Train your brain for study using mindfulness
There's been a lot of talk about mindfulness and meditation, but does it work and can it help you study better?
Have you ever caught yourself worrying that you won't get your assessment in by the due date? Or realised you've been sidetracked by your Instagram feed instead of listening to the conversation you're supposed to be having? It's something we can all relate to and, according to research, mindfulness can help.
What's on your mind?
It seems our brains are always racing. We've got to check our social media, make plans, remember those plans, get our homework done and show up to that appointment on Friday. We worry about arguments with friends, mistakes we've made, and don't even get me started on the stress of what's going to happen in the future.
Often it feels like you have no control. One minute you're sitting down to start an assessment and before you know it, your mind has wandered - you've wasted 10 minutes thinking about that time in Year 3 when Ben stole your lunch. And you didn't even realise you were thinking about it.
"Suffering is when you spend all your life in the past or in the future."
- Professor Brin Grenyer
Being mindful is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, instead of getting caught up thinking about the past or the future.
According to former head of psychology at UOW, Emeritus Professor Bill Lovegrove AO, it can be incredibly powerful.
"Most stress is caused by the mind imagining what may happen in the future rather than what actually happens now or concentrating on what has happened. There is a power in the now," he says.
Never skip brain day
So, is there any substance to mindfulness or is it just a big fad?
"There is strong research evidence that mindfulness makes students more resilient."
- Professor Lovegrove
The research behind mindfulness is explained in easy terms by not-for-profit organisation, Smiling Mind. They say that just as your nose smells, and your ears hear - your mind thinks. And it turns out that your brain is quite similar to other muscles in your body. You can train it.
The more we worry, the better we become at worrying.
- Smiling Mind
However, the more we're calm, clear and focused, the better we become at those things too.
Smiling Mind says by practising mindfulness meditation, we're strengthening the mindfulness muscle in our brain. This is called neuroplasticity and means we can re-wire or change our own brains, so we can work and study better, and increase our wellbeing.
While we will all still experience negative feelings from time-to-time, the research shows we recover much quicker.
Smiling Mind's video below this article shows how this works, and they've also created a free program to get you started.
Research shows that focusing on the present moment allows us to become aware and accepting of everyday life, and allows us to perform better in our studies.
- Smiling Mind
Are you paying attention?
There are a number of ways to practise mindfulness, but broadly speaking there are two overarching types:
Formal practice is where you take dedicated time out to do some mindfulness meditation focusing on one thing at a time. This can help train your brain and practising this skill can lead to a range of benefits from sleeping better to feeling less stressed. Incidental practice is where you pay attention during everyday activities.
Dr Judy Pickard, who runs a mindfulness workshop for clinical psychology students at UOW, says the two are as important as each other.
"What is as important as the formal practice is the incidental practice - when you're eating food, when you're walking down the street, when you're watching the clouds.
"It increases your enjoyment, it helps you to be most effective and to regulate your emotions," says Dr Judy Pickard.
Professor Brin Greyner has used mindfulness through his work in prisons, with drug and alcohol services, and with those suffering major depression. Photo: Paul Jones
The power of the mind
Once dismissed by psychologists, mindfulness is now a powerful tool used in psychology to improve the lives of everyone, including mentally ill patients and people with personality disorders.
After working in prisons, with drug and alcohol services, and with those suffering major depression, Professor Brin Grenyer, the program leader of Project Air at UOW's School of Psychology has seen this unfold firsthand.
"People with mental health problems are often highly preoccupied with things in the past that are not right or with events that have not yet happened. Suffering is when you spend all your time in the past or in the future," he says.
So maybe it's time we all stopped for a second. Let go of the worries of yesterday and thoughts of tomorrow. Put down your phone and appreciate what is happening right now. Just five minutes a day can help you train your brain, so you can focus, better handle what life throws at you and generally feel happier.