Welcome back everyone! This week, we talk about how mindfulness meditation can help you improve your focus. We also look at how this, in turn, helps you to boost your mental performance on a variety of tasks.
Regardless of who you are, what your hobbies are or what your profession is, your ability (or lack of ability) to focus directly affects how well you’ll perform that task. This simple statement is true whether you’re a doctor or firefighter, or a stay-at-home mother or father.
Mindfulness meditation is a great way to improve your ability to focus on what’s important and helps you stay task oriented, even while facing a barrage of potentially distracting thoughts.
Mindfulness Meditation in Action
One of the most prominent benefits of mindfulness meditation is that it helps you to observe thoughts – especially the negative ones – for what they are: just thoughts. With practice, you’ll learn to identify these negative thoughts and, while not eliminating the thoughts themselves, eliminate the negative hold they can have on your mind.
The following is a perfect example to illustrate this concept.
In an article, author Anne Murphy Paul describes how a study conducted by Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology, shows this principle in action.
The study of 45 graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, showed that regular mindfulness meditation improved the students’ scores on the verbal-reasoning, reading-comprehension and working-memory sections of the graduate exams, and they reportedly dealt with fewer distracting thoughts while taking them!
How Mindfulness Meditation Works: Two Opposing Views
There are two opposing schools of thought when it comes to exactly “how” mindfulness meditation helps to improve focus. The premise of the one school is that meditation "isn't" focusing on anything; it is relaxing and clearing your mind. The side effect in this case is an improved ability to focus, since your mind is now clear.
The other school believes the opposite to be true. They believe that meditation "is" training your mind to focus, and it is this improved ability to focus is what allows you to dedicate your brainpower to clearing your mind of those distracting thoughts, allowing you to relax and clear your mind.
Which one is Correct?
In short: The right way to do it is the way that works for you. Period. Don't fall into the trap of reading too much into these opposing views. Rather, think of it like this: They're both right, and they both fuel each other.
When you begin, you’ll likely have to swat away distracting thoughts that seem to attack like bloodthirsty mosquitos on a hot summer day, but the more you practice focusing on your breathing and on staying physically relaxed, the better you’ll be able to clear your mind.
In turn, this leads to an increased ability to clear your mind, providing you with a better ability to focus. You get the idea.
What’s really important to remember is that it’s the “ regular practice ” aspect of meditation that’s what really does the trick, regardless of how you choose to perceive it.
What Mindfulness Meditation Is — And Isn’t
A lot of people think that mindfulness is about absolute focus and clearing your mind of all distracting thoughts. It’s really not. Okay, in some senses, those aspects are there; you don’t want distractions when you’re meditating, and it does require a bit of focus — a fact that is especially true for beginners.
What mindfulness meditation is really all about, is being aware of the here and now. You don’t attach any emotions to your thoughts. Obviously, you want a clear head, free of distractions, but when thoughts do manage to sneak in, just observe them, recognize that they’re just thoughts, and let the slip away.
Maximizing the Payoff
Admittedly, it sounds all too easy to let our thoughts just drift by, but we all know that it’s a lot harder than that; it doesn’t have to be impossible, though. The following are some tips that can help.
Tip 1 - Practice regularly. This concept is probably the most emphasized, but it’s also the one that’s most overlooked. It’s understandable. You don’t realize how much you need to De-stress until it’s too late. Then, you finally take a moment to meditate but only after the damage has been done.
Sure, there are definitely stress-reducing benefits from a single session, but not nearly as many as when you meditate regularly.
Make mindfulness meditation part of your daily routine. Every single day, attend to your morning tasks, and then, head to your meditation space for 10 to 15 minutes. Sitting on your meditation cushion, or kneeling with your meditation bench, just close your eyes and focus on the present — not your to do list, the present. If variety is more your style, grab your meditation cushion and head outside for a change of scenery.
Tip 2 - Be mindful everywhere. More specifically, use every opportunity to focus on the present. There are hundreds of times throughout the day where we multitask: we plan our day in bed, update our Facebook status while we’re talking with friends and eat while we’re working.
Instead of watching TV while you’re eating, turn it off for 10 minutes to just focus on the flavor and consistency of the food. Instead of worrying about work while you’re in the shower, just focus on the feel of the water running over you; focus on the sound of the shower head.
Tip 3 - Adopt a non-judgmental attitude. Be aware that distractions are inevitable. Your mind will wander. Thoughts will pop up, and you’re going to react emotionally to them. Don’t be hard on yourself when this does happen.
Rather, just take note of the intruding thought. Assess why it made you get worked up, and then let it go. It will take time — and practice — but eventually you’ll get to the point where it becomes second nature.
What techniques do you use to get the most out of your meditation sessions, and how do you prefer to view meditation — as focus-first or clarity-first? Share your answers in the comment section below. As always, we look forward to — and value — your feedback! Keep in touch, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get more updates.
Another great post discussing the value of Mindfulness meditation and exercises you may find interesting: http://www.livingwell.org.au/mindfulness-exercises-3/