The Memory Game
As we all know, mindfulness practices have been receiving growing attention both in the workplace and in the media. Certainly, abundant evidence has shown the clinical and psychological benefits to mindfulness training. But what has the evidence said about improvements in performance, attention span or memory? Well, let's take a look.
In order to answer how mindfulness impacts positive functioning of the brain, Cheisa et al. (2010) took a close look at 23 studies, which examined the effect of mindfulness interventions on objective measures of attention, memory, executive functioning and general cognition. Overall, preliminary evidence is positive; suggesting that even moderately brief mindfulness interventions can improve attention, memory and executive functioning. Findings also show that mindfulness enhances working memory, and may prevent loss of working memory prior to stressful events. Take the mindfulness research in the military as an example:
In a study done in 2010, Jha et al. investigated the impact of mindfulness training on working memory in pre-deployment troops. The purpose of the study was to determine whether a mindfulness intervention might be beneficial during this difficult time. Prior studies had reported that military deployment increases the likelihood of acute and long-term psychological injury, in addition to physical harm. In fact, investigators have found that the cognitive functioning of troops decreases, while emotional disturbances increase during deployment (Stanley et al, 2009; Maguen et a, 2008).
In order to determine whether mindfulness training might have protective effects, two military cohorts were studied during their pre-deployment period. Mindfulness training, referred to as M–Fit (mindfulness-based mind fitness training), was delivered as an 8–week course to one military group, but not the other. During this time, researchers found that the working memory in the group who did not receive the M-Fit training decreased. However, those who took the M-Fit training, particularly those who practiced frequently, saw significant improvements in working memory. This improved working memory was correlated with lower levels of negative moods and affect. Overall, researchers concluded that mindfulness training might be protective, potentially providing soldiers with greater cognitive resources in highly stressful and challenging situations, including in counterinsurgency environments.
Certainly, these amazing results can be applied to other “performance under pressure” situations. It does not matter whether you are a firefighter, a paramedic on an ambulance run, or an employee facing a serious and taxing work week. We all could benefit from extra working memory and less negative affect when faced with stressful or difficult situations. Overall, the mindfulness evidence shows that in such situations our performance may well improve, but just as importantly, so will our quality of life.← Performing In The Zone The Mindful Habits of Highly Reliable Organizations →