This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Wherever You Go, There You Are" by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are mindfulness values? How do patience and perseverance make mindfulness easier to practice?
Returning to mindfulness every day can be challenging for some people, but there are values that can make the process simpler. The values outlined by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are can be summarized as simplicity, patience, vulnerability, and perseverance.
Keep reading to learn about the importance of these mindfulness values for your self-improvement journey.
First, Kabat-Zinn recommends choosing the mindfulness value of simplicity whenever possible—in what you do, what you buy, and what you prioritize. Do one thing at a time so you can fully experience every moment without feeling hurried or rushed. To cultivate simplicity, try doing less—each moment, each day, and each week.
(Shortform note: When you choose simplicity, you’re forced to prioritize what’s most essential. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown advocates for essentialism as a way of life. He defines essentialism as doing less and argues that by only giving time and energy to what’s most essential in your life, you can do amazing work that you care about, while still feeling calm and energized. To discover what’s essential for you, he recommends asking yourself what inspires you, what you’re good at, and what would make the world better. What’s essential to you lies at the intersection of these three questions.)
Simplicity also means choosing to focus your thoughts on one thing or object at a time. Thoughts and feelings will naturally occur, but the greater your ability to refocus when your mind wanders, the deeper your mindfulness practice will become.
(Shortform note: The ability to focus on one thing has also been proven to increase productivity. Trying to focus on multiple things at once, or multitasking, leads to an effect known as “switch cost,” the mental effort expended to shift gears and readjust to the new task. Because of the mental shift required, it takes time and mental effort to make this adjustment. As a result, switching between tasks can slow down your overall progress and reduce your productivity.)
Mindfulness also requires patience. Patience is the gentle acceptance of things the way things are, rather than the fruitless agitation of wishing things were different. You can be patient with your wandering mind, with external distractions, or with your body on days you’re moving more slowly.
(Shortform note: Patience seems to be increasingly rare in the modern world. A study by the Pew Research Center found that the convenience of technology has made people less patient than they used to be. Living in a world of instant gratification where you can communicate with someone halfway across the world instantly and have groceries delivered to your doorstep in a matter of hours has made it harder for people to muster patience for the things that take time.)
Patience becomes easier when you’re open to all the possibilities. Staying open to new or uncomfortable experiences allows you to resist the impulse to judge your experience, to simply observe what’s happening, and to quiet the desire to control or alter your reality.
(Shortform note: Openness often requires a holistic perspective that allows you to consider experiences from multiple perspectives. In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama argue that expanding your perspective to look at the world through multiple lenses is a foundational value for a more joyful life.)
This kind of openness requires vulnerability because it requires you to give up the illusion of control and trust that things will unfold as they should. (Shortform note: Some argue that vulnerability depends on trust, but in Dare to Lead, Brene Brown argues that vulnerability and trust are mutually dependent, and occur simultaneously.)
Practicing vulnerability has the additional benefit of making you more generous. As you become more generous and kind with yourself, you’ll also become more generous and kind toward others, allowing the benefits of your mindfulness practice to ripple outward.
(Shortform note: Contrary to Kabat-Zinn’s assertion, one study found that instead of increasing generosity, mindfulness had the opposite effect in some cases, leading to more selfish behavior. The study revealed that participants who were identified as being naturally interdependent-minded—thinking more often about themselves in relation to others—showed more prosocial behavior after a timed meditation. However, participants who were more naturally independent-minded, and thought primarily of themselves as individuals, demonstrated a decreased motivation to help others after the same timed meditation. The increased inward focus of mindfulness seemed to exaggerate their existing egoist tendencies and make it easier for them to ignore the needs of others.)
The final mindfulness value is perseverance because, ultimately, the key to mindfulness is making it a habit through ongoing practice. As Kabat-Zinn explains, most of us live our lives automatically, relying on habit or compelled by impulse in our decision-making; mindfulness goes against all of our deeply ingrained habits and ways of thinking. Paying attention to the present moment requires intentionality, and making it a practice requires discipline.
Because returning to mindfulness day after day is challenging, Kabat-Zinn also recommends starting with a clear understanding of the motivation driving your mindfulness practice. To sustain your mindfulness practice, he suggests grounding your practice in your most deeply held values and hopes for yourself.
(Shortform note: The combination of perseverance and motivation is what Angela Duckworth refers to as grit, a personality trait that enables you to maintain your interest, work hard, and overcome obstacles. She argues that grit, more than natural talent or external circumstances, is an indicator of long-term success.)
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