What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to one thing at a time, to be present in one moment at a time. This might be feeling the sun’s warmth on your face when walking, smelling the freshly grounded coffee, hearing birds singing in a city full of noise. How often do you experience those things? To experience the above sensations, you need to pay attention to them.

However, in the modern world, we often rush around without paying attention to what’s going on at that moment but instead thinking ahead about our “to do” list while already performing three tasks at the same time. We are bombarded by a lot of information, stress about how much there is to do, and are anxious about making mistakes. It’s hard to decide on what we should do first, so we do it all. This is multitasking. Multitasking is paying attention to multiple tasks at the same time. Sounds familiar? Yes, we all do it.

How is mindfulness vital for learning and performance? As students and teachers working in an online environment, we are faced with multiple screens, including assignments, news, discussions, blogs, emails, etc. Can we pay attention to all of these tasks at the same time? The answer is NO.

Professor Clifford Nass researched multitasking using digital devices. In this video, he explains how multitasking affects the way we think and gives some statistics on multitasking students from Stanford University.

We write an email while having a conversation with someone on the phone while drinking a cup of coffee at the same time. Then you wonder why your cup of coffee is empty because you didn’t even notice that you drank it. All of these tasks require us to switch our attention all the time. This increases stress and reduces performance. We not only miss information while multitasking but also get exhausted!

How do we maintain attention to one task? Mindfulness teaches the skill of paying attention to one particular thing at the time. This doesn’t mean that we should not be aware of other jobs on our “to do” list. We are just not paying attention to all of them at the same time; we are just letting them be there while maintaining focus on the one task that is relevant to us at that time, like writing an essay for example.

Mindfully working on one task (writing an essay) reduces the pressure and gets the task done effectively. Not only that, you will feel the sense of achievement when the work is complete. Then you can move on to the next step. Mindful learning is a practical and calmer way of learning. Effective attention switching is a skill which teaches you to achieve more results in a focused way. Be mindful of what you are doing right now at this moment.

Your brain can be trained to sustain attention through meditation practice, to focus your attention on your breathing, or just by bringing your attention to the present moment and focusing on the current task. Mindfulness improves concentration, working memory and reduces stress.

If you would like to try to focus your attention on one moment, here is a link to the “Three Minutes Breathing Space” from Mark Williams, the founder of Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

This post was inspired by Nina Rose.