Awareness vs Mindfulness

My counsellor J has just started studying for a qualification in CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My psychiatrist has referred me for CBT so I am very interested in it, both from a personal perspective and from a professional one. There is a very long waiting list for CBT within psychiatric care so this is yet another good opportunity for me to exercise patience...

I am looking forward to, eventually, experience at first hand how different it feels to be 'CBTed' as opposed to being coached. On the surface, and in general approach terms, CBT and coaching appear to share some common traits.  We shall see.

During my conversation with J, she showed me her CBT study book. The title contained the word 'mindfulness' which J thought was probably more acceptable to the general population than the word 'meditation' because the latter carries connotations that are often associated with so-called hippy fluffy stuff. I could write a book about my thoughts on that subject but I'll leave it for now :0).

It is J's second comment on her book that got me thinking. She thought the book was too focused on awareness to be truly addressing mindfulness. Her remark prompted me to ask her what she thought the difference was between awareness and mindfulness. As J started to talk about her ideas on the subject, the difference came into sharp focus for me. In the simplest terms, awareness is about switching the light on whereas mindfulness is about switching the light off.  Naturally, one cannot switch the light off if it isn't turned on in the first place, hence the initial emphasis J's book places on awareness even if mindfulness figures in its title. This made sense to J and to me.

Awareness is a very big word in coaching. Coaches often stress: what we are aware of we have a certain degree of control over; what we are unaware of controls us. True.

What suddenly struck me during my conversation with J was the energy awareness consumes, just as a light bulb uses up electricity. Being aware of our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviour, our words and our actions takes conscious effort (which is probably why so many people prefer to let the media think for them and are quick to blame others for their problems rather than take responsibility for themselves). Maintaining a state of awareness is hard work. This had never occurred to me before. I had hitherto assumed that awareness was a static state of being as opposed to a dynamic state of living.

If awareness consumes energy, it then follows that there must be periods of rest. A good night sleep will usually do the trick. For those of us like me who are constantly 'on the listen out' (my mother's highly perceptive and descriptive description of me!), then sleep is essential but it is not sufficient. It also follows that if we do not switch off regularly, our mind and body will eventually shut down. The breakdown I have experienced is in fact a massive shutdown.

Where awareness helps us:

  • extract information through our five senses so we can take action
  • examine our thoughts
  • experience our emotions

Mindfulness helps us:

  • distance ourselves from sensorial input so we no longer have to respond
  • disengage from our thinking
  • detach from our feelings

Awareness makes us reflective and effective. Mindfulness makes us peaceful and powerful. Both are necessary.

I have noticed how much I need time by myself these days. I truly enjoy being 'disconnected' from the world, even if I often feel frustrated by my inability to do what I want to do. 

I guess it sometimes feel really good to be on the look out and see nothing, to be on the listen out and hear only silence :0)

this was such an eye-opener

this was such an eye-opener for me! thank you for highlighting and explaining the difference so clearly!

Hello Ilene

Thank you for your encouraging comment - I am glad you find my verbiage helpful  :0)

Gabrielle xx


Hello Gabrielle,

I just found your blog on an internet search and I really enjoyed this entry on mindfulness. You have a lovely, calm direct way of communicating these concepts and it's helpful to use metaphors. I listened to some of your videos as well.

Thank you for your writing and keep it up! :-)


Life Coach - Toronto, Canada

love it

love it

Thank you Brian - I am glad

Thank you Brian - I am glad you found this entry useful :0)

Gabrielle x

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I wish you a good luck in

I wish you a good luck in your new cbt which your psychiatric has been learning now. I feel you too need some awareness on this case. I suggest you to surf online and also write some rushessays to divert your mind and thinking.

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