A new study from the University of Waterloo says that just 10 minutes of mindful meditation can help prevent the mind from wandering, and is particularly effective for those who tend to have repetitive and anxious thoughts.
The study defines mindfulness as deliberately paying attention, or paying attention on purpose, and being in the present moment. The analysis studied the impact of meditation on 82 participants who admittedly experience anxiety, and found that developing an awareness of the present moment helped reduce incidents of repetitive, off-task thinking. “Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals,” says Mengran Xu, a researcher at Waterloo. “We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.”
Participants of the study were asked to perform a task on a computer while experiencing interruptions, to gauge their ability to stay focused on the task. Once that baseline was determined, researchers split the participants into two random groups and gave the participants an audio story to listen to. One of the groups then participated in a short meditation exercise to determine if that helped them focus better than the other group.
According to Xu, mind wandering accounts for almost half of a person’s daily stream of consciousness, making repetitive, anxious thoughts affect the ability to learn and complete tasks, or even function safely.
The study, which was co-authored by Waterloo psychology professors Christine Purdon and Daniel Smilek, as well as Harvard University’s Paul Seli, was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.