we hope this article was helpful. From discussions with friends, I’ve found this topic can get overly complex and confusing. If you have any questions or things you would like me to cover in a future update, please leave a comment below.

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