Debunking the Top 4 Mindfulness Myths

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "10% Happier" by Dan Harris. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the top myths surrounding mindfulness? Have you let those misconceptions hold you back from practicing mindfulness?

Author Dan Harris is no stranger to the myths surrounding mindfulness and meditation. Harris was a former skeptic and critic himself. In this post, Harris, the author of 10% Happier, explores the most common mindfulness myths and debunks them.

Let’s take a closer look at the four most common myths.

Mindfulness Misconceptions

During his journey to learn Buddhist principles of mindfulness, Harris overcame many misconceptions he had as a self-help skeptic. He wants you to learn from his mistakes in his mindfulness journey, so he debunks a few common meditation and mindfulness myths:

1. Mindfulness Requires Perfection

Harris points out that sometimes we think meditation has to be perfect (like having a completely clear head while meditating) in order to be beneficial. In reality, self-help is about the journey. Harris believes mindfulness and compassion are skills you have to practice. Just like you have to exercise your body, you must exercise your mind to strengthen your ability to be mindful and compassionate. (Shortform note: In Grit, Angela Duckworth echoes this idea, arguing that consistent, deliberate practice is the key to success in any endeavor. She outlines a process for practicing deliberately: set a small, specific goal; focus your full attention on that goal; seek feedback from someone experienced; reflect on the feedback; keep practicing until you’ve reached your goal; repeat the process with a new goal.)

2. Mindfulness Will Make You Less Successful

Harris notes that, at one time, he believed that the calmness that comes from mindfulness might temper the ambition he needed to strive for success. However, he learned that the opposite is true: Mindfulness can assist your success because it can help you understand what is and isn’t in your control—what you can and can’t change—so that you can direct your efforts toward productive activities instead of activities that won’t benefit you. (Shortform note: A familiar Buddhist teaching is that attachment causes suffering and detachment brings peace of mind. But what does this detachment mean? Sports psychologist Jerry Lynch says that, in sports and life, the goal isn’t to detach from your efforts—it’s about detaching from the results. He believes that if you’re attached to the outcome, this causes you to tense up and doubt your efforts. He advises not to get caught up in the need to win. If you can relax your approach, your performance will naturally improve.)

3. Mindfulness Will Make You Less Creative

While some people might fear that overcoming their mental stress will decrease their creativity (believing that creativity is sparked by struggle), Harris argues that mindfulness helps you examine your insecurities, negative feelings, and self-disgust, which makes you more insightful, not less. (Shortform note: In Mindfulness for a More Creative Life, Danny Penman argues that mindfulness boosts creativity due to three essential elements: receptivity to new ideas, better attention to and understanding of useful ideas, and resilience in the face of setbacks. By being mindful and present, our ability to notice and take in new ideas improves, which seems to be beneficial to the creative process. Mindfulness can also make us more resilient after failure, which is inevitable in the creative process.)

4. Mindfulness Will Make You a Pushover

Harris argues that you can still respectfully stand up for yourself, even if you’re now less emotionally charged by events. The key is to calmly address problems without letting the issue get personal. Being mindful means you stop reacting and start responding to things that do matter, while accepting the things that don’t. (Shortform note: Other experts agree that mindfulness doesn’t necessarily lead to weakness, and they offer insights as to why this is true. One study found that mindfulness may actually increase your levels of self-esteem. Because mindfulness helps tame our ego’s tendency to compare ourselves to others, we gain confidence in ourselves. So instead of getting confidence externally (from ranking ourselves as better than someone else), mindful confidence is internal and self-generated. Rather than brushing off mistakes as inherent personality traits or character flaws, mindful people can question themselves in the moment, leading to deeper levels of insight and understanding.)

Debunking the Top 4 Mindfulness Myths

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dan Harris's "10% Happier" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full 10% Happier summary:

  • A skeptic’s journey through the world of self-help
  • How to control your anxiety, manage your ego, and become more compassionate
  • How you can improve your life and career—even by just 10%

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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