Be mindful

My mantra has always been that increasing knowledge increases the choices you have in life.  Learning about the brain enables you to know how it works and that knowledge gives you the opportunity to make conscious decisions whereas previously, without the knowledge, you would have just acted unconsciously and in automatic mode.

I have always been mentally “switched on” and thinking 24/7.  Throughout my career I’ve always believed that this is what gave me my edge.  I considered the fact that I spent so much time planning, organizing and forward-thinking is what got me to achieve my goals and be successful.  However I now understand how critical it is to rest my brain, my pre-frontal cortex in particular.

What I’ve discovered (and many others have known for years, decades and lifetimes!) is that “meditation” is critical for improved performance. There have been many studies done that prove that people who practice “mindfulness meditation” have healed quicker than those that didn’t and have decreased their chances of depression reoccurring by 75% (studies by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School)

I have always wanted to know the proof behind any claims and understand how they work.  For me someone’s personal experience has never really been enough.  The fascinating thing is that with the increasing knowledge in the field of neuroscience I am finding the explanations that make sense to me, and hopefully to the people I “educate” (e.g. you who is reading this now)

David Rock (Your Brain at Work) explains that our brain has two ways of thinking about our world.  Firstly what he calls our “default network’ and this involves our prefrontal cortex (cognitive thinking) and our hippocampus (memory region) and this network kicks in when not much is happening.  It involves us thinking about ourselves.

The second way our brain experiences our world is through direct experience.  The key here is that different areas of our brain are involved, the sensory areas.  When this kicks in we are no longer focusing on ourselves but on what is happening around us, and on what is being received by our senses at that moment in time. 

Now you want to be spending more time doing more of the second way!  The research shows that by developing the skills to be mindful and observing what is being received by our senses, we will improve our performance.  Becoming more skilful will help you to improve your perception, make better decisions and increase your effectiveness.

Like most things, the more you practice this skill then the better you will become at it. John Teasdale (a leading mindfulness researcher) says, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful”, and from my personal experience this is very true! It has to become part of my routine otherwise I do forget.

You can start developing that skill right now…. STOP…. listen to the noises around you…. feel the seat your sitting in, or if you’re standing feel the floor through your feet….. take a breath and smell the smells in the air.  If you did that then you’ve just kicked in the sensory part of your brain, stopped your default network and are on the way to improving your performance in life!!!

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