According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.
Mindfulness meditation gives us a time in our lives when we can suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness—to ourselves and others.
Given the stress of the past few years, more people seem to be turning to mindfulness as way to manage that stress.
Earlier this year, a synthesis of randomized controlled trials revealed that mindfulness-based interventions had small to moderate benefits for a number of health outcomes, including stress, anxiety, and depression. That said, the effects of mindfulness were smaller and less consistent when compared with those of other therapies, and some effects appeared to fade months after the intervention. Taken together, the results suggest that mindfulness-based interventions may be better than nothing for some outcomes but that more research is needed to compare mindfulness with other therapies. (Scientific American)
However, psychological research has also revealed that in some circumstances it’s important to be mindless. That is, as we develop skill in complex tasks, we can perform them with increasing facility until attention seems to be unnecessary. Everyday examples range from riding a bike to chopping cucumbers to brushing your teeth.
Underlying this state of “automaticity” (as cognitive psychologists call it) are mental processes that can be executed without paying attention to them.
Paying attention is critical when learning a new task, but paying too much attention can be harmful once you have mastered a skill. This may be why some people choke under pressure, since they may start to focus too much on the mechanics of the task at hand, similar to what mindfulness is seeking to do.
So sometimes it is better, once you have become an expert at a task, to just let your mind wander while performing such a task.
In one study, skilled golfers performed substantially worse when they focused on their swing than when they paid attention to irrelevant sounds.
In another study of golfers, participants who were encouraged to think about something else—specifically, a song they knew by heart—improved when the stakes were high, compared to a control group who were given no intervention.
I think this is relevant for students. I think many times students overstudy when prepping for a test, and then some of them choke a bit under the pressure when it is test time as a result of all that preparation.
So my takeaway is that mindfulness can help someone to become an expert at something since it forces you to focus on the details of what you are doing. Once you have then mastered that skill and it is time to perform, let your muscle memory mindlessly take over, and enjoy the moment. Doing so would seem to alleviate the pressure of performing, leading to a better outcome.
I know many readers practice mindfulness; I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this topic…
*image from Mindful.org