“Mind over matter”. What is at the base of this well-known quote most pioneers of great success have been holding dearly since the 19th century, when it was first published? It all starts in our mind – the way we see life, interpret events and find solutions or responses to the outside world. We could say that the mind is our lens through which our inner world perceives the outer world. The clearer the lens the sharper the perception.
What is mindfulness meditation ?
The practice of mindfulness starts with the refection of its definition:
‘Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment – non-judgmentally (or in other words) being aware of what you are doing, while you are doing it’[i]
Jon-Kabat Zin, (MBSR founder)
What does this mean when thinking about our mind as a lens? How can our mind be clearer, more present and fuller with experience?
Changing our relationship to distractions
Distractions can come in many forms. They may be a biological response to a situation, as the increased heart-rate while facing stressful events and the urge to flight or fight; it can be driver rage caused by heavy traffic, or simply cycles of interpreting thoughts of ‘what could happen’.
States of mindfulness happen when we have the ability to become aware of such distractions, let them pass and focus on the experience happening in the present moment.
We hear talk about being ‘present’ and ‘the here and now’ more often, and the word Mindfulness is no stranger to most people’s ears today. It’s an exciting time to find ourselves in an age where successful CEOs practice mindfulness and acknowledge it’s benefits[ii]. Let’s see a bit what all this fuss is really about.
Our brain on mindfulness
Thanks to the latest developments in brain imaging methods, science shows us links between meditation practices and: decreased levels of stress and anxiety [iii].
More importantly, a ground-breaking study by Dr. Sara Lazar [iv] shows us that meditation creates thickness of our prefrontal cortex also known as the modern brain – the part of our brain that separates us from animals. The modern brain gives us the ability to understand complex concepts, focus in stressful and emotional situations, be self-aware, moral and intuitive.
Moreover, incredible news came in 2016 when a group of researchers found that it only takes 8 weeks of practice to create brain changes similar to long term meditators[v].
Benefits of mindfulness on daily life and performance
Increased ability to focus – a stronger prefrontal cortex gives you more control over thoughts, reducing mind-wandering and distractions [vi]
Better decision-making – thanks to a study from the University of Pennsylvania we now understand that mindfulness increases your ability to stay objective and make decisions without being influenced by fears or mind scenarios[vii].
Stress and pain relief – Probably one of the most advertised we now know that meditation training programs help reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress [viii] as well as our perception and reaction to pain[ix].
Better relationships – Meditation has been found to increase our empathy and compassion levels, making us more motivated to offer help and collaborate with others [x].
Happiness – Same as the old story of the two wolves; one representing happiness, the other sadness – and the one you feed is the one that will grow. Same goes with positive emotions and thoughts in our perceptions. The emotions we give most attention to, are the emotions that will grow. Studies on neuroplasticity shows us that the more you think in a certain way, the more you wire new connections in your brain[xi] – making us able to redesign our brain.
‘Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance’
— Eckhart Tolle
So, how do you imagine your life to be if you started working on the most important project there is – your mind?
[iii] Jerath, R., Barnes, V. A., & Crawford, M. W. (2014). Mind-body response and neurophysiological changes during stress and meditation: central role of homeostasis. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents, 28(4), 545-554.
[iv] Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … & Rauch, S. L. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893.
[v] Gotink, R. A., Meijboom, R., Vernooij, M. W., Smits, M., & Hunink, M. M. (2016). 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice–a systematic review. Brain and cognition, 108, 32-41.
[vi] 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.
[vii] 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.
[viii] Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., … & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA internal medicine, 174(3), 357-368.
[ix] Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., … & Maglione, M. A. (2016). Meditation (mindfulness) for chronic pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199-213.
[x] Slutsky, J., Rahl, H., Lindsay, E. K., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness, emotion regulation, and social threat. In Mindfulness in social psychology (pp. 79-93). Routledge.
[xi] Hanson, R. (2017). Positive Neuroplasticity: The Neuroscience of Mindfulness. In Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy (pp. 48-60). Routledge.