Mindfulness Practice Quality not Quantity Predicts Psychological Improvement
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Ultimately, engaging in mindfulness meditation cultivates our ability to both focus and broaden our attention, which is a practical way to elicit psychological well-being.” – Jennifer Wolkin
Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits. With impacts so great it is important to know how to measure and optimize the development of mindfulness.
There is a vast array of techniques for the development of mindfulness. They include a variety of forms of meditation, yoga, mindful movements, contemplative prayer, and combinations of practices. Some are recommended to be practiced for years while others are employed for only a few weeks. Regardless of the technique, they all appear to develop and increase mindfulness. One particularly effective mindfulness training program is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The MBSR program consists of 8 weekly group sessions involving meditation, yoga, body scan, and discussion. The patients are also encouraged to perform daily practice. It is unclear, however, exactly whether it is the quantity or the quality of practice that is essential to producing maximum benefits.
In today’s Research News article “The secret ingredient in mindfulness interventions? A case for practice quality over quantity.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6333205/ ), Goldberg and colleagues recruited adults for a “Quit Smoking Trial” and had them participate in an 8 week, once a week for 1.5 hours, mindfulness training program based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program but targeting smoking cessation. They also practiced at home for 30 minutes per day. In addition, for the first 4 weeks they also received nicotine patches. They were measured before and after the program and 5 months later for smoking, mindfulness, psychological functioning, emotion regulation, negative emotions, and quality of life. At each of the 8 practice sessions the participants also reported on the amount of time they practiced during the week and quality of these practices. The measure of practice quality was “composed of two dimensions: perseverance (e.g., “During practice, I attempted to return to my present-moment experience, whether unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral”) and receptivity (e.g., “During practice I was actively avoiding or ‘pushing away’ certain experiences”).”
They found that after treatment there was a significant relationship between practice time and the change in practice quality and the psychological functioning of the individuals with small to moderate effect sizes. In particular, the greater the amount of time spent practicing and also the greater the change in the quality of practice, the greater the improvement in psychological function in the participants. At the 5-month follow-up, however, only the change in quality of practice was associated with improved psychological function. Neither the amount of time spent practicing or the quality of practice was associated with smoking cessation at the end of treatment or 5 months later.
These results are interesting and suggest the importance of quality of practice in influencing the effectiveness of mindfulness practice on the psychological function of the individual. The quality measure components of perseverance and receptivity reflect exactly what is taught in mindfulness training where the meditator is asked to return to mindfulness whenever they detect mind wandering and to simply let things be as they are without attempts to change or control them. How well these skills are mastered, as evidenced by their change over the 8 weeks of training appears to be very important for maintaining the benefits.
This is an unusual study as most research on mindfulness training do not measure either amount or quality of the trained practice, while only a few, monitor the amount of time spent practicing. The current study underlines the importance of measuring quality. It appears to be important for assessing benefits but also may be used to examine practice methods that maximize the quality and quantity of practice and their importance for their benefits.
“Mindfulness is an important part of mental wellbeing; it can help us take stock of the fast-paced world around us and understand our emotions and feelings better. Practising mindfulness regularly can help reduce stress and improve mood; it can also help people to become more emotionally alert, to listen more attentively, communicate more clearly, and can increase self-awareness and the awareness of others.” – Fit for Work
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Goldberg, S. B., Del Re, A. C., Hoyt, W. T., & Davis, J. M. (2014). The secret ingredient in mindfulness interventions? A case for practice quality over quantity. Journal of counseling psychology, 61(3), 491-7.
As mindfulness-based interventions become increasingly widespread, interest has grown in better understanding which features of these treatments produce beneficial effects. The present study examined the relative contribution of mindfulness practice time and practice quality in predicting psychological functioning (negative affect, emotion regulation, quality of life, mindfulness). Data were drawn from a randomized clinical trial of mindfulness training for smokers and assessed outcomes at posttreatment (n = 43) and 5-month follow-up (n = 38). The intervention included instruction in mindfulness techniques targeted to smoking cessation and relapse prevention and was composed of 10 group meetings over 8 weeks. Data from 8 treatment groups were used. Mindfulness practice quality was measured weekly over the course of treatment, and multilevel modeling was used to estimate trajectories of change in practice quality. The measure of practice quality was shown to be valid and reliable, with change in practice quality predicting change in psychological functioning at both posttreatment (β= .31, 95% CI =[0.04, 0.56], p = .022) and follow-up (β= .45 [0.16, 0.73], p = .002), even when controlling for practice time. Practice time predicted outcomes at posttreatment (β= .31 [0.05, 0.57], p = .019) but not at follow-up (β= .16 [[H11002]0.14, 0.47], p = .293). Neither practice time nor change in practice quality predicted smoking abstinence at 1 month or 6 months postquit. Results support the importance of practice quality as a relevant aspect of mindfulness interventions.