In a recent randomized two-week program designed to examine whether mindfulness training would decrease mind wandering and improve cognitive performance, investigators reported positive results.** Mindfulness training improved reading comprehension scores and working memory capacity, while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts. The class emphasized physical and mental strategies that help people maintain focus on the present moment in the face of interrupting thoughts and perceptions. Classes met for 45 minutes four times a week for two weeks. Each class included ten to 20 minutes of mindfulness exercises (See Mindfulness Workout sidebar for an example of the method.), requiring focused attention on some aspect of sensory experience (sensations of breathing or sounds of an audio recording). The course was taught by professionals with extensive teaching experience. Class content provided a clear set of strategies for and a conceptual understanding of how to practice mindfulness. The trainers suggested that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique to improve cognitive function.
Key concepts of mindfulness include focusing on the present moment, being fully present, open to experience, being nonjudgmental, accepting things as they are, making a connection, being nonattached, embodying peace, compassion and equanimity. There are a number of websites to investigate for instructions on training and a host of books that employees may wish to read to gain greater insight into the benefits of mindfulness.
According to Douglas Rushkoff, respected author and media theorist, a growing and obsessive devotion to information flowing in real time on the Internet and other media interferes with our ability to think clearly (Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, New York, Random House Publishing, 2013). Certainly, many educators will agree. There is recent scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation can benefit brain function and that it actually involves a broad framework of complex mechanisms in the brain. Now is the opportune time for management to begin training sessions to improve the working memory capacity, reading ability and task focus for all employees, particularly those involved in quality and production. Even a brief mindfulness training course could help people rein in wandering minds and in doing so, improve fundamental cognitive abilities.
A Mindfulness Workout
Here is what to do:
- Sit in an upright chair, stable position, hands resting on thighs or cradled together.
- Lower or close your eyes, whichever is more comfortable.
- Attend to your breath, following its movement throughout the body.
- Notice the sensations around your belly as air flows into and out of your nose or mouth. You have been breathing all day—all of your life—and in this moment, you are simply noticing your breath.
- Select one area of your body affected by your breathing and focus your attention there. Control your focus, not the breathing itself.
- When you notice your mind wandering—and it will—bring your attention back to your breathing.
- After five or ten minutes, switch from focusing to monitoring. Think of your mind as a vast open sky and your thoughts, feelings and sensations as passing clouds.
- Feel your whole body move with your breath. Be receptive to your sensations, noticing what arises in the moment. Be attentive to the changing quality of experience—sounds, aromas, the caress of breeze—and thoughts.
- After about five more minutes, lift your gaze and open your eyes.
Scott Rogers, Director of Programs and Training. Mindfulness research and practice initiative, University of Miami. (Jha AP: Being in the now. Scientific American Mind Apr/May 2013:p.26-33)