A team from UC Santa Barbara has shown that just two weeks of mindfulness training can significantly improve reading comprehension, working memory capacity, and focus.
Published in Psychological Science and led by Michael Mrazek, the study, “Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering” surprised the researchers with its clear-cut results: “What surprised me the most was actually the clarity of the results,” said Mrazek, “We found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it.”
Mindfulness is another term for full conscious engagement or presence of mind on the task at hand. When the mind wanders our performance on tasks requiring our attention declines.
Mrazek and his colleagues randomly assigned undergraduate students to either a mindfulness class or a class on nutrition. Before the classes started the students took a test of verbal reasoning from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and a working memory capacity (WMC) test. The researchers also measured mind-wandering during the tests.
After the classes the students re-took the tests. Those who had taken the mindfulness class scored significantly better on both the verbal GRE test and the working memory capacity test. Their mind-wandering during testing had also diminished. For those who had taken the nutrition class, the researchers measured no such improvement.
“This is the most complete and rigorous demonstration that mindfulness can reduce mind-wandering, one of the clearest demonstrations that mindfulness can improve working memory and reading, and the first study to tie all this together to show that mind-wandering mediates the improvements in performance,” said Mrazek.
Brain Training with MindSparke’s Brain Fitness Pro is already a great mindfulness booster. Here are three more that would be wonderful adjuncts to the training:
To be used when a strong feeling comes up:
R – recognize what you’re feeling.
A – acknowledge it.
I – investigate its various aspects, and
N – non-identify; “it’s not me, it’s something I’m feeling.”
Give yourself room to breathe when you’re thoughts are racing:
S - Stop what you are doing.
T - Breathe normally and be mindful of your breath entering and leaving your body.
O - Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Don’t try to keep thoughts or feelings out, just acknowledge them and move on.
P - Proceed by giving yourself you need to feel supported; reach out to someone who can listen, for instance, or deliberately put your current thoughts and feelings into a broader perspective.
Not an acronym this time. Just a great activity for helping us practice mindfulness. Rather than walking in a state of distraction, though, focus on the physical and mechanical aspects of the act of walking, your legs and feet moving, your balance shifting, your breath supporting your movements. Likewise you can turn your mindful attention to the world around you. The sights, sounds, smells and sensations of the places you’re walking through.