Ever had someone tell you to meditate to reduce stress? Ever felt you couldnt? I've heard so many people say, "I just can't meditate." And there are times when I have trouble meditating too. Well, last night I heard a lecture from a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychologist that cited a cool study validated in both US and Europe.
The study was designed to test whether certain activities could actually refresh attention and improve distractibility for students at the University of Michigan before they took on tasks requiring intense focus.
As a job seeker, you know all about stress and the need to be fully attentive! For instance, you need to be all "on" when you are reaching out to others in your networking process, planning out your job search strategy, customizing your resume to a position, and, most challenging of all, having to be highly mentally focused in meeting and interview situations.
The UMichigan test had students accomplish a mentally tiring task. Then the researchers split them into two groups. One half walked around the downtown area. The other half walked in a nearby arboretum.
When re-tested, the arboretum walkers improved 20% (!) on a test of attention and memory given pre- and post-walk. The students who walked through the busy town center didn't improve at all.
The conclusion from this and other studies is that attention can be restored through activities that enable the mind to unfocus for a while. The best places to do this have been natural settings like woods, churches, and monasteries. Looking at paintings at the art museum, even going to your favorite Starbucks or coffee bar have been shown to accomplish the same result.
So, if you are spending a good proportion of your time highly focused on your job search, take some daily restoration time doing one of the activities above. And, before an interview, take a walk in the woods. You will go into the meeting with improved focus and abililty to leverage "directed, selective, and focused" attention. (It may also help you before holiday family dinners as well, particularly if you have siblings who push your buttons!)