Do you need to complete 10,000 hours of practice or read for hours every day to get smarter? If you have the time, it certainly couldn't hurt. But if your schedule is a little cramped, new research suggests you can improve your cognitive function in just 10 minutes. All you need to do is sit down for a little mindfulness meditation.
Ten minutes to a better brain
If you're the type of person who keeps on top of the latest productivity advice, you've no doubt heard that meditation is good for your brain. Tons of high achievers swear by the practice, which science shows can increase focus, reduce stress, and even improve your physical health. But sitting every day for long periods of meditation can sound daunting to beginners. How much meditation do you need to do before you see benefits?
Several studies have previously delved into this question. But recently Yale's Hedy Kober together with Swarthmore psychologist Catherine Norris took a slightly different tack in investigating this question. The researchers asked a group of college students, before completing tests of mental function, to either listen to a 10-minute guided meditation or listen to a control recording discussing sequoia trees.
Both options might strike the newbie as pretty boring, but only one of the options produced notable effects. Those who engaged in mindfulness meditation saw a significant jump in their cognitive performance. In other words, simply listening to a quick meditation seems to make people instantly smarter. (Those looking for more technical details on the research can check out this in-depth Big Think piece.)
While this seems like incredibly useful information for stressed-out test takers, job candidates, and presenters wondering what to do with the anxious 10 minutes before show time (research-backed answer: try the likes of Headspace), the researchers note that one group should probably keep their expectations low -- the very neurotic.
For whatever reason, a brief session of mindfulness doesn't seem to help these folks as much. "Those who scored highest in measurements of neuroticism -- 'I worry all the time' -- did not benefit from listening to the meditation tape," reports Yale News. So, sadly, if Woody Allen is your spirit animal, these results might not apply to you.
How to get started
For everyone else, though, these are probably some of the easiest research findings around to put into practice. Plus, if you're a newbie looking to get started, there is a ton of advice out there, from tips on the different types of meditation for beginners, to stealth meditations to do anywhere anytime, to tips on overcoming common hurdles if you've tried to start a mediation practice before and failed.
It's easier to get started than you probably think. And, even better, meditation will probably provide benefits faster than you expect.