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6 Amazing Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation Backed by Science

6 Amazing Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation Backed by Science

Loving Kindness Meditation is about cultivating compassion and love through mentally repeating a series of phrases directed at someone you love, a neutral person, yourself, and then all living things.

Ever wonder if repeating these Loving Kindness phrases, such as “May you be well”, “May you be happy”, “May you live with ease and in peace”, is really a productive use of your time?

Turns out science now backs what Buddhists have long known about this powerful ancient practice. The incredible thing about Loving Kindness meditation is that a single short session of about 10 minutes, can kick-start a positive ripple effect, leading to increased feelings of social connection and positivity towards strangers.

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Loving Kindness Meditation also has continued benefits for those that practice more frequently. In fact, science suggests that the benefits can be surprisingly far reaching.

Here are six incredible benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation backed by science you should know about.

1. Increases Positive Emotions

If you’re looking to boost your happiness and well-being, loving kindness meditation could be just the practice for you. One study showed that practicing seven weeks of Loving Kindness Meditation increased multiple positive emotions including love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then had a ripple effect on the participants, increasing both life satisfaction and reducing depressive symptoms.

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2. Quiets Your Inner Critic

We all have an internal dialogue and near constant chatter that goes on inside our minds. For many of us, this voice inside our heads can be downright nasty. Research shows this critical voice can be tamed through practicing Loving Kindness Meditation. Beyond reducing self-criticism and depressive symptoms, Loving Kindness Practitioners also experienced improvements in self-compassion and positive emotions that were maintained 3 months post-intervention.

3. Strengthens your Capacity for Empathy

Because of recent advances in the field of neuroplasticity, we know that what we think, do, and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brains. And guess what? Regularly practicing Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy. One of the most important benefits of empathy is that it improves relationships. Increased empathy can also lead to more compassionate action.

4. Decreases Migraines

Time to toss out your Tylenol? While meditation isn’t usually thought to be a remedy for debilitating migraines, research shows it can help. A brief Loving Kindness Meditation intervention was shown to immediately help reduce pain and alleviate emotional tension associated with chronic migraines.

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5. Increases Compassion

According to the Dalai Lama, love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. The good news is: Loving Kindness Meditation may be one of the most effective practices for increasing compassion. Being more compassionate has a host of benefits, including improved health, well-being, and relationships.

6. The Foundation of Youth: Increases Telomere Length

In another eye-opening study (and my personal favorite), researchers found that women with experience in Loving Kindness Meditation had relatively longer telomere length (a biological marker of aging) when compared to age-matched controls. Bye bye botox, time to get on that meditation cushion and repeat the Loving Kindness phrases “May you be well, may you be happy, and may you live with ease and in peace.”

Conclusion

What are you waiting for? Start with a small, but daily, commitment to Loving Kindness meditation. If you commit to just five minutes each day, you are much more likely to stick with it, and you’ll start to see benefits soon enough.

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Don’t know where to start? There are plenty of free meditation challenges available online to help you get started and learn the techniques.

Featured photo credit: Alexa Miller via alexamiller.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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