Mindfulness vs. Meditation: 12 Fundamental Differences

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

When I first thought of adding mindfulness to my life, I wondered if it was anything like meditation. I had tried meditation before, so I had something to go on. However, I had never actually witnessed someone physically practicing mindfulness, so I was not sure. If you have been wondering the same thing, you have come to the right place. 

I took the time to figure out the differences between mindfulness and meditation, and I came up with 12 that might interest you.

12 differences between mindfulness and meditation:

  1. Mindfulness is about focusing on something. Meditation is about focusing on nothing.
  2. Mindfulness can be practiced 24 hours a day. Meditation requires time set aside.
  3. You can operate heavy machinery (drive) while practicing mindfulness. You cannot operate heavy machinery while meditating.
  4. Mindfulness is a life aid. Meditation is an experience.
  5. Mindfulness is about being fully engaged and aware. Meditation is about disconnecting with the outside world and looking inward.
  6. Mindfulness changes your reaction to things. Meditation has a slower impact on your behavior.
  7. Mindfulness is a way of life. Meditation is a part of your life.
  8. There is one type of mindfulness practice. There are many types of meditation practices.
  9. Mindfulness is not a physical exercise. Meditation can be a physical exercise.
  10. Mindfulness teaches to pay attention to feelings without judgment. Meditation teaches to let negative feelings go. 
  11. Mindfulness is continuous throughout the day. Meditation is typically done for 30 minutes a day.
  12. Mindfulness is a way of thinking. Meditation is a short term practice. 

It is often hard to peg down the differences between mindfulness and meditation because they have so many definitions and because they can seem so similar. For me, mindfulness is my preferred method of deriving mental, physical, and emotional health benefits (on a daily basis). Others prefer meditation – and that’s fine – whatever works for you is great! 

If you would like to take a closer look at the 12 ways in which I find mindfulness and meditation to differ, please read on. 

How Mindfulness & Meditation Differ

Let us take a closer look at why mindfulness and meditation is not the same thing:

1. Something vs. Nothing.

When you start practicing mindfulness, you might notice that you are required to be intentionally aware and engaged. You need to make yourself purposely aware of what is going on around you. On the other hand, meditation focuses on nothing. You are expected to clear your mind and focus your intentions inwardly. Meditation cuts you off from the outside world for a certain period of time.

2. 24 Hours Per Day vs. Set Times Per Day.

Because of the nature of mindfulness, you can practice it at any time of the day or night. There is no need to change your clothes, find a quiet space, or detach from the world. Meditation, on the other hand, requires those things. Most people set regular time aside to meditate.

3. Operating Heavy Machinery vs. Not Operating Heavy Machinery. 

It is completely safe to practice mindfulness while driving. In fact, it is probably safer to be doing so. Meditation, because it involves removing your mind from the current world around you, is not a safe thing to do while driving.

4. Life Aid vs. Life Experience. 

Mindfulness is a life aid that is with you at all times of the day. It helps with everyday living and can transform your life into a happier, more settled lifestyle. Meditation, on the other hand, is not a life aid in the same sense. It is an experience that you engage in on a regular basis, but once your meditation session is over, it is no longer with you.

5. Fully Engaged & Aware vs. Disconnected & Looking Inward.

The entire basis of mindfulness is to be 100% engaged with what you are doing and what is happening around you right now. I was quite surprised when I first started mindfulness to find that I couldn’t stay fully engaged in anything for more than just a few seconds at a time. Luckily, that situation has greatly improved, and with that improvement, the quality of my experiences and interactions actually improved, too. 

Meditation is exactly the opposite. When you meditate, you block the outside noise out and look inwardly; you try to not engage with the world around you.

6. Modified Reaction Behavior vs. Slower Change in Reactions.

One of the questions I wanted to ask before I started mindfulness was what to expect. I had a basic idea of mindfulness, but I had no idea that it would have such a positive effect on my behavior. I used to get quite upset and emotional regularly. People would refer to me as “sensitive”, which wasn’t a compliment. Mindfulness helped me work through this issue and become a more stable person. It’s completely transformed my friendships and personal relationships. 

Mindfulness teaches you to assess situations with non-judgment and to respond calmly and kindly without lashing out (reacting). Meditation can calm you down and help you reset your mind, but when a stressful situation presents itself and you are not meditating, you might get caught up in the emotions of the moment and react negatively. 

7. Way of Life vs. Part of Life.

When you choose to follow the path of mindfulness, you choose a different way of thinking. You are actually choosing to make a lifestyle choice and change the way you are. Meditation, while it can have an impact on lifestyle choices, only forms part of your life. It is something you do to add value to your life, reduce stress, and regroup. 

Meditation is something that you could be dedicated to practicing now but lose interest in and move on from. Once you start to be mindful naturally, it is improbable that you will lose interest in it. This is because mindfulness adds depth and strength to your relationships as you become more attentive (this is a great side effect).

8. One Type of Practice vs. Many Types of Practice.

Mindfulness is a way of breathing, calming the mind to remove other external thoughts that take away from the current activity, engaging, being aware, and living in the present moment. Meditation, on the other hand, comes in many forms. You could meditate for relaxation or even use exercise meditation. There are many forms of meditation to choose from, and most people select a type or form that suits their main objectives.

9. Non-Physical Practice vs. Physical Practice.

The reason why mindfulness can be done anytime and anywhere is that it is not a physical practice. You do not need to sit in any particular way, you do not have to stretch or pose (as in the case of Yoga), and you do not even need to stop what you are doing. All you have to do is work on keeping your mind in the current moment. Of course, you can practice mindfulness while exercising quite effectively, but that doesn’t make mindfulness an exercise itself. 

10. Paying Attention to Feelings vs. Letting Feelings Go.

When practicing mindfulness, you are taught to acknowledge your feelings but to remain neutral and non-judgmental about them. The point is that you can feel things and not react to them. You can let them be – total acceptance is the key to mindfulness. Meditation is quite different in that it helps people let their feelings go

I personally haven’t done any form of meditation that has required me to acknowledge or pay attention to my feelings. Most types of meditation are focused on relaxing, accepting, letting go. 

11. Continuous Practice vs. 30 Minutes a Day. 

When you learn about mindfulness, you will discover that you need to actively practice it throughout the day, so that it can become second nature. Meditation is different in that it is recommended to be done for around 30 minutes per day for the optimal results. Meditation is done for a set period of time, and then you go back to normal, whereas mindfulness is a continuous mindset and practice. 

12. New Way of Thinking vs. Short Term Practice. 

When you dedicate yourself to mindfulness, you let go of your old way of thinking (as well as negative thought patterns). When you let go of these negative patterns and thought processes, you can take on a new approach to life. Meditation does not require you to change your way of thinking. It is a short term practice that can provide positive results over the long term.

Mindfulness or Meditation: Which one is for you?

Now that you are aware of the main differences between mindfulness and meditation, which one do you think is best suited to you and your personal preferences? Choose a practice that suits your lifestyle, and that will be able to provide you with your required outcome. For me, mindfulness is the way to go. Which one is right for you – you decide! 

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He covers topics like spirituality, philosophy, finance, sports, games, and food. JC earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business with a Marketing Concentration at Mercyhurst University. He is a certified USPTA professional who teaches tennis in the New York City Metropolitan area. He has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.