There won’t be a 6-pack in the mirror or an easily-measurable biofeedback marker, so how should you go about measuring your progress in meditation? Here are a few ways of knowing that your mind is getting fit.
Our society is suffering from a distraction crisis right now, which is really a crisis in introspection. In order to truly understand the mind, we must sit down and observe how it works.
The mechanism behind meditation’s transformative power is called self-directed neuroplasticity. You can use your mind to change the brain’s structure.
In some sense, we’re all addicts. We can become addicted to thoughts and emotions as well as behaviors. Meditation gives us a tool for beginning to reprogram this neural circuitry.
This mind-body system isn’t simple, but it can help us understand how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interrelated.
From focused attention to natural awareness, there exists a spectrum of awareness in meditation. Each type of awareness activates the brain in different ways.
Reality is a vast jungle of information of which your brain selectively picks out a small segment. And of the sliver of reality that we’ve evolved to perceive, much of it never reaches our conscious experience.
By observing first-hand the mind's mechanics of craving and satisfaction in meditation, we begin to see the tricks that it often plays on us. We can recondition this mental software toward a more optimal way of being.
Happiness is difficult to define, but here I’ll divide it into two main buckets: pleasure vs. fulfillment. While we often seek pleasure, what we’re really after is fulfillment.
Meditation is an umbrella term, like “exercise.” Just as swimming, running and weightlifting all train your body in different ways, there are different types of meditation.
We are the only animal that possesses a highly evolved Virtual Simulator, the part of our brain that projects into the future and replays the past.
Since your brain is a command center for your nervous system, and your nervous system is linked to the whole body, how you move directly affects your mind. The Romans had a phrase for this: mens sana in corpus sano (a sound mind in a sound body).
Here’s an easily overlooked area of mental training. Following one’s principles can put the mind at ease, while not doing so can make make the mind restless.
Although we feel like a single unified entity, the Ego is a collection of snapshots of our experience taken over time and strung together like the frames of an old-fashioned movie to form the illusion of a stable self. Through meditation we can begin to shed our false narratives.
Attention-Deficit Disorder is a common diagnosis today. Attention is a trainable skill, however, and a lack of attentional focus is in part the result of how we’re applying our minds during the day.
It's easy to fall into traps and end up somewhere without some form of mental training. Unfortunately, there’s a crisis of introspection right now.
The importance of breathing is often overlooked because it seems so easy and automatic. But with a basic understanding of how breath influences your physiology, it’ll become clear why Navy SEALs and yogis alike train the breath extensively.
Changing unwanted behaviors can be quite difficult, and so it helps to take a systems approach, which looks to create new habits by changing related behaviors.
Beyond the physiological impact of breathing, the primary reason for its importance in meditation is that it serves as the gateway to conscious self-control. But there are several other reasons that meditation uses the breath.
What I call Meditative Ecstasy (it’s called jhana in Buddhist traditions of meditation) results in intense pleasure. Here’s how you can aim for this state in meditation.
Our brains are machines geared toward communication, so part of mental fitness involves having solid interpersonal connection with others.
Across various cultures throughout history, humans have found various ways of achieving heightened states of consciousness, including the sensory deprivation tank, also known as an isolation or float tank.
Have you noticed that a lack of energy can bring out an entirely different personality? High energy levels are a key sign of a fit mind, but it’s a limited resource that must be managed, much like time.
As we train our attention to stabilize it becomes clear that nothing is inherently boring. Rather, boredom is simply habituation due to a lack of sustained attentional strength. When you develop single-pointed attention, whatever your attention rests on can become interesting.
Beyond getting a good night of rest, we can also learn from our sleep in the form of dream recall. The contents of your dreams can give important insights into your subconscious mental mechanics.
Our human psychology permits you two ways of living: Doing Mode and Being Mode. Either you spend your days on the surface, racing from task to task (Doing Mode), or you become deeply absorbed in your surroundings (Being Mode).
At a high level, meditation strengthens the part of your brain responsible for willpower, rational decision-making, focus, and emotional control. This region is called the neocortex, but you can think of it as the Upstairs Brain.
It turns out that a large portion of our suffering results from our emotional reaction to pain rather than the physiological pain stimulus itself. In other words, your expectations of the pain continuing and your past mental replay of the pain determine much of your perceived agony.
he advent of digital communication meant that more plans and options became possible in any given minute. This is great in some regards, but also means that each decision takes more mental processing and the opportunity cost goes up.
The brain is a highly efficient organ. It already eats up 20% of your metabolic energy and tries to automate as many processes as possible by making them unconscious.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a pioneer in understanding the psychology of happiness, found that somewhere in between anxiety and boredom there exists a state of “flow.” Flow is an optimal mental state.
Most of our dissatisfaction actually occurs completely in the mind. The reason is that we have something that no other animal possesses to the same extent: a highly evolved Virtual Simulator.
In modern times it is easier than ever to feed our Egos. We constantly look at ourselves in the mirror, on our phones and online. Digital images, selfies and incessant social media use all fuel a strong sense of self.
Just as with physical training, a good night’s sleep can make all the difference between optimal and abysmal performance. In many ways, sleep is the most important component of a routine for mental clarity and productivity.
The modern world has completely redefined the concept of time. How we allocate, think about and interact with time has all changed in the Information Age. It happened gradually, in subtle ways, so that we hardly even noticed.
Our phones have become in essence another part of our brains. Amazingly we’re able to outsource mental tasks to our devices, creating a seamless extension of our encephalon.
We are living in an attention economy. The most valuable commodity in today’s economy is our constantly divided, app-distracted and seemingly arbitrary attention.
To understand why we spend so much time on social media, it helps to look at Las Vegas slot machines. Our brains are being hacked by these platforms in much the same way.
America is currently suffering from a nearly invisible epidemic: loneliness. 46% of adults say they are lonely. Even more shocking, the average American says that they have zero close friends to confide in.
Meditation has a wide range of physiological benefits that are backed up by science. But the most compelling reasons to meditate are psychological; it can shift the way we perceive the world.
Neuroplasticity gives each of us the power to shape our own brains depending on how we apply them. It’s the key mechanism in mental fitness.
Multitasking is in fact one of the great myths of the 21stCentury. It’s a phrase that many people pride themselves on. But in reality, multitasking is just tasking poorly; it’s a series of single engagements performed in rapid succession.
Competition for scarce resources led our species, Homo sapiens, to evolve a Bad Wolf. On a neuroanatomical level, our Bad Wolf is driven by instincts that relate to the limbic and endocrine systems. Simultaneously, we evolved a great capacity for Good Wolf behavior due to our necessity to band together in social hunter-gatherer tribes.
As neuroscience research continues to find ways in which meditation changes the brain, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we can train our minds like muscles.
Do you think you control your thoughts? Where do they come from? Only through meditation, by developing introspective metacognitive awareness, does it become clear how out of control the untrained mind really is.