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Meditation: The workout for a bigger brain

The distracted mind is not an efficient one and regular meditation can help cultivate both mental focus and emotional calmness.

Meditation - article image

If I told you that by going to the gym every day for ten minutes you could make your biceps bigger, then I’m sure you would easily agree. But if I said that through regular meditation practice you could choose a particular region of your brain to grow bigger, then you might be more surprised.

Regular meditations shown to grow the prefrontal cerebral cortex

This science of how the brain can change itself is not new. Neuroplasticity has been thoroughly researched with hundreds of published articles and a Harvard study showing regular meditators were able to grow their prefrontal cerebral cortex, a part of the brain responsible for paying attention, emotional regulation, and sensory management (Lazar et al 2006). What does this mean for you?

Brains are your biggest assets, both your own and those of your staff. With 10 billion neurons and 10,000 synaptic connections between each neuron, the number of possible on–off combinations of the average human brain is thought to be bigger than the number of atoms in the known universe.

Brains are capable of producing incredible creativity and productivity. What if you could increase the efficiency of all the brains in your organisation by 10 per cent? Can
you imagine the impact on your bottom line?

Cultivate both mental focus and emotional calmness

The distracted mind is not an efficient one and regular meditation can help cultivate both mental focus and emotional calmness.

We are living in a world of exponentially growing distractions and stimuli. We have open-plan offices with colleagues leaning over to ask questions, calendar alerts, email notifications, text messages, beeping to-do lists, plus the ability to click on any of our devices wherever we are and be taken to whatever information we desire, work-based on not.

IQ suffers a 10 point decrease when multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is a myth; what we are actually doing is flitting from one task to another and this comes with a switching cost. One study by the Institute of Psychiatry in London shows a ten-point decrease in IQ through multi-tasking — a worse effect than smoking marijuana or losing a night’s sleep.

Meditation is an attention training exercise for the brain. It involves deliberately focusing your attention on one thing at a time, be it your breath, your physical sensations in your body or for more advanced practitioners, the stream of thoughts or emotions coming into your mind. This process activates and therefore grows the prefrontal cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for your ability to pay attention. This ‘executive control function’ is the most evolved part of any primate brain and the part you really want to be developing.

Boost meta-cognition — a highly evolved brain function

Once your ability to pay attention increases, you instinctively start to notice your stream of consciousness, particularly the underlying patterns of repetitive thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions that can influence your behaviours and decision-making. This ability to be able to observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations is called meta-cognition and is perhaps the most evolved of all human brain functions.

This skill of being able to take a step back from the mental chatter allows for greater perspective and objectivity. Decisions will be made with improved clarity of mind, better reasoning, and with less influence from inappropriate emotions or fears.

The distraction mind is not an efficient one and regular meditation can help cultivate both mental focus and emotional calmness.

Having the self-control to be able to stay focused on one challenge at a time, even if only for a few minutes, will start to deliver efficiency dividends and you will be able to solve more problems, more quickly, with greater ease. You will notice yourself being able to pay better attention in meetings, and perhaps start noticing subtleties of communication that you might have previously missed. It will also allow you to practice the art of truly listening, when so often what we do is listen with one half of the brain while thinking about what we want to say with the other half. This will lead to less miscommunications and potentially less conflict.

Set realistic expectations

Once you have set the intention to learn meditation it is important to be realistic with your expectations. It might take a while to find the right teacher, the right training, or the right method. What’s right for me is not necessarily right for you. This is brain reprogramming and it doesn’t happen overnight. Neuroplasticity has been shown to be more effective in novel surroundings, so perhaps a retreat venue with a completely different environment to your usual one would be the most effective. Don’t give in too soon though, and remember: practice makes perfect.

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