Mental Health

Bringing order to your unruly thoughts

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Travis Bradberry suggests ways that mindfulness meditation can be used to improve your brain’s performance and reduce stress.

There’s no shortage of advice out there claiming to make you better, but mindfulness meditation is the rare, research-proven technique that boosts your performance by physically altering your brain.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia pooled data from more than 20 studies to understand how practicing mindfulness affects the brain.

While the researchers found significant changes in eight brain regions, there are two that are of particular importance.

In these brain regions, the simple act of practicing mindfulness increased both brain activity and the density of brain tissue.

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), responsible for self-control, enables you to resist distractions, focus, and avoid impulsivity in order to work efficiently.

People who have problems in this brain area are known to stick to ineffective problem-solving strategies when they should be adjusting their approach.

The second brain region is the hippocampus which, among other things, is responsible for resilience in the face of setbacks and challenges.

The hippocampus is readily damaged by stress, making it a need area for most people.

Mindfulness is a simple, yet effective form of meditation that enables you to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviour.

People who practice mindfulness are more focused, even when they are not meditating.

Mindfulness is an excellent technique to reduce stress because it allows you to stop feeling out of control, to stop jumping from one thought to the next, and to stop ruminating on negative thoughts.

Overall, it’s a great way to make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to take place in the mountains of Nepal or a weekend retreat under a vow of silence.

The beauty of the technique is that it’s so simple you can do it anywhere and just about any time.

Mindfulness is the simple act of focusing all of your attention on the present.

This requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment.

I realise this might sound a bit abstract and complicated at first, so here’s how you can do it, even with your busy schedule.

Focus on your breathing: Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor, and spend a few minutes doing nothing but breathing slowly in and out.

Feel the air travel into your mouth, down your windpipe, and into your lungs. Then feel your body shift as it pushes the air out of your lungs.

When thoughts surface that distract you from your breathing, don’t worry. Just let them pass and shift your attention back to your breathing.

After some practice, you should be able to spend a few to several minutes doing nothing but immersing yourself in the act of breathing, at the expense of all other thoughts.

Go for a walk: Focus on each step. Feel your legs move and your feet hit the ground.

Focus solely on the act of walking and the sensations of your surroundings (the cool breeze, the hot sun, or the dog barking in the distance).

When you feel other thoughts creeping into your mind, focus even harder on the sensation of walking.

Focusing on something that’s second nature is refreshing because it alters your frame of mind as you turn off the thoughts that normally dominate your attention.

You can do the same thing when you brush your teeth, comb your hair, or eat a meal.

Feel your body: You don’t even need to stop doing what you’re doing to practice mindfulness.

All you have to do is focus all of your attention on what you’re doing without thinking about why you’re doing it, what you should do next, or what you should be doing.

Whether it’s the gentle stroke of your fingers on the keyboard or your posture in your chair, you can direct your attention from your thoughts to your bodily sensations at the spur of the moment.

Repeat one positive thing about yourself, over and over: One of the main goals of mindfulness is to stop the stream of thoughts that cycle through your mind.

A great way to do this is to choose a short, positive message about yourself and to repeat it over and over with each breath to keep your mind on track.

A great phrase of choice is “I am capable”. The simplicity keeps you grounded in the exercise and keeps other thoughts from taking over.

Interrupt the stress cycle: Any moment when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or stuck on something is the perfect moment to practice mindfulness.

Just stop what you’re doing, let the thoughts go for a moment, and practice your favourite mindfulness technique.

Even a few minutes of this can make a huge difference in quieting your mind and reducing stress. You’ll be surprised how reasonable things look once you’ve taken a few moments to clear your head.

Nothing can improve your brain the way mindfulness meditation can. Give it a try, and you’ll be surprised where it takes you.

Have you ever tried mindfulness? What’s your favourite technique?

*Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. His books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. He can be contacted at

This article first appeared on the TalentSmart website.

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