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Mindfulness Changes The Way Our Brains React to Sadness, Study Shows

Mindfulness Changes The Way Our Brains React to Sadness, Study Shows

Almost every guide to happiness whether it’s a self-help book or an online checklist will extol the numerous benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Being acutely aware of the present moment and yet remaining detached is hailed as the key to a satisfying and fulfilling life. If you’ve already mastered the art of being mindful and in control of your emotions, you’ve already won more than half the battle and you’re on your way to incredible success. And now, even science has proved that being mindful actually changes the way our brains react to particular emotions, especially sadness.

The Research

In an early study, led by Norman Farb and his colleagues, the participants were asked several questions about their personal traits, such as if they felt foolish, intelligent, trustworthy, responsible and so on, all the while being scanned by an MRI machine. What they found out was that such interrogation activated either the “narrative or analytic” mode of the brain which deals with questions like is it a good or bad thing?, What does this reveal about my personality?, or the “experiential/concrete” mode that grapples with questions like, what is happening in this moment and the next? What am I currently acutely aware of?

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After training the participants, the researchers began to study how mindful training was related to each of these two modes. The participants were tested twice-once before beginning an MBSR program and again after its completion. The results were startling.

Mindfulness leads to increase in activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex

Those who practised mindfulness displayed a decrease in the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain which is associated it with analytical thinking and self-evaluation. Instead there was an increase in activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, especially the insula region of the brain which is linked to direct, in-the-moment sensory experiences.

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In other words, being mindful literally stops you from thinking too much and over-reacting. Just as there is a shift of activity in the brain from one region to another, there is an equal shift in thinking. Instead of blaming yourself or others, you learn to concentrate on the present moment and make the most out of it.

They were less likely to be caught up in the sadness than the other group

Farb and his colleagues then played sad and neutral film clips to the participants. Once again, the results were similar. The sad film clips were overall associated with greater medial prefrontal cortex activation and with regions linked to self-appraisal and less activity in the region associated with awareness in the present moment.

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However, the interesting fact was those who had undergone the mindfulness training course had higher activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex region. In other words, they were less likely to be caught up in the sadness than the other group. Once again, being mindful affords greater self-control and shift of attention to what is really important and not drown in one’s emotions.

How to be Mindful in Your Daily Life

1. Be mindful the moment you wake up. Sit in silence, relishing the present moment and being grateful for being so gloriously alive. Don’t let your phone or other noises distract you.

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2. Practise for short periods at first. Try 5 minutes at first, then increase it to 10 and 20 and so on.

3. Use prompts to remind yourself to be mindful. Have a personal cue: be it the morning coffee, or a certain activity, or a reminder on your phone, or even a particular symbol to remind yourself to practise mindfulness throughout the day.

If you can opt for a mindfulness training course, by all means go for it, but even if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. Incorporate these valuable habits in your daily routine and watch your life change for the better in front of your eyes!

Featured photo credit: Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, Oxford University via brainfacts.org

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

There are several perspectives on the term systems thinking. The discipline goes beyond a collection of tools and techniques. A lot of individuals are fascinated by tools like brainstorming tools, structural thinking tools, dynamic thinking tools, as well as computer-based tools. They believe the system thinking tools can make them smarter and productive. However, it goes beyond that as systems thinking is more strategic and sensitive to the environment we find ourselves.

So what is systems thinking and why is it good for you?

What Is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a diagnostic tool that can help you to assess problems before taking action. It helps you to ask questions before arriving at conclusions. It prevents you from making an assumption, which is the lowest level of knowledge.

A systems thinker is curious, compassionate, and courageous. The systems thinking approach incorporates the act of seeing the big picture instead of seeing in parts. It recognizes that we are connected, and there are diverse ways to solve a problem.

Characteristics of Systems Thinking

Systems thinking can help you in analyzing the connections between subsystems and understanding their potentials to make smarter decisions.

In a soccer team, the elements are the coach, players, the field, and a ball. The interrelationships are strategies, communications among players, and game rules. The goal is to win, have fun and exercise. We all belong to several systems and subsystems.

Some characteristics of systems thinking include:

  • Issue is important
  • The issue is familiar with well-known patterns
  • Attempts have been made to resolve the issue.

Given these characteristics, systems thinking goes beyond an operational tool; it is a strategic approach and a philosophy.

How to Use Systems Thinking

Here’re 3 ways you can use systems thinking:

1. Understand How the System Works and Use Feedback Points

The first task is to know what system is all about and identify the leverage points or feedbacks that influence its functioning. This is what will help in adjusting the system.

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If you want the system to be productive, enhance the feedback points. If you want it to be less productive, exhaust the same points.

A good example is that of a bathtub. The leverage points are the faucet and the drain. If you forget to close the drain, having turned on the water, the water will never stop flowing, and the tub will never overflow.

If you want more water, close the drain while you turn the water. If otherwise, turn the faucet off and open the drain. You can apply this to your personal development.

Once you discover the feedback points in your life, find your leverage or feedback points, then enhance those points. If you want to be fit, get a trainer, find a mentor, or eat healthy foods.

2. Discover the Patterns, Structure, and Events

Trends and patterns could be compared to clues for a crossword puzzle. As you aspire to enhance the system, trends and patterns offer you hints and cause to shift your paradigm. Usually, they can direct you to unusual and unexpected aspects, to ideas, people, or places you have never thought about.

Smart people watch out for trends and patterns so they can be conversant with changes.

You can view the world from 3 different perspectives:

i. The Event Perspective

If you consider the world from an event perspective, the best you can do is to be smarter is ‘react’. You tend to be smarter by reacting quickly, becoming more lighter on your feet, and flexible as you advance through life.

So how do you view the world from an event perspective? You ask a question like, ‘What happened?’.

There is the possibility of becoming more aware and seeing more at this level. An excellent technique to achieve this is by telling a story to a group. If you can see beyond each event, see beyond patterns and trends, you will be empowered to anticipate, predict, and plan.

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ii. Pattern Perspective

To view the world from a pattern perspective, you need to ask, ‘What has been happening?’

It is most times difficult to see the actual size of an iceberg (underlying structures that are the causes of events). The waterline dissects what’s visible from what’s not visible.

A systems thinker does not assume from what’s visible only; he or she seeks to know what has been happening.

Take a look at this video to understand more about the Iceberg Theory:

 

iii. The Structure Perspective

To view the world from a structure perspective, you need to ask, ‘what is causing issues?’ The answers will be the factors and forces responsible.

If you find yourself in a traffic jam, you don’t blame the next driver as a smart person; you could ask, ‘what’s been causing the traffic jam?

The usual answers could be a decaying road surface, careless driver, or high speed, but that would be the same things identified as trends. What makes the structure perspective different from others.

The structure is what propels your energy. It is what affects happenings. A systems thinkers make deductions based on internal structures to arrive at a conclusion

3. People Problems vs System Problems

Several issues ranging from security breaches, product flaws, poverty, to transportation inefficiencies are systemic.

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Even when you misbehave, there is usually an internal system to blame.

If you are not productive in your business, it may not be caused by you. There may be a system that you need to enhance.

Do you remember our feedback points? As soon as you assess the system, you can focus on people. Is a new hire causing lag in the packaging process? Is poor communication affecting the team’s performance? Reallocating job roles may be a perfect leverage point.

In the traffic jam example, there could be a system-based solution such as installing traffic lights and subsequently enforcing traffic laws in the area to penalize reckless drivers.

How to Foster Learning with Systems Thinking

Systems thinking helps you to appreciate the interrelationships of people, organizations, policies, decisions, ideas, and relationships.

Peter M Senge propounded five disciplines that foster learning in your DNA- whether you are leading an organization, starting a venture, or working as a freelancer.[1]

1. Gain Mastery

You can take online courses, attend conferences, read blog articles and books, listen to podcasts, converse with leaders within and beyond your industry, watch documentaries, learn from your team, and stretch yourself by improving your skills.

2. Discover Your Assumptions and Biases

There was this parable of four blind men who made different assumptions about an elephant. Their assumptions and biases hinder them from understanding how the animal looks like.

Biases can rob you of innovation and prevent you from experiencing personal growth. To become aware of your biases, you have to take an internal trip and engage breakthrough thinking.

3. Establish Your Vision

Systems grind to a halt when the goal or mission is not defined. You will not have the motivation to complete the online course if you don’t know why you subscribe in the first place.

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Is it for career advancement? To up your game or to gain general knowledge? Vision inspires you.

4. Learn in Groups

There is power in shared learning. There is a solidification of understanding when you learn in a group. You can have the lessons etched in your long term memory.

For instance, you can join learning groups where information is shared weekly.

5. Think in Systems

Systems thinking is about lifelong learning and improvement. It has also been linked to the Iceberg principle, which affirms that visible events are insignificant compared to what’s visible. There’s more ice below the waterline than what you can see with your physical eyes.

Anytime you are battling with a challenge, think in systems. Understand the details of the issue. Discover your leverage points. Assess, adapt, and keep improving your models.

After all. If you meet a lion in the wild, you need to understand what you are facing.

Final Thoughts

You can foster systems thinking by modeling your own environment. Participate in training, watch TED Talks, and create time to connect with others.

Also, practice critical thinking instead of making assumptions before you make a decision. The more you think systems, the more you will become smarter and productive in every aspect of your life.

More to Help You Think Smarter

Featured photo credit: Olav Ahrens Røtne via unsplash.com

Reference

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