If you’ve ever struggled to keep your mind from wandering during an important test or another task that requires laser-like focus, researchers say a little meditation could help you concentrate.
Mindfulness training, which teaches how to center one’s thoughts on the present moment, improved both GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity in a group of college students, according to the results of a new study.
“Despite the wide recognition that mind wandering is a pervasive and often disruptive influence in our lives, almost no research has established effective strategies for reducing mind wandering,” Michael Mrazek, a graduate student researcher in psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in a statement. “We set out to find ways to reduce mind wandering and thereby improve performance within educational contexts.”
Mrazek and his colleagues recruited 48 college students and assigned half to a mindfulness class and half to a nutrition class as a control. The classes met for 45 minutes four times a week for two weeks. While the students in the nutrition class learned about strategies for healthy eating, students in the mindfulness class learned how to clear distracting thoughts out of their head. In some of their meditation exercises, they sat on cushions in a circle, legs crossed and gaze lowered, focusing their attention on a sensory experience, like their own breathing, the taste of a piece of fruit, or the sound of an audio recording, allowing the mind to rest naturally instead of actively trying to suppress thoughts that may pop up.