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How you can keep your mind on the job

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How you can keep your mind on the job

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There have been plenty of studies highlighting the importance of being able to focus on tasks at work.  Indeed, Daniel Goleman, he of emotional intelligence fame, wrote a book devoted to the topic.  He suggested that our mind can typically wander by as much as 40% of any time we devote to reading a piece of text.

That’s right, it’s quite likely that in the short time you’ve spent reading this post, you’ve already drifted off into various other things.  Yes, I’m on to you.

Of course, our modern workspaces are often awash with things that are craving our attention, whether it’s emails cluttering up our inboxes, the latest tweet or status update from our social networks, or even the audible din of our trendy open plan offices.

Despite the substantial evidence to support the productive advantages of being able to focus and pay attention for a sustained period of time, it is notoriously difficult to achieve.

Mindfulness training

A recent study offers up some salvation however.  It suggests that we can all learn to focus and concentrate better, and all it takes is a little bit of training.

The focus of the study was a group of undergraduates at university.  The rationale was that distractions are both notorious in such a group, but also incredibly damaging to academic performance.  Could the students train their way to improvement?

The study, which was published in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience journal, saw the group of students split into two teams.  One of the teams received mental training on enhanced focus, whilst the other (control) team received no such training.

Both groups were then tested to see both how much their minds were wandering during a task, and how they would perform on a sustained attention test.

Train to win

The training given to one team of students involved them learning both how to be aware of what was going on in their own minds, and to observe it.  In addition, they were given training on how to maintain their focus in the present and not drift off onto other things.

One of the proposed benefits of such an approach is that when we are actively being mindful, it becomes harder for us to worry about things that may already have happened, or may happen at some point in the future.

The group were given this training over a 7 week period, with each training session lasting an hour.  So, not a huge amount, but was it enough to make a difference?

The results

Well, it would appear so.  The results of the study showed that, whilst the two groups began the experiment on an equal footing, by the close, the mindful group had soared ahead, achieving much better results in the various tests completed at the end of the experiment.

“This work was the first to integrate mindfulness training into the academic semester by embedding training in students’ course schedules, hosting training in the academic building to best accommodate their schedules, and providing a supervised space for mindfulness exercises,” the researchers conclude.

Would you consider mindfulness training for your own career?

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