“The mind is just like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.” ― Idowu Koyenikan
By Greg Thurston
In 2006, a group of 20 people joined a study at the Massachusetts General Hospital to research the effect of mindfulness on the human brain.
What they found was that mindfulness can influence the very structure of a person’s mind, particularly the prefrontal cortex.
This region is responsible for certain aspects of our thinking, such as awareness, concentration and decision-making.
As a result, a thicker cortex means a better ability to handle stress and significantly reduce its damaging effects on the brain.
And this is just one of many benefits we can get from mindfulness. There are many other ways the brain can strengthen itself, but first let’s dive a little bit into what this “habit” is exactly.
Strength In Awareness
Mindfulness, or the art of unplugging from past or future thoughts, has made its way to modern society over the decades.
In a nutshell, this is simply observing the things unfolding at the present moment – or being “mindful” of them – without making any judgments.
The sensation in your breath, the tightness in your chest from stress, the weight of your legs against the floor – all of these are neither right nor wrong. It is what is, and nothing more.
Julie, a 42-year-old sales manager for large multinational corporation felt the stress of her job wearing her down. “I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore,” she complained.
Julie says negative thoughts constantly invaded her mind and she started getting sick every one to two weeks. Thanks to practicing mindfulness however, she managed to take control of her happiness and turned the tide against chronic stress.
“I had a better grip on my feelings, ate better, slept more peacefully and had a better perspective on life in general. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me”, Julie shared.
Her case is one of thousands who’ve massively benefitted from this habit. If you’ve been having trouble dealing with stressful thoughts and can’t seem to shake off a negative vibe, you should consider getting into this habit today.
Here are the other ways mindfulness can get your mind in the best shape it’s ever been:
#1: Mindfulness gives you mental strength
Pain is part of life, and we all experience it in one way or another. Yet, not all of us are created equal when it comes to managing it.
According to a 2012 study called “Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain”, practicing mindfulness improves the way people process unpleasant stimuli.
Certain regions in the brain are involved in processing pain for example, the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex, are less connected than those who don’t practice mindfulness.
In short, this means that if you’re adept at being mindful, the less worked up you’ll get over the feeling of pain. Your brain will be better wired to not treat the experience as worse than it actually is.
#2: Mindfulness makes you grittier
Ever notice how some people can’t keep it together when life gets hard? You might notice how dramatic they get, or how they lash out at people around them when the world isn’t treating them fairly.
It turns out that there’s a good reason why people act like that.
Another region in the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex is in charge of helping you get your act together when crisis hits.
This area has a great deal of control over your behavior, specifically how you react to difficult circumstances.
Those with a better developed ACC is more likely to respond in a calm, calculated manner rather than impulsively reacting – like having an adult-sized tantrum, for instance. And people that use mindfulness as a way to deal with life’s up and downs have a better developed ACC than others.
Also, it’s important to note that mindfulness is linked to a more robust hippocampus, which is the region responsible for regulating your emotions. It’s safe to say that if you want to make it through life with less drama, you’ll want to work on this area, too.
Practicing mindfulness trains your brain to make better decisions when you’re between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.
It’s certainly challenging to muster the clarity to make the right choices in tough situations – and it seems that improving your brain can even your odds in a big way.
#3: Mindfulness fights destructive behaviors
The problem with stress is that it drives people to cope in unhealthy ways. This often includes addictive behaviors, which includes gambling, drug abuse or self-harm. These are some of the ways the mind tries to find relief from a difficult life.
With mindfulness however, people can more easily avoid getting caught in a downward spiral of addiction and self-destruction.
The University of Texas has a center dedicated to the study of addictive behavior (substance abuse in particular), and they’ve found that mindfulness is a powerful tool in fighting it.
People who practice this habit can better help themselves get out of their state of denial (causing them to indulge in bad behaviors) and peacefully accept their situation instead.
The act of being in the present moment is an effective way to develop awareness and helps people make better choices as opposed to reckless (or even life-threatening) ones.
#4 Mindfulness and the Law Of Attraction
The mind is one of the most powerful tools you could ever have in your life. That’s why it makes sense to keep it running in excellent condition as best you can.
But did you know that mindfulness – and by extension, your mind – also has the power to manifest the reality you want?
John Kehoe, author of “Mind Power” once said, “Thoughts are REAL forces.”
He believes that the mind and quality of your thoughts can shape your life to the point where you can either live a happy, successful and prosperous life…
…or suffer a mediocre existence filled with failure.
I didn’t believe it was possible not too long ago – until I made a small change in my life just recently.
Brain training such as affirmations and visualisation train your brain to think a certain way, and thus adjust your life circumstances to suit.
Just like a tennis player trains his arms to “naturally” swing his arm in perfect line, you can train your thought processes to think in a way that moves you towards your goals and desires.
When you start thinking of the brain as a muscle that is trainable, remarkable things can happen.
#5: Mindfulness Keeps Your Brain From Getting Older
As people age, it’s not just their bodies that get old. At a cellular level, the brain degenerates and shrinks as with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Researchers from UCLA found that mindfulness could have a significant role to prevent the mind from aging.
Their study in 2015 noted the effects of the habit, such as “beneficial effects for a number of cognitive domains, including attention, memory, verbal fluency, executive function, processing speed, overall cognitive flexibility as well as conflict monitoring and even creativity.”
What all of this adds up to is that the benefits of mindfulness combat the effects of brain aging and keep it in better condition over the decades.
This habit promotes the growth of grey matter – brain tissue stays healthier for a longer time than compared to those who don’t.
To summarize, the brain is a remarkable and complex muscle, and like any muscle, it responds to stress, relaxation, and training.
Today it is well evidenced that brain health is directly connected to a myriad of diseases, behaviors, and life outcomes. By working to increase brain strength through mindfulness, you’re investing in your future self in the most remarkable way.
This fantastic Article is written by Greg Thurston, Co-creator of Seven Minute Mindfulness - check this link for the details of his Unique Program