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Mindfulness Meditation

Focus

Mindfulness meditation begins with simple exercises that strengthen our connection with a certain type of intention – the intention to be present and engaged in the here and now, free from judgement. These exercises train us to release ourselves from the distractions of a busy mind, allowing us to focus attention calmly in the present.



Why is focus so important?

Mindfulness MeditationLearning to focus our mind is one of the most important things we can ever do.  Whether we’re olympic athletes, or just learning to play footie, a concert violinist, or just learning to play the guitar, a surgeon, mathematician, builder - whatever our pursuit…….. our performance and ability to learn new things is dependent on our ability to focus. 

But it goes beyond this. It can have far reaching consequences in many areas of our lives. Being able to focus and resist distraction is also linked with our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve long term goals. Studies have found that children who are better able to regulate their attention and impulses are four times less likely to have a criminal record, three times less likely to be addicted to drugs, have more satisfying marriages and have significantly lower body mass index 1,2.  The ability to control our impulses and focus our attention has even been found to be a better predictor of academic success than IQ 3. No point in having an amazing brain if you can’t focus its power and put it to use!

We now spend more than $3billion a year on “smart drugs” that enhance attention.  Wouldn't it be great if we could develop focus more naturally through training the mind and mindfulness meditation?


How can mindfulness meditation help?

Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can improve our ability to sustain attention 4. The ability to focus on our breath for long periods of time transfers over to other pursuits.  If we can focus on a subtle, boring object like our breath for 20 minutes, think how easy it will be to focus on sports, work, our partner(!) or anything else for that matter.

Mindfulness has also been shown to improve our ability to focus under pressure. 

Stress reduces our ability to retain thoughts in our mind and manipulate them (known as our working memory capacity in fancy speak).  Researchers thought it would be interesting to see if mindfulness meditation could help, so they taught it to people whose lives depend on being able to reason in extremely stressful environments - Marines. They taught them mindfulness meditation during a particularly stressful time, just before deployment in Iraq.  As expected under these stressful circumstances, they found that those who weren’t taught to meditate had a diminished working memory capacity, however they found that those who meditated, on average, for more than 10 minutes a day, over the 8 week period not only managed to maintain their working memory capacity, but actually improved their ability 5!  So the research suggests that if you ever need to think under pressure, mindfulness meditation could help.

Another study looked at how four days of training for just 20 minutes per day could help on a battery of cognitive tests.  They found that the mindfulness meditation practitioners performed particularly well on tasks with time constraints, suggesting that mindfulness could be useful for any of us who have to work to deadlines too 6

Not only have scientists observed changes in people’s performance after completing attention tasks, but they’ve also found corresponding changes in the structure and function of meditators brains.  After 11hrs of meditation, neuroscientists found that mindfulness meditation practitioners had structural changes around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self control 7

So if you’d like to enhance your focus, increase your self-control and develop a bit more mastery over your emotions... Then sign up to our free Take 10 programme today and give mindfulness a go.


Get started on your journey now for free

References

1. Moffitt, T., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R., Harrington, H., ……Caspi, A. (2011). From the Cover: A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (7), 2693-2698

2. Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Peake, P. K. (1988). The nature of adolescent competencies predicted by preschool delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(4), 687-696.

3. Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944

4. MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., . . . Saron, C. D. (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science, 21(6), 829-839.

5. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10 (1), 54-64. 

6. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597-605

7. Tang, Y.-Y., Lu, Q., Geng, X., Stein, E. A., Yang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2010). Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(35), 15649-15652.



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