A neuroscientist explains how to rewire your brain to live in the present moment

Mindfulness has become a word we hear everywhere nowadays, yet not many people know its true meaning. You may ask yourself, what is mindfulness? The short and simple answer is: It’s the skill of being conscious, present and aware. (Basically being here and now).

Research has found that mindfulness can rewire your brain to be less emotional and more rational. It’s a way of staying in control of your emotions and surroundings. A study performed by neuroscientists at Harvard University found that meditation (and mindfulness) literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter.

There are a couple of ways to achieve mindfulness in your everyday activities, according to neuroscientist David Rock. 

Below we’ve summarized his suggestions to activate your “direct experience network” in your brain compared to your “default brain network”.

Here they are:

Technique #1: “Micro Meditations.”

They are essentially meditations that you can practice over short periods of time, no more than 1-3 minutes at a time, throughout your day. When we are stressed or agitated our breath gets shallow and fast, the key is paying attention to the way you breathe, become aware of you breath, the way your body moves, try to hold your breath, and if possible, hold your stomach.

After holding your breath for a moment, start bringing air into the belly. Don’t force it or strain yourself, if it feels uncomfortable try to hold it higher in your body. The point is to focus on your breathing patterns.

Practicing this type of “micro-meditation” during stressful or overwhelming parts of your day can improve the way you face those feelings and situations, allowing you to become aware and calm.

Once you start practicing regularly, you will become more focused on your everyday life. You can practice micro-meditations every hour or so, set up an alarm on your phone, make a habit out of this experience.

Use them before a presentation, when you are stuck in traffic, any time you feel stressed. The longer you do it, the faster it will become a habit. Think of mindfulness as a muscle, you have to exercise it in order to gain strength.

Technique #2: Mindfulness in Action

The hectic lifestyle we live has ruined our attention span. Thinking of future events is constantly distracting us from what we ought to be paying attention, both in and out of the workplace.

The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds while the average attention span of humans in 2015 was 8.25 seconds. That’s why every time you find yourself wandering off, pay attention to what you’re listening to for seconds at a time. It is harder than you think but all you need is will power and practice.

Another strategy to improve your attention is performing an object meditation regularly. This is simply focusing your mind on an object. This object could be anything, such as a rock or a flame. Start 2 minutes and gradually increase your time. Every time your mind strays, simply return your focus back to the object.

Apparently Master Buddhist monks have trained their minds to focus on an object for up to 4 hours without getting distracted.

3) Practice, practice, practice.

By practicing again and again you will start to gain consciousness and concentration, you will be able to listen and gain control over your wandering mind. It is a hard thing to do but not an impossible one, you might have to come back to it dozens of times in a single day but with a little bit of patience you will train your mind to be here and now.

By practicing these techniques daily, your ability to reduce stress will increase and you will find creative solutions for your problems. You will also start enhancing your concentration (improving your judgment) and by doing so, you will start to see things with clarity.

By training and gaining control over your mind you can rewire your brain, all you have to do is to dedicate small moments of your day to meditate and soon you’ll be on a path to being fully in the moment.

This article was originally published on The Power of Ideas.

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