Students, like everyone else, face the modern challenge of attention deficit1. With each new digital distraction, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the right things. Students also experience the pressure of exam stress, performance competition, anxiety about their potential future opportunities, and so on. With these issues in mind, there are many benefits of mindfulness for students who decide to take up the practice.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your full awareness of the present rather than thinking about the past or the future. It’s about living in the moment without judgment. Some people practice mindfulness for a few minutes a day, while others practice it as a lifestyle. For example, you could practice mindful eating; paying attention to what is on your plate, feeling gratitude for it, savouring each bite, while also noticing how your body reacts to the food on your plate.
The practice of mindfulness takes some weight off your awareness while helping you to focus on what is important. As a student, there are numerous advantages to be had when practicing mindfulness regularly. Here are some of the benefits you may come to experience.
Throughout its history, mindfulness has shown itself as a proven method for managing stress and anxiety. Both of these conditions are developed through internal and external pressure. Internal pressure includes self-criticism, self-doubt, worries about your capabilities, and so on. It could also be a symptom of another development, e.g a student with a health condition may feel anxiety about their future wellbeing.
External pressure could be parental influence, workload or pressure from peers. By practicing mindfulness, you permit yourself to acknowledge pressure without dwelling on it. Instead of feeling stressed and anxious about the past or future, you can focus on the life you want to live for each day. This extends to your education. By assessing 125 students during exam time, researchers discovered that mindfulness exercises were effective in reducing stress and anxiety7.
In many ways, paying attention is an allocation of resources. There’s only so much that we can actively focus on at once. Recent research by psychologists shows that meditation, a mindfulness practice, is effective in improving the allocation of the resource known as attention3.
Even complete novices, in the art of meditation, were able to see improvement with 10-minute sessions. If you struggle with keeping your focus on lectures, assignments, or study materials for a significant amount of time, taking up mindfulness practices can be helpful for improvement.
Mindfulness has shown to improve cognitive performance when responding to time-sensitive tasks. One study showed that students who are allowed meditation periods during tests show better scores . These results could be achieved because mindfulness improves learning effectiveness, attention, and memory in students. In another study, Taiwanese students were taken through a one-semester mindfulness meditation course. The students showed significant improvement in overall performance suggesting some benefits to this practice for students4.
Young students learn most of what they know about social interactions and emotional management in the school environment. Some students learn to display more empathy and emotional understanding earlier than others. Some others become more susceptible to negative peer pressure or emotional manipulation.
Mindfulness is one of the proven methods which can be used to improve emotional intelligence (EI) in young students6. A good level of the EI trait has been linked to individual competence for mindfulness. By learning basic mindfulness practices, students can improve awareness of their emotions and of the people around them. It will also help them handle challenges better and improve their empathy towards others.
Mindfulness and perfectionism cannot co-exist in the same moment of awareness. The practice of mindfulness means regarding everything around you, including yourself, without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, students who focus obsessively on perfect grades can come to see the benefits of taking risks and making mistakes. They may also effectively reduce the emotional pressure on themselves to be correct at all times. The learning process should be experienced and enjoyed, and more students can benefit from this realization.
Mindfulness is scientifically proven as beneficial for the memory. Let’s start by looking at the most obvious reason why mindfulness improves memory. When you actively listen during lessons, pay better attention to the present, train your awareness to stay focused on the ‘now’, and other mindful practices, you take in better-structured information. It becomes easier to remember what your professor said in the last class because you were actively listening. Your study notes wouldn’t seem like a stranger’s scribble anymore because you mindfully penned down each word.
A recent study showed that people who mindfully pay attention to relevant information2 (e.g. your professor teaching in class), retain new, related information better (e.g. a textbook chapter on the same topic. By simply listening or reading mindfully, you can improve your academic performance without adding more hours to your current study plan.
In order to realise these mindfulness benefits for students there are several mindfulness practices to explore. Most of them fall under one of two sections:
To influence change in both your personal and academic lives, explore both areas of mindfulness.
Meditation is the use of a technique, such as focusing on your breath or a mantra to realign yourself physically and mentally. As you practice mindful meditation, expect to see improvements to your mental clarity, focus and attention, stress levels, ability to study for long hours, and more.
You may even begin to notice details such as the underlying taste of your coffee or that colourful store along the way on your commute home. This is because mindfulness practices help to open your senses to the small details. But as easy as meditation may seem, it could become challenging quickly. Don’t feel disappointed if you find your mind wandering every few seconds. It happens to even the most experienced.
For a productive meditation session, follow the guide below. You can start with 7-minute sessions and build up as your ‘mind muscles’ get stronger.
For the best experience, practice in the least distracting space available to you. This could be your bedroom, balcony, or a quiet park. Ensure that your preferred space is readily available to you whenever you may need it. Also, start with spaces where you will be alone. If there’s someone else in the room, you may be distracted by their movement or the awareness of being watched.
You can sit with your legs folded or stretch them out in front of you. Choose a position that feels comfortable. Make sure that your spine is straight to avoid tension. You can sit on a folded blanket or pillow to make this position easier on your back.
The aim of this practice is to rid yourself of thoughts and worries by keeping your awareness on the present. To achieve this, you need to close your eyes, pick a subject of focus, and drag your awareness back to that subject whenever it wanders. Some people choose to focus on their breath; on the feeling of the air filling up their lungs, stretching their bodies out, and then draining through the mouth and nostrils. Others will pick a mantra, e.g. peace, and focus on repeating this word through their entire practice. What is important is that you continue to bring attention back to the mantra or breath.
If you’re a meditation novice, then following a guided practice could be helpful. This is a live or recorded meditation session where an instructor tells you what to do and when to do it. These instructors usually have years of practice experience, so they know the cues you need. Their guidance may also provide the motivation you need to stick through a session or to keep practicing. There are several free and paid guided meditation sessions available online. To get started, here’s one I recommend by Yoga With Adrienne to start each day.
There will be days when your mind refuses to stay quiet long enough for a productive session. On these days, you need to remember that there are no expectations. If you need to bring your mind back to the breath or mantra one thousand times, feel free to do so. With consistent practice, this process will become easier for you to conquer.
Mindful living requires a lifestyle change. This process is all about going through your daily routines and habits with full awareness of what you are doing. With a mindful lifestyle, you are not at the mercy of small habits. Such habits include picking up your phone and scrolling, buying and eating random snacks, making a thoughtless joke, and many other things we do with little awareness.
Of course, making a full lifestyle switch in one day is not a sustainable plan. For long term benefits, start with the small sections of your life that need change right away. For example, if you struggle with bad eating habits, start paying attention to your food, the reason behind your choices, the taste of each bite, your gratitude for each meal, and other thought processes that come with your food. Remember to do all of this without judgment.
You can also see improvement in your academic life by practicing mindful listening and reading. One study even shows that students with developmental dyslexia and attention deficits showed significant reading improvement just by practicing mindfulness5.
The many benefits of mindfulness for students can help you work through daily personal and academic issues. Our consistent practice serves as a reminder that we should focus on the present, rather than the errors of the past or doubts of the future. By living mindfully, students can work to reduce stress and anxiety while making the most of each moment.
|Smith D. R. (2018). Attention, attention: your most valuable scientific assets are under attack: How digital contraptions and online accounts are contributing to academic attention deficit disorder. EMBO reports, 19(3), e45684. doi:10.15252/embr.201745684|
|Greenberg J, Romero VL, Elkin-Frankston S, Bezdek MA, Schumacher EH, Lazar SW. (2019). Reduced interference in working memory following mindfulness training is associated with increases in hippocampal volume.|
|Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 315. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315|
|Ching, Ho-Hoi & Koo, Malcolm & Tsai, Tsung-Huang & Chen, Chiu-Yuan. (2015). Effects of a Mindfulness Meditation Course on Learning and Cognitive Performance among University Students in Taiwan. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015. 1-7. 10.1155/2015/254358.|
|Tarrasch, R., Berman, Z., & Friedmann, N. (2016). Mindful reading: Mindfulness meditation helps keep readers with dyslexia and ADHD on the lexical track. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, Article 578.|
|Rodríguez-Ledo César, Orejudo Santos, Cardoso Maria Jesús, Balaguer Álvaro, Zarza-Alzugaray Javier. (2018). Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness: Relation and Enhancement in the Classroom With Adolescents. DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02162.|
|Gallego, José & Aguilar-Parra, Jose & Cangas, Adolfo & Langer, Alvaro & Mañas, Israel. (2014). Effect of a Mindfulness Program on Stress, Anxiety and Depression in University Students. The Spanish Journal of Psychology. 17. 1-6. 10.1017/sjp.2014.102.|