So you’ve just started your meditation journey and wonder when you’ll notice the benefits everybody talks about? The good news is that mindfulness practices affect the brain immediately. You just don’t notice the changes because they’re subtle. Over time, these small improvements compound to transform you–something like the ship of Theseus.
We’ve already discussed the long-term benefits of meditation in another article. Here, we’ll look at 9 scientifically proven short-term benefits of meditation. Some of the studies listed below observed the immediate effects of a single session, while others span over a week or two.
Here’s what meditation does just within a few days:
1. Improves decision-making
We usually have trouble letting go of things, even when we know that our past decision has led to undesirable outcomes. We hold on to bad relationships and losing stocks, hoping that things will eventually get better. This behavior is driven by the sunk-cost bias. It’s when we see that things aren’t going our way, but we find it difficult to call it quits.
Research has shown that even a single 15-minute session of breath-focused meditation can improve our decision-making by reducing bias. Cultivating mindfulness of the present moment clears our mind of other thoughts, creating a resistance to the sunk-cost bias. The researchers performed three experiments, and mindfulness meditation increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias in each of them.(1)
2. Improves attention
Meditation forces you to focus the mind on your breath or a sound. Within a few moments, the mind wanders off because we have a short attention span and lack mindfulness. The act of repeatedly bringing your mind back to the breath trains it to stick to one thing.
Studies have already shown that long-term meditation improves your focus and the ability to sustain attention.(2) But practicing meditation only for four days also affects you similarly. It improves your working memory, visuospatial processing, and executive functioning. Apart from that, researchers found that mindfulness practice also enhanced the participants’ mood.(3)
3. Reduces mind-wandering
The voice in the head keeps chattering, and the mind keeps thinking about random stuff. Most of the time, we’re not even aware of it. Harvard study shows that we think about random things 47% of the time. It also claims that mind-wandering only causes unhappiness and worry.
Meditation is a wonderful tool to calm the mind and reduce its constant chatter. It teaches you to stay in the present moment and focus on what’s actually going on rather than daydreaming in your head. Only three days of brief mindfulness training reduces mind-wandering and consequently allows you to stay calmer and happier. (4)
4. Improves working memory
Your working memory is your capacity to hold information temporarily. It’s important for decision-making and reasoning. For example, being able to calculate large digits in your head would be a sign of excellent working memory capacity.
Meditation increases this capacity to manipulate and store information in your head. Since it also improves your attention and focus, meditation seems to be a terrific way to enhance cognitive function. It makes you smarter and more observant.
In a 2013 study, researchers found that a two-week mindfulness meditation course decreased mind-wandering and improved the working memory of students. Their GRE reading-comprehension scores also improved, and they had fewer distracting thoughts during the test. (5)
5. Reduces stress
You’ve probably already heard this one. Meditation combats stress and anxiety, which occur when the mind is brooding over the past or worrying about the future. Less stress directly corresponds to increased happiness and satisfaction in life.
A study conducted on 66 young, healthy individuals revealed that even 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation for three consecutive days reduces psychological stress. There are already various studies showing how mindfulness alleviates stress within a few weeks or months, and this one showed similar benefits over a shorter period. (6)
6. Eases depression and anxiety
Anxiety and depression can take place at the same time. 45% percent of people with one disorder meet the criteria for two or more mental health conditions. Half of the people with either depression or anxiety have the other condition too. (7)
A systematic review of 47 clinical trials has shown that 30-40 minutes of daily meditation can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. It has no side effects and provides as much relief as antidepressants. The benefits of meditation are more than just a placebo–they’re very real. (8)
7. Makes you more compassionate
The Buddhist loving-kindness meditation emphasizes cultivating compassion and friendliness for others. It differs from mindfulness meditation because it doesn’t require you to focus on a single thing. You start by sending love to yourself and then to your close ones, strangers, those you don’t like, and finally, the entire world. Loving-kindness meditation makes you kinder and more empathetic toward others. (9)
But mindfulness meditation also does that. A recent study assigned 326 volunteers to an online mindfulness session or control group. They were then asked to donate a portion of their payment for participation to a charity. The researchers found that the online mindfulness session increased compassion, and the meditation group donated 2.61 times more than the control group. (10)
8. Helps you quit smoking
A study observed the effects of 20 minutes of meditation for two weeks on 44 smokers. It concluded that the daily practice of mindfulness reduces craving and cigarettes smoked per day. (11)
Another study involving a brief mindfulness session suggests that meditation immediately enhances response inhibition. This means the day you begin meditating, you start to move away from cigarettes. (12)
If you’re interested in harnessing the power of meditation to stop smoking, I highly recommend you read the article on using meditation to quit smoking.
9. Improves emotion processing
Emotion processing is our ability to deal with stress or other extreme emotions. When we can’t process them, it gives rise to phobias and other mental health issues. Improved emotion processing means being able to process intense feelings and moving past them.
Research shows that short mindfulness meditation enhances our mood and emotional processing. The benefits can be seen by meditating as little as 15 minutes a day for seven consecutive days. (13)
Bonus: no side effects!
Meditation has no side effects or harmful repercussions. It costs nothing, and you can do it anywhere you want. Isn’t it enough to convince you to start meditating already?
If you’re ready to get started, you’ll find a lot of useful content on this site. I’ve written several articles explaining the basics of meditation, so you get started right away. Here are some essential guides to help you begin your practice:
- Mindfulness Meditation: Everything You Need to Know
- 10 Practical Tips to Make Meditation a Daily Habit
- What Should You Think About When Meditating?
- Meditating on the Floor vs. on a Chair — Which Is Better?
Meditation and other mindfulness practices contribute to your physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. All you need is 10-20 minutes of spare time every day. The benefits of meditation are subtle at first but accumulate overtime to bring about radical transformation.
I hope this article inspired you to start meditating. Good luck. 😊
|1.||↑||Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z., & Barsade, S. G. (2014). Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias. Psychological science, 25(2), 369–376.|
|2.||↑||Zanesco, A.P., King, B.G., MacLean, K.A. et al. Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training. J Cogn Enhanc 2, 259–275 (2018).|
|3.||↑||Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and cognition, 19(2), 597–605.|
|4.||↑||Rahl, H. A., Lindsay, E. K., Pacilio, L. E., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Brief mindfulness meditation training reduces mind wandering: The critical role of acceptance. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 17(2), 224–230.|
|5.||↑||Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Psychological science, 24(5), 776–781.|
|6.||↑||Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. K., & Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 44, 1–12.|
|7.||↑||Hirschfeld R. M. (2001). The Comorbidity of Major Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Recognition and Management in Primary Care. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 3(6), 244–254.|
|8.||↑||Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D. D., Shihab, H. M., Ranasinghe, P. D., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E. B., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine, 174(3), 357–368.|
|9.||↑||Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2013). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 23(7), 1552–1561.|
|10.||↑||Iwamoto, S.K., Alexander, M., Torres, M. et al. Mindfulness Meditation Activates Altruism. Sci Rep 10, 6511 (2020).|
|11.||↑||Ruscio, A. C., Muench, C., Brede, E., & Waters, A. J. (2016). Effect of Brief Mindfulness Practice on Self-Reported Affect, Craving, and Smoking: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial Using Ecological Momentary Assessment. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 18(1), 64–73.|
|12.||↑||Andreu, C. I., Cosmelli, D., Slagter, H. A., & Franken, I. (2018). Effects of a brief mindfulness-meditation intervention on neural measures of response inhibition in cigarette smokers. PloS one, 13(1), e0191661.|
|13.||↑||Wu, R., Liu, L. L., Zhu, H., Su, W. J., Cao, Z. Y., Zhong, S. Y., Liu, X. H., & Jiang, C. L. (2019). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Emotion Processing. Frontiers in neuroscience, 13, 1074.|