Cognitive Fitness Chapter 15 – What’s on your Mind?

Our latest research has looked at factors that impact our cognitive performance – so both individuals and organisations can understand and adopt best practices – getting everyone’s brain in peak condition! Our last blog explored how scent and smell can affect your mental performance. This blog looks at the impact of cognitive memory training and mindfulness.

There are many claims that cognitive / memory training is effective in improving various aspects of the way our human brains work – i.e. our ability to remember, to make decisions, to pay attention and to do things with speed and accuracy.

Most research in this area has focused on children, older adults, or people with mild cognitive impairment – but shows that functions such as working memory capacity is plastic and that this type of training taps into this potential.

Does it help me do other things?

What is less compelling is the evidence that seeks to show that if you train one aspect of your brain (such as working memory) that this transfers to other aspects. Generally this hasn’t been proven. There is also evidence that performance in a specific training activity doesn’t transfer to other activities that require that ability, or indeed to other abilities.

However, researchers also concluded that the use of training over a period of time could result in changes to the brain structure and function and that such changes could have a generally positive effect on cognitive activities (in the same way that physical exercise can increase cardiovascular fitness).

Meditation & Mindfulness

Recent research has demonstrated that relaxation techniques such as mindfulness (a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment) could be associated with improvements in working memory and executive attention (decision making), but we aren’t sure why this is so. It could be that such techniques reduce stress and build resilience. Another theory is that these techniques involve self-regulation (your ability to maintain focus and attention) and attitude (are you essentially open to the experience) – so that if you believe the technique can/does work and you can devote sufficient effort and energy to the experience, it is felt to be effective. As a further example, people with low working memory capacities are more likely to suffer from emotionally intrusive thoughts and are less successful at suppressing emotions, so developing a more focused approach through mindfulness / meditation may be of benefit.

 

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So what can you do?

  1. If you are open to the experience of mindfulness / meditation, there are many books, courses and apps to help you find something that will work for you. A couple of examples:

    Do some research on the tools available – they aren’t for everyone and this may vary according to your own health and situation, but you may find something that suits you.

  2. These methods could be helpful if you currently experience difficulty concentrating, focusing and keeping clarity of thinking during complex, demanding tasks, and/or if you experience anxiety and stress. However, don’t think they are an alternative to addressing, for example, a particularly demanding workload – if you are overloaded it would obviously be better to tackle this at source if at all possible.
  3. Other options around cognitive training are worth exploring if you are aware that you have particular issues with specific processes, such as memory. There are tools available that will measure your cognition and offer training to improve each area. Some even respond to your own progress over time and adapt to focus on areas of weakness.
  4. Explore more generalised alternatives to relaxation – reading, painting / drawing, other absorbing hobbies or spending time with friends and family.

Give your brain a great day – pay attention to and think about all the factors and form some new habits!

Click here to read more about our cognitive performance blogs.