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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 October 16, 2019

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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