Research at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education shows that formal compassion training increases both mental focus and caring behavior.
The practice of compassion meditation may be a powerful antidote to a drifting mind, new Stanford research shows.
Compassion meditation focuses on benevolent thoughts toward oneself and others, as the researchers noted. It is different in this aspect than most forms of meditation in the sense that participants are “guided” toward compassionate thoughts.
The research article, “A Wandering Mind is a Less Caring Mind,” was recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
“This is the first report that demonstrates that formal compassion training decreases the tendency for the mind to wander, while increasing caring behavior not only towards others but towards oneself,” said James Doty, a co-author on the study, Stanford neurosurgeon and the founder and director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
“Mind-wandering” is the experience of having your thoughts not remain on a single topic for long. Prior research suggests that people spend as much as 50 percent of their waking hours in mind-wandering, often without realizing it.
Doty said that mindfulness is extremely useful in today’s world with its myriad of distractions, as humans are often overwhelmed and can find it difficult to attend to necessary tasks.
“By closing one’s eyes and engaging in attention training through a mindfulness practice, not only does it diminish the negative physiologic effects of distraction, which can result in anxiety and fear, but it can increase one’s ability to attend to important tasks and not have an emotional response to the often negative dialogue which is frequent in many individuals,” he said.