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What do people mean when they talk about mindfulness?

Psychological theories cast mindfulness as a form of awareness in which accepting the presence of stressful thoughts and feelings facilitates engaged exploration and identification of adaptive responses. Critics of mindfulness' popularization suggest that lay people misconstrue acceptance as a passive endorsement of experience, undermining engaged problem-solving. To evaluate this criticism, we traced the contemporary semantic meaning of mindfulness in three of the most extensive linguistic corpora of English language and found that general public's depictions of mindfulness highlight engagement-related processes. We further analyzed the nomological network of mindfulness. While mindfulness theories suggest a general convergence of facets representing awareness and acceptance, in a meta-analysis (k = 145; N = 41,966) of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire only expert- and clinical samples reported convergence, whereas lay people showed absent or even antagonistic associations. Further, contrary to the synergistic model of awareness and acceptance contributing to greater engagement, empirical probes of two lay samples (N total = 406) show that acceptance is either unrelated or inversely related to markers of engagement. To overcome resulting conceptual and methodological challenges, we highlight the need for a contextualized mindfulness framework whereby acceptance enables the process of engaging with life's challenges rather than avoiding them.

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