In today’s information-savvy age, we are increasingly busy and are often being interrupted by notifications, pop-up events, running into friends, an unexpected phone call and many other surprises. These constant interruptions can cause unwanted multitasking, and a study done in 2012 by 4 American academics gives insight into how mindfulness meditation might just make it easier to focus on one thing at a time.
Multitasking- why it’s holding you back
Imagine you’re at the gym trying to finish your last set of box jumps but you just can’t ignore that flashing light on the corner of your phone that surely means your latest exam result has been published, not to mention your earbuds playing your favorite podcast and the gym television screens showing the latest fitness infomercial all at once. By being exposed to so many different attention-grabbing medias, you might find yourself less able to focus on your WOD.
Indeed, multitasking has been shown to compromise learning and attention in a variety of settings. There is also concern with multitasking’s effect on personal health and effectiveness. With the action-packed lives we lead, we often forget that human attention is a limited resource and must be trained just like your body in order to perform at its best.
What the researchers tried
The researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Arizona gave groups of people stressful office tasks to complete before and after exposure to either an 8-week mindfulness meditation program, an 8-week body relaxation program, or an 8-week waiting period (this group did not receive any training in the first 8 weeks). They found that the individuals exposed to mindfulness training were able to stay on task longer and made fewer switches between tasks, meaning that they were not necessarily affected by the interruptions presented to them. They also reported less negative emotion after completing the office tasks compared to the other two groups of people.
The muscle relaxation training involved physical stimulation and relaxation through tensing and relaxing major muscle groups, accompanied by relaxing imagery and instructions. Both this group and the meditation group showed improved memory about the office tasks after their trainings compared to before.
It appears that mindfulness meditation might be able to help us busy bees to manage the many different tasks and focuses we try to balance on a daily basis. Here’s more about the type of mindfulness training the experiment participants underwent and how you might apply it to your life:
Mindfulness- how it can help
The training received by the mindfulness participants consisted of two types of meditation:
- Focused Attention meditation: this type of mindfulness meditation is focused on the breath. This method encourages you to retain focus on the “in” and “out” pattern of your breathing and to return your focus to your breath once you notice that your mind has wandered elsewhere (boys, holidays, work…).
- This type of meditation strengthens your ability to stay focused.
- Open Monitoring meditation: this mindfulness technique entails you allowing whatever catches your attention (sounds, smells, physical sensations) to come into your awareness and then to fluidly release your attention on this subject. This practices switching your object of focus from one sensation to the next in a natural way.
- This type of meditation improves your ability to attend to a succession of stimuli or interruptions of sorts without being overly drawn in by any one of them.
What Fit Girls can do about it
One major skill that mindfulness practice facilitates is the ability to notice any interruptions that may arise without kissing your current task goodbye- this means that you have a choice whether you want to switch your focus to the new task or remain with your current one without getting totally distracted in the process. The truth is that most of us don’t even acknowledge the many interruptions we are faced with as distractions and end up succumbing to them without thinking. Consider how much more productive your work day or study session might be if you were able to disregard the frequent flashes on your phone or your neighbor’s conversation. By practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes every day you might be able to conquer your tasks that you consider stressful by focusing on one thing at a time.
Another interesting result from this study is that those who underwent the mindfulness training experienced less negative moods and fatigue after completing the same task as the other groups. Overall, the individuals who were trained in meditation saw many more results with regard to multitasking than those who received the physical relaxation training.
Just as in order to become physically stronger you need to clock in the hours at the gym, being a strong and efficient multitasker requires training your mind regularly. Mindfulness is a great way of accomplishing this and can bring benefits to many aspects of your life. I personally really love Headspace, an app available for Apple and Android; the free trial includes ten 10-minute introductory guided mindfulness meditation sessions that are very accessible for beginners and advanced meditators alike.
Take care of your mind the same way we Fit Girls love to take care of our bodies, and you may just see some incredible results in your productivity, stress, and overall mood. While multitasking is sometimes inevitable, try to remain focused on one thing at a time and you might find that each task is not so mundane after all.
source: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment (Levy et al., 2012)
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