THE BLOG
10/09/2015 12:10 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2016

Mindfulness and Work-Life Balance: What's the Difference?

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Is mindfulness the new way to talk about "work-life balance"? Has work-life balance been a conversation about mindfulness all along?

As with other conversations around the topic of mindfulness and balance, it's complicated. In fact, the answer is yes and no, because with both mindfulness and work-life balance, we desire the same outcome: easy joy and meaningful engagement with the roles, responsibilities and relationships that make up life - including the relationships we have with ourselves and those with whom we work.

Some believe that mindfulness is just meditation. It's true, mediation is one of many tools and skills we can develop to cultivate mindful living, which broadly means living with greater presence, being in each moment you are in, regardless of where or with whom that moment occurs - at home with your children, alone in your car, at work among colleagues.

But at its core, mindfulness is much more than meditation. It starts with choosing to see how we show up in life, and making conscious choices about what our presence looks and feels like in each moment. That choice can comprise meditation, but it doesn't have to. I've met many people who live very mindfully but don't have a traditional mediation practice. Rather, their "quiet" moments look a bit differently: running, cooking, playing music, taking a bath, slowly sipping their morning tea.

Some believe that work-life balance is something granted by employers. It's true, a company can create a culture that promotes balance. But company support is a small part of the work-life balance equation; individual accountability is another factor, and that includes a host of choices: aligning work with core values; setting and communicating boundaries; managing stress; knowing the difference between urgent, important and excitement; and paying attention to what we are doing while we are doing it.

Mindfulness usually starts with personal awareness and skill development that radiates out into our relationships, including the relationships we have at and with work. Work-life balance usually starts at a company level and expands to include reflection and action among teams and individuals. It's the same conversation, just a different starting point.

Mindfulness is not better than work-life balance, or the other way around. There is no good, better, best, right or wrong way to learn skills to create easy joy and meaningful engagement with the roles, responsibilities and relationships that make up our lives.

And it doesn't matter what companies, practitioners, publishers, journalists, or teachers call it. What matters is people willing to make the choice to live more mindfully and balanced, and having resources and environments available to develop mindful living skills.

Let's ditch the discussion around the labels and focus instead on creating these environments where we can make the choice for mindful and balanced, as individuals and employees.