Most of us have heard the positive benefits of mindfulness: lowered stress, less depression and fewer negative emotions.
Now neuroscientists are taking an interest in how mindfulness can physically affect – indeed, alter – the brain.
A recent review that examined the current state of neuroscience research on mindfulness meditation found that while meditation research is still in its infancy, “there is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness.”
In other words, what we focus on changes our brains.
This is good news when it comes to our brain’s braking system, which lies within our prefrontal cortex or PFC and is responsible for controlling our impulses and regulating our emotions.
So, when we say no to eating a donut for breakfast because we’ve set a health goal, when we stay focused and on task while working in an open office environment, when we turn off cell phone distractions or resist the urge to make a sharp comment, these are all examples of our braking system in action.
One way to activate our braking system to manage our emotions is to do what neuroscientist Dr. Mathew Lieberman calls labelling. Thinking of and naming the emotion associated with a situation that’s making us hot under the collar has been shown to reduce the impact that an emotion has on our PFC; allowing us to use our brakes to bring our PFC back online so we can think clearly again.
And just as mindfulness meditation research has shown, we have the ability to actually strengthen our brakes. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness practice each day has been shown to strengthen key brain circuits to redirect our attention. Benefits include improved concentration, mood, sleep and our ability to self-manage.
Meditating, taking slow deep breaths, going for a short walk or taking a different perspective can help us apply our brakes and keeps our PFC functioning well, enabling us to perform better under pressure while changing our emotional landscape.
Noesis delivers neuroleadership consulting and training to organizations handling everyday change and major transformation initiatives. We help our clients scientifically improve leadership.