“Mindfulness” has become a buzzword across health and wellness professions as well as scholarship and industry. Early on, that was because mindfulness kind of promises the world. Now that we’ve been talking about it for a while, however, a lot of serious research has gone into it.
While some claims made by mindfulness promoters and practitioners still merit investigation, scientists are coming to a consensus that many of the claimed benefits are real.
Among the benefits promised by Mindfulness promoters and practitioners is cognition – the ability to learn, think, and solve problems. A lot of research has gone into how mindfulness meditation improves cognitive cognition, with only some of those studies discussed here.
One of the ways that mindfulness meditation increases cognition that is easiest to understand has to do with how we approach decisions. A 2009 study that found that just four brief sessions of mindfulness medication could increase cognition was predicated on this idea.
Having some stress can actually be a good thing, as it helps us to make decisions more quickly. It doesn’t necessarily help us to make better decisions, however. Mindfulness mediation is based on the idea of monitoring your thoughts, breath, and other functions in a non-judgmental way.
This may develop a habit to look at things as they are rather than as we feel they should be, which in turn can help us to work with facts rather than react to emotion.
Stress doesn’t just make our minds race, it can prevent them from holding onto information. This results in a decline in what scientists call “working memory.”
A 2010 study found that stressed people who meditate have better working memories than those who don’t. The authors of the study suggested that mindfulness meditation had this effect because it helps practitioners to mitigate the stress response. In other words, meditation helped them to be less stressed, which helped them hold onto information efficiently.
Improving Attention Span
A similar approach has to do with our abilities not to look at information objectively but also to absorb sufficient information. A 2015 study found that seasoned meditators have longer attention spans than those who haven’t been practicing meditation for very long. This is likely at least partly because meditation involves both focusing when there is nothing to focus on and learning to understand and discipline your mind.
You may think that your attention span is long enough. You may be right, but you may be one of many people who have an incomplete view of how attention works.
Many of us think that we are either doing about our business attentively or chasing butterflies or something. The truth is that you can be sort of “going through the motions” long after your brain has started to check out. Your ability to sit at your desk or stand at your post for long periods of time might not mean that you have an attention span that is as long or as strong as it could be.
Making the Brain More Efficient
If you do have problems with your attention span, don’t blame yourself. In some ways, attention span is definitely related to discipline. In other ways, however, attention span is a biological function that can be difficult to develop it.
While mindfulness meditation can help to develop the habit of attention – as discussed above – it can also help to develop the biological factors that influence attention.
According to one study conducted in 2012, people who meditate regularly have brains that don’t need to work as hard to get things done.
Your brain isn’t a muscle but, in some ways, it works like one. We don’t usually think of it this way, but our brains require resources to function and they have to put in an effort – sort of like muscles.
When we tone our muscles, we develop endurance – a measure of how our bodies are able to perform a task. Meditation, according to this study, helps to tone our brains – if you will – so that they can do their jobs for longer periods without exhausting their resources.
Some of the ways that meditation have been found to help cognition have to do with helping us to understand and train our brains.
This allows us to do things like pay attention longer, retain information longer, and approach obstacles more productively.
It also helps to change the ways in which our brains function on a neurological level giving us better abilities to focus and recall.