Training the brain through mindfulness practice is an essential part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. We work on developing a way of sorting out what is important to attend to and what needs to be left out of awareness. It’s not ignoring information, but making quick decisions about where mental energy needs to be focused.
A recent study, described in the New York Times, highlights some of the differences between athletes and non-athletes in a decision making exercise:
They didn’t move faster,’ said Art Kramer, the director of the Beckman Institute and a leader in the study of exercise and cognition, who oversaw the research. “But it looks like they thought faster.”
The author, correctly, goes on to emphasize that athletes may not be better at making quick decisions because of their athletic participation but it could be that their participation in sports and their ability to make quick decisions are related to a 3rd factor. It may also be that there is a virtuous cycle between that unnamed 3rd factor and athletics:
Of course, it’s also possible that sports didn’t make the athletes better at information processing. Instead, they may have been blessed with naturally fine processing abilities and, as a result, became accomplished athletes. “I’d guess,” Dr. Kramer said, “that to some degree it’s both.” But, he added, the athletes handled the crossings better than the nonathletes, regardless of whether their sport required exquisite timing and tactical thinking — which strongly suggests, he said, that physical training does reshape the brain.
The take-home message for all of us non-athletes is that working on mental acuity exercises and being mindful while doing activities can help improve your ability to be mindful and effective in making decisions.