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From Know How to: Know Why!

Meditation and the ability to focus

Stories

Schön, dass Sie hier sind. Viel Freude!

Meditation and the ability to focus

Andreas Dittrich

MEDITATION, MINDFULNESS
In the last article we want to have a look at the effect of meditation on our ability to focus. In today’s times of VUCA it is an essential skill to not get distracted by side issues but to keep our attention on the core problem or situation. This is especially true for our performance at business tasks. In private life, focusing helps us to control impulsive reactions, emotions and by that to achieve our long-term goals - which might not always be obvious at the moment.

Scientists found out that human attention is a trainable skill. The comparison of several works of literature on the effect of meditation on human attention showed that some meditation techniques are an applicable training form.[1] It was proved that meditation improves the multitasking-abilities and thereby simplifies the concentration of people. If we can concentrate on, for example, our breath for twenty minutes, how easy it will be to concentrate on work, a conversation partner or a sports exercise.

Another very interesting study investigated the effect of mindfulness meditation on a group of people whose lives depend on their ability to remain calm in stressful circumstances – the military.[2] Two groups were observed over a period of eight weeks – one group practiced daily meditation for more than ten minutes, the other did not meditate at all. The experiment took place in a stressful time for the soldiers – just before service in Iraq. The results showed obviously that the militaries who were meditators showed a far better memory capacity in stressful environments than the other group.

And finally, we would like to present some evidence for all of you who have to make decisions and absolve tasks every day under strict time restraints. An US study compared the performance on cognitive tasks of a group of people who meditated twenty minutes a day for the period of four days compared to a control group of non-meditators.[3] The mindfulness practitioners performed far more well on tasks with time constraints that “required sustained attention and executive processing efficiency”. The neuroscientists suggested some possible explanations as well. The first one is that meditation reduces “fatigue and anxiety ratings”.[4] As described in the first article, meditation has a soothing impact on anxiety problems. Anxiety again is critical when it comes to process information under stress. The second reason might be the fact that meditation training helps people to stay focused and to “notice [even] subtle distractions”.[5] People who practice mindfulness meditation learn to bring their attention back to the main problem but at the same time they do have a feeling for additional information. If you are a journalist who has to write a lot of articles in a very short period of time you might consider to start meditating, like, now.

Decision making is something everyone of us is confronted every single day. Whether it is business or private life, people are making round about 20.000 decisions a day. One of the most prestigious business schools, INSEAD, proved in a research that mindfulness meditation is analogous to better decisions.[6] When people face decisions, they often wrongly take the resources they already invested in the subjects, like money, time, effort, into consideration. In economic terms these investments are called “sunk costs”. No matter how you decide, the costs are already gone and won’t come back – in spiritual terms: the past is gone and you cannot change it. In collaboration with other institutes, INSEAD has discovered that “a brief period of mindfulness meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment, while ignoring some of the other concerns that typically exacerbate the ‘sunk cost bias’ ”.[7] Another reported effect was that mindfulness meditation reduced the negative emotions when facing complex decisions – which allowed the people to concentrate on the information available now, ignoring the bygone past and unknown future.

In my opinion, hidden here lies another important aspect – especially for companies which are thinking about meditation and mindfulness programs for their employees: Meditation and statistics or data are not necessarily a contradiction. As shown above, meditation supports people in assessing the given information by steering the focus on relevant and latest data. A business skill any leader should possess.

The ability to focus is an asset that is helpful in working as well as in private life. Paying attention, concentration and calmness are attributes that help us make better decisions and strengthen our performance. But above all, they make us more sensitive in the intercourse with other people. And that is something which is worth every single minute of meditation.

CREDITS: IntuitionMinds Research Team

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[1] MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P. Jacobs, T. L. and Saron C. D.: Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science, 21, 6. 829 – 839.

[2] Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L. and Gelfand, L.: Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10, 1. 54-64.

[3] Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K:, Diamond, B. J., David, Z. and Goolkasian, P.: Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 2. 597-605.

[4] See above

[5] See above

[6] Press release. Retrieved from: https://www.insead.edu/media_relations/press_release/2014_insead_wharton_meditation.cfm (2014)

[7] See above