The Wandering Mind

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A challenging task can end up being a little harder, longer and distracting than other tasks, on average. But is there a hidden reason for why challenging tasks take so long to be completed? Is the ability to concentrate and maintain focus during the duration of a challenging task the most important variable for success? That’s the suggestion from a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, who found that a two week mindfulness-training course will ultimately decrease mind wandering and improve overall cognitive performance. The results were published online in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Scientists are looking more closely at college students’ task handling skills for early signs of inhibited concentration, as low GRE reading-comprehension scores have become common for students.

So, are all college students doomed? Not necessarily.

Scientists attempted to counter this problem by providing a possible solution. The researchers began by measuring forty-eight undergraduate students who attended mindfulness training classes for forty-five minutes four times a week for two weeks. Every class consisted of fifteen minutes of mindful­ness exercises that required students’ attention to a certain aspect of sensory experience. One example was the sensations of breathing.

The purpose of the class was to provide a strate­gy that was clear cut and a cognitive understanding of how the students could clear their minds and eliminate possible distractions. The students were told to use breathing as the center of attention during meditation, each student consistently counted up to twenty-one exhalations. This allowed the students’ minds to rest naturally, instead of repeatedly trying to eliminate distracting thoughts. Afterwards, the participants were assigned to take the GRE.

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“Mindfulness training prevents the deterioration of work­ing memory capacity during periods of high stress” said Michael D. Mrazek, from the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of California.

The researchers found that the students’ use of mindfulness training elicited enhanced performance because it eliminated almost all distracting thoughts, body movements and actions. In a string of recent studies, scientists have indicated that mindfulness training will ultimately reduce activation of the brain’s default network. Greater activation occurs at rest.

Students are limiting their own potential by allowing distractions to fill their mind.  “The present demonstration that mindfulness training improves cognitive function and minimizes mind wandering sug­gests that enhanced focus may be key to unlocking skills that were, until recently, viewed as immutable’’ said Michael S. Franklin, a professor at the University of California.

In order for students to enjoy success they must first free their mind.

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