Meditation the key to behavioral change
Meditation is an amazing tool to improving health and increasing a sense of well being but we are all guilty of doubting these powerful tools. We do them once or twice acknowledge we feel better after and decide we are too busy today and we will start again tomorrow, now let’s put aside the huge conversation of mind set vs motivation and tackle what I believe to be at the heart of all these decision making processes.
For those with short attention spans I have written my top 20 health benefits in bullet point fashion at the bottom but I do suggest coming back and reading the rest of the article.
Information is key, when we know a little about something but don’t understand the full details it gives us the ability to ignore its importance. We are told smoking is bad it might give you cancer and will definitely have a negative effect on your health but it’s not guaranteed to kill you, now while that can be enough to make some people turn their nose up we all have that friend that will use the example of some old person that seems to be doing alright even though they smoke. The same goes for pretty much any bad habit or detrimental practice, we often use others as permission for us to do something we full well know is wrong. The same works for something we know we should do, like meditating, eating healthy or exercise. We know a little but not enough to really make that step, just as the people practicing bad habits don’t know how much better their life could be if they stopped the people putting off good habits don’t know how much better they could feel if they started.
What has any of that got to do with meditation?
First off it is one of those habits, second it’s key in habit change and third it’s our fear of change that dictates all of this.
Let me ask you a question, are you addicted to being you? I mean really think about every opportunity in your life to change something, are you the type of person that struggles with change, welcomes it when it comes or chases it?
Second question, are you in love with who you are? There is always a room for improvement but are you really the person you want to be every day?
These questions will make sense in a while but first let’s look at behavior change.
Often we will tell ourselves that it’s not important to find out or understand how something works and we just have to get on with it but this attitude is realistically setting you up for failure. If you start introducing any habit with this attitude it is the equivalent of resentment, how do you expect to successfully create a new habit if you resent doing it? There is a good reason you feel like this too, when you change your habits you are literally creating a new you. This means the old you must die and what self respecting conscious being is just going to lay down and die? If you are not committed to change from a deep level then this old self will always win out (this is where a tool such a meditation can be so powerful but more on that soon). This is all controlled by the left and right hemispheres, the left hemisphere is largely responsible for holding current beliefs of the world and an image of yourself whereas your right hemisphere is largely responsible for challenging your current belief structure. When the discrepancies of logic become too big your left hemisphere will adopt the rights new belief, this of course is an oversimplified model but in short this is how new ideas and beliefs are created. So when creating a new habit it is key to not only understand the detail of how and what it will change but literally treat it with love and gratitude for all those positive things it’s going to create in your life.
So how does meditation do this?
Meditation like many practices has varying types and disciplines which all have unique benefits but overall the reported sensation and overall goal is Love, happiness and a sense of bliss. This can sound a bit out there at times and you don’t know until you know is the perfect phrase for this, as people who have got this feeling out of meditating will completely understand but those who may have not meditated before or may have tried meditate with little success may be baffled by the idea of sitting in silence or chanting giving someone bliss.
For me meditation can be defined by awareness simply bringing your awareness to one thing, a body part, an emotion, a thought, meditation is the practice of attention. In many meditations you will be guided into a state of calm stable coherent thought, it is not about emptying your mind of thinking of nothing but rather training your mind or awareness not to wander away from your current thought. Decoherent thoughts will try to pull your attention away and the skill of meditation is not to stop this but just to notice it and bring your attention back to the place you want it.
Meditations real powers come from mirror neurons which are also known as empathy neurons and allow us to feel what others feel or imagine what something must feel like. When we act or feel certain neurons will fire and when we watch others perform the same task or feel a certain emotion those same neurons will fire again, these mirror neurons cannot tell the difference between themselves and others so anything that causes them to fire will be just like you have done or felt that act. This leaves our mind in a constant duality of perceiving ourselves and perceiving what we believe others think of us which explains the human need for external validation.
By now you may be able to see the power of meditating and how it can help you take back that control and shape your personality by just the power of thought alone. When we meditate we literally practice focusing our awareness on positive emotions that increase immune function, a sense of well being and improved cognition. We also control those mirror neurons and therefore our perception of how others view us which allows us much more power in creating new habits and personality traits as well as imagining all the great things these new habits will allow us to do.
When we add all of these elements together we have a tool that has the power to over power of left hemisphere thinking and old self. Now there is many more points to behavior change but meditation a kind of focused visualization and contemplation tool is one of the most powerful that I know of.
If that wasn’t enough reason to meditate regularly here are some of the top 20 benefits of mediation
- Increased size of areas of the brain that control happiness, gratitude, love and general positive emotions/feelings
- Decreased size of areas of the brain that control fear, anxiety, grief and general negative emotions.
- Increased energy
- Increased cognition
- Increased release of BDNF (creates new brain cells at any age)
- Strengthens the connections between neurons that manage positive reactions
- Improved blood pressure
- Decreased resting heart rate
- Decreased chronic cortisol levels (stress levels)
- Improved pain tolerance
- Decreased opioid levels in the brain (our brain creates opioids to deal with pain a reduction signals a decreased signal of pain in the body)
- Improved immune system
- Increased sense of well being
- Improved memory
- Improved creativity
- Decreases inflammation
- Increases longevity
- Improves concentration
- Improves sleep
- Decreases your need for sleep
This is before we even look at its effect it has on your personal and professional relationships, most successful people will do a form of meditation just saying.