How to improve your focus and mental performance?
Are you wasting your potential productivity with a wandering mind?
A failure to focus on the tasks in front of you isn’t just frustrating, it can negatively affect your performance. If you’re sick of struggling to concentrate and your work is suffering because of it, you might benefit from adding meditation to your routine.
Not only will meditating make you more present, but there is also evidence that it improves mental performance and relieves anxiety, too.
What is Meditation?
Meditation has been practiced for centuries in cultures around the world to enhance mindfulness, concentration, and self-transcendence. Usually it is practiced as a series of breathing and relaxation techniques that create different levels of consciousness. Meditation can be as simple as quietly sitting while counting your breathes to as elaborate as reciting mantras for hours in a group setting.
Sages throughout history as well as contemporary public figures from Tim Ferris to the manager of the world’s largest hedge fund, Ray Dalio have celebrated the mentally restorative properties of meditation. But, today scientific evidence is beginning to confirm its benefits. Specifically, research is revealing that meditation can make a powerful impact on mental performance.
How Can Meditation Impact Mental Performance?
The evidence from recent scientific studies shows that meditation is one of the best things you can do for the health of your brain.
According to a study[i] about the effects of long-term meditation, there is ample evidence of meditation’s effectiveness for increasing your attention span. The study also found that meditation can improve verbal fluency, processing speed, overall cognitive abilities and even creativity. In fact, the brains of people who meditate regularly tend to look younger than those of others.
The reason for this is that a habit of mindfulness can decrease the decline of gray matter in your brain, meaning that the mental process of meditating actively prevents your mind from aging like normal.
Beyond looking younger, a brain familiar with meditation will act smarter, too. Another study[ii] found that a 2-week mindfulness course helped students studying for the GRE decrease their mind wandering and improved cognitive performance.
The study concluded that cultivating mindfulness was correlated in higher test scores for the students, and better focus during their study sessions. However, it’s easy to extrapolate the data to assume that the students experienced benefits from meditation in other aspects of their lives as well.
The Impacts of Meditation on Anxiety
A regular meditation practice does more than improve your performance; the evidence shows it can also keep your anxiety under control.
Today, an estimated 15 to 25 percent of Americans regularly suffer from anxiety, and many are on medication to control it. For this reason, the research conducted by General Hospital Psychiatry[iii] is likely to have a profound impact on millions of anxiety sufferers. This study found that a meditation practice improved the anxiety levels of 22 test patients, and they maintained their improvements through the study’s follow-ups.
Throughout the experiment, study participants were taught a range of mindfulness techniques that they were required to do for at least 45 minutes every day of the trial. Afterwards, half of the participants continued to meditate, and all still exhibited benefits of the practice when they were tested again later. Most notably, half of these patients found that they didn’t need to receive any farther treatment for their anxiety at a three-year follow-up after the experiment.
Thanks to these results, we have preliminary evidence that meditation might be as effective for anxiety as standard medication, even when it isn’t practiced regularly.
In Summary: Should You Meditate?
It seems that the sages and monks of history were on to something.
Science is showing that meditating has profoundly positive impacts on your mental health. Following a regular mindfulness routine can reduce the age-related loss of grey matter in your brain, improve your focus and help you achieve better test scores, and even treat anxiety as well as prescription medication.
Meditating is a wellness strategy without adverse side effects, so give it a try today. Your brain will appreciate it.
New to Meditation?
There are plenty of apps to help you get started. Here’s a free app we recommend: www.headspace.com
Want to learn more?
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[i] Frontiers in Psychology: Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy
[ii] Association for Psychological Science: Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering
[iii] General Hospital Psychiatry: Three-Year Follow-up and Clinical Implications of a Mindfulness Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Intervention in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders