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Executive Function and Mindfulness

In the last two decades, neurological research on mindfulness training has made headlines. People who meditate or practice reflection on a daily basis report better concentration, confidence, and satisfaction. Likewise, mindfulness practices can help students reach their potential and improve their executive functioning skills, which is what we are all about here at SAOTG.  As students progress through high school and college, they are expected to develop executive functioning skills such as planning, time management, and organization. However, these skills sometimes do not come naturally to students and may require additional support and guidance. In this blog, we will explore how mindfulness practices can help students reach their potential and improve their executive functioning skills.

Recent research by Angela Duckworth and other researchers has demonstrated that mindfulness practices can help improve executive functioning skills in students by boosting self-awareness, concentration, and gratitude. Mindfulness helps students become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which can lead to better self-regulation and decision-making. Additionally, mindfulness practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can interfere with executive functioning skills. Let’s dive into the three main mindfulness practices that students can use to improve their EF skills.

Breathwork

One way to incorporate mindfulness practices into a student’s routine is through breathwork. This doesn’t mean that every high school student needs to become a Shaolin monk, meditating on a mountainside each day at sunrise. Rather, we can help students build mindfulness into their everyday routines. Breathwork involves focusing on one’s breath and using specific breathing techniques to help calm the mind and body. By incorporating breathwork into their daily routine, students can improve their ability to focus and concentrate, leading to better executive functioning skills.

A study published in the journal Mindfulness found that practicing breathwork for ten minutes a day for ten days improved attention and working memory in college students. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that practicing a specific type of breath work called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in college students.

Again, this doesn’t have to be a drastic change. Parents and teachers can encourage their students to incorporate breathwork into their daily routines by setting aside a specific time each day for practice. For example, students can practice breath work for five or ten minutes before starting homework or studying. Start with “box breathing”: four-second inhale, four-second hold, four-second exhale, and four-second hold. Students can also try an extended exhale, which helps relieve stress and concentrate the brain on a specific task. For more information on how breathwork affects the brain, check out this article.

Meditation

Another way to incorporate mindfulness practices is through meditation. Meditation differs from breathwork in its intention. While breathwork is a type of meditation, it is not the only kind. When meditating, students may choose to do a body scan or a gratitude meditation, which may involve focusing on the breath but doesn’t require it. Meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing on one’s breath or a specific word or phrase. By practicing meditation, students can learn to control their thoughts and emotions, which can help improve their ability to self-regulate and make better decisions. A recent study published found that just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training improved executive functioning skills, including working memory and attention, in college students. Additionally, another study published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions found that practicing mindfulness meditation for just ten minutes a day for four days reduced symptoms of anxiety and improved mood in college students.

Like breathwork, meditation doesn’t require a huge change. Rather, parents and teachers can encourage students to use meditation as a tool to improve focus and mood. For instance, parents can encourage students to turn to meditation to help re-center themselves during a busy school day. Students could also build a meditation practice around a routine that they already do such as brushing their teeth or getting books from their locker.

Pausing

Finally, pausing is another mindfulness practice that can help improve executive functioning skills. Pausing is more of a habit than a specific tool. Help students build awareness into their daily routines, which will help them master that moment between stimulus and response. Pausing involves taking a brief moment to reflect on one’s thoughts and emotions before reacting or making a decision, but it requires a cue. Students can use a sticky note or an alert on their phone to make pausing a habit.

A study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that taking a brief pause before making a decision improved decision-making ability, willpower, and creativity in the long run. The study focused on college students and used randomized daily alerts to help students increase awareness of their mood and energy levels. At five points during the day, the college students would receive the following prompt: “Analyze how you feel and how much energy you have, then ask what would be best right now, work or rest?”

Parents can encourage their students to mimic this study. The school day is more than the time spent in class. Students must develop awareness to manage the length of the modern school day. Incorporating pausing into their daily routine by reminding them to take a brief moment to reflect on their mood, energy levels, or goals can make a huge difference in the long run.

Closing Thoughts

Incorporating mindfulness practices such as breath work, meditation, and pausing can help students improve their executive functioning skills and reach their potential. By becoming more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, students can improve their ability to self-regulate and make better decisions.

If you want to learn more about how mindfulness practices can help improve executive functioning skills, see our other blog posts about how to help your student improve their executive functioning skills. If you are interested in one-on-one academic coaching for your high school or college student, contact SAOTG to learn more about our services.

Evan Weinberger

About SAOTG

Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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