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THE 5 SKILLS OF MINDFULNESS: March 2021- Volume 2, Issue 2

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

A bimonthly briefing on the latest in the science and practice of character strengths.


With an aim to further advance the assessment and ultimately the practice of mindfulness, Dr. Ruth Baer and her colleagues operationalized the five facets of mindfulness from the best items within several measures of mindfulness (Baer et al., 2006). I briefly describe each below and offer an example of a classic meditation that aligns with each, although most mindfulness practices connect with more than one facet at a time.

  1. Observing: Returning to your senses
  • Classic mindfulness practice: mindful eating.
  1. Describing: Giving detail to your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, behaviors, and expectations.
  • Classic mindfulness practice: mindful journaling.
  1. Acting with Awareness: Attending to your actions as you engage in different activities.
  • Classic mindfulness practice: walking meditation.
  1. Nonjudging: Showing acceptance and gentleness toward yourself.
  1. Nonreacting: Skillfully accepting your inner experience.
  • Classic mindfulness practice: body mindfulness meditation.


While studying Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), scientists Dandan Pang and Willibald Ruch (2019) examined the connections between character strengths and each of the five facets. Here are the top 3 significant correlations between specific character strengths and each of the facets:

  • Observe scale:

    • Appreciation of beauty/excellence
    • Gratitude
    • Curiosity
  • Describe scale:

    • Social intelligence
    • Bravery
    • Love
  • Acting with awareness:

    • Self-regulation
    • Hope
    • Perseverance
  • Nonjudging:

    • Hope
    • Curiosity
    • Zest
  • Nonreacting:

    • Hope
    • Bravery
    • Curiosity

A wide range of character strengths can be seen in the above correlations. While this research is in early stages, it offers some interesting potential pathways to reflect on and explore in practice.

Applying the Research

If you are interested in building your skills of mindfulness, consider the following practical strategies:

1.) Use the above correlations to begin asking yourself some questions: * How might you become a more mindful “observer” by leveraging your appreciation of beauty/excellence? * Do you need to tap into your inner bravery to offer more clear details on the emotions you are experiencing and the rationale behind your actions? * Considering your highest facet of mindfulness, how might you turn to your signature strengths to expand upon it? * If you want to build up your lowest facet of mindfulness, which character strengths will be most important for you to turn to? Your signature strengths or the strengths most highly correlated with that path?

2.) Regardless of where the facet of nonreacting is in your mindfulness profile, be sure to give this skill some extra attention.
* In her recent interview with me for VIA’s global initiative, United in Strengths, Dr. Ruth Baer, the mindfulness scientist that created the FFMQ, shared her thoughts from Oxford University in England. She explained that nonreactivity is a crucial focal point for people and if she could pick only one mindfulness skill to become efficient in, nonreacting would be it. This skill is likened to the mindfulness approach of decentering, in which the individual trains themselves to step aside and observe unwanted thoughts and difficult emotions as opposed to getting washed away or caught up in them. * In a study this year, the nonreacting skill was by far the strongest contributor (of the five facets) to well-being, and it was the second strongest skill for contributing to less distress (acting with awareness was the strongest by far for distress; Roemer et al., 2021).


While the FFMQ is the most widely used scientific measure of mindfulness and has always been free to the public, remarkably, no cutoff scores have ever been created for meditators and non-meditators. What is a high score on nonjudging? A low score on observing? How does one’s score on describing or nonreacting compare to others? The VIA Institute embarked on this journey, reviewing the published studies, compiling the samples, and following standards/criteria for establishing cutoff scores. It was able to create High, Medium, and Low cutoff ranges for each of these five facets and for total mindfulness.

The cutoff ranges are now offered in the brand new report – Mindfulness and Character Strengths. This personalized report offers an integration of the user’s results on both the FFMQ and the VIA Survey, resulting in a mindfulness profile to complement the user’s character strengths profile. Application strategies for working with one’s facets and strengths are offered.




Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27-45.

Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019). The mutual support model of mindfulness and character strengths. Mindfulness. DOI:

Roemer, A., Sutton, A., Grimm, C., & Medvedev, O. N. (2021). Differential contribution of the five facets of mindfulness to well-being and psychological distress. Mindfulness 12, 693-700.