Becoming more aware of your mindset and your thoughts areis a part of becoming healthy. It is important to see that there is such a push to make sure everyone eats healthy and exercises but is there a key to doing these things and continuing doing them? Especially today, there is an underlying problem to get people to take the steps to get in better shape. We want to be healthy, and we try to accomplish the goals that we have set for ourselves.
Maybe, we make healthy choices for an aware short time, but then we give up. The reason for this is many do not have the discipline to continually work at it to accomplish their goal. Speaking as a person who has struggled with this, we should find out how to accomplish these goals without giving up. It must start with a good mindset and self-discipline. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (What is Mindfulness?).
When putting into practice this idea of becoming more aware, not only can it help us continue making healthy choices, but it also has many mental and physical benefits. This element of health is not stressed enough compared to other essential well-being practices. Mindfulness has many benefits, it can physically change the brain and is essential to overall health. When diving into understanding this idea, it is good to get over the misconceptions.
Being mindful is not an out-of-the-ordinary thought that takes a lot of effort. It is a notion that people do regularly without realizing it.
By noticing it more, it can be controlled more (What is Mindfulness?). If we put it in perspective, people have two different mindsets. The “observing mind” and the “thinking mind”. Part of our brain is uncontrollable and is always thinking and processing while the other side of our brain is watching it think (Edblad, 43-44). The “thinking mind” gets stuck on a problem or a task that cannot be turned to start thinking about something else. Emotions are a part of this, too. “The problem with the thinking mind is that you can’t completely control it” (Edbald, 44). Patrick Edbald, the author of The Self-discipline Blueprint, gives a short experiment to make this clearer: “Once again, finish this paragraph, then close your eyes for thirty seconds. This time, you can think about whatever you want except a white bear. Are you ready? Go! Now, not only did you think about a white bear. You were also watching yourself think about a white bear” (pg. 44). The mind becomes absorbed into that one emotion or thought. To get a hold of our emotions and negative thoughts we need to become aware of them without being caught up in them (Edblad, pg. 45). Dr. Amishi Jha compares it to an MP3 player. Our mind can fast forward and rewind to other thoughts, but to be mindful means the player stays on “play” and is the e of the present (Meditation: In-Depth). When we become more aware of every little thing, we can make smart and effortless decisions to our fixed problems (What is Mindfulness?). “An NIH report found that Americans spent $4 billion on mindfulness-related alternative medicine in 2007, including MBSR” (Pickert). That is a lot of people putting their money into something that many have disregarded. Another National Health Interview Survey in 2017, showed that in the United States the number of people using meditation tripled within 5 years (Meditation: In-Depth).
There must be a reason and purpose behind this with such an increase inis use. The reason is that, with more research being done on how this affects people, the evidence for benefits of mindfulness on health and overall well-being is more substantial (Watt, pg. 6). “In the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, nearly 80% of the successful people he interviewed have some form of meditation or relaxation practice. Arnold Schwarzenegger and billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio have credited mindfulness meditation for much of their success” (Knee, pg. 15). Well-known and accomplished people are taking this into practice and making themselves more successful. The numerous benefits are the reason why so many people do it and benefit from it. Reduced rumination, stress reduction, a boost to working memory and focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, and relationship satisfaction are just some of the benefits (Davis). People with stressful jobs or jobs that need a lot of concentration can use mindfulness to relax and sharpen their minds. Patients with chronic pain can use mindfulness to diminish their pain or to better cope with their pain (Pickert). “Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation, all functions associated with the brain’s middle prefrontal lobe area” (Davis). The gains, such as listed, are exponential, but they are not just general concepts thought up. There is the evidence behind them. All the factors that are achieved by doing this contribute to better health. “Results from a 2013 NCCIH-supported study involving 49 adults suggest that 8 weeks of mindfulness training may reduce stress-induced inflammation better than a health program that includes physical activity, education about diet, and music therapy” (Mediation: In-Depth). This study presents that doing this type of training was helping people relieve their stress more than doing other activities. Taking people and processing what changes they go through when they get involved in a training course for mindfulness. A study by Moore and Malinowski in 2009 compared a group that did a meditation to a group that did not.
The group who meditated had much higher focus and “cognitive flexibility” (Davis). Having less stress and better focus will translate into a person’s day-to-day life. Stress is a big component of why people are not healthy. “Meditation also activates the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). Activation of this region corresponds with faster recovery to baseline after being negatively provoked (Davidson, 2000; Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000)” (Davis). When a person has less stress and more self-esteem, they are better able to deal with hard situations. As mindfulness is becoming more popular and hundreds of people are using it, “In the years since, scientists have been able to prove that meditation and rigorous mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune response and possibly even affect gene expression” (Pickert). With these findings, the state of the mind is affecting the physiology of the body. The functions of your body, that are not voluntary, will change with a change of mindset. Influencing your overall health. In the past years, numerous studies have presented that meditation can change the brain and body physically to bring healthier practices to people (Meditation: In-Depth). The next two studies will be looked at in-depth, illustrating that the mindset changes the brain’s physical structure. “In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. The process (called gyrification) may increase the brain’s ability to process information” (Mediation: In-Depth). To investigate and explain this study more, this project put together a hundred people to compare the sizes of different areas in their brains. Specifically looking at the gyrification of the brain. “Gyrification is an important cerebral characteristic related to the geometry of the brain’s surface” (Luder). Looking into it further it is found that: “Gyrification increases the surface area of the brain and enhances neural processing; this may imply that regular mindfulness practice can only lead to improvement in the way the brain processes information, makes decisions, forms memories, and so forth” (4 Scientific Facts).
As found from this study the meditators had overall larger gyrification than the people who had not meditated. This change in the brain could be linked to the action meditators take to get their mind in the right state. They will be able to better control the time when the brain is “daydreaming, mind-wandering, and projections into past and future” (Luder). A similar study was done with a hundred and fifty-five participants. MRIs were taken to see when the participants practiced mindfulness, would whether certain areas of their brain increased or decrease in mass based on what they were doing (Taren). Taking into account two specific parts the amygdala and the caudate. The amygdala is the part of the brain that responds to stress. As found, more mindful people had smaller amygdala volumes. Those people are likely to be less reactive to day-to-day stress (Taren). The caudate is the part of the brain associated with the “reward response”, processing negative effects and the response to sadness. It was found that this area was also smaller in more mindful people. They will then have a better ability to regulate processes and responses to negativity (Taren). They will be less reactive to negativity and sadness because this area is smaller. Along with those results, it is also found that: “This study provides an initial indication that higher dispositional mindfulness is associated with decreased grey matter volume in the amygdala and caudate; these volumetric differences may help explain reduced stress relativity in more mindful individuals” (Taren).
These conclusions present the information that being mindful is not just theoretical. It physically changes the brain. “Thus, mindfulness may be protective against the structural neural changes associated with negative affective traits” (Taren). Doing other activities such as sports and physical exercise can contribute to these changes, but they cannot be the sole action. Although, “Meditation begins and ends in the body. It involves taking the time to pay attention to where we are and what’s going on, and that starts with being aware of your body” (What is Mindfulness?), there is a certain extent that which physical exercise cannot cover up the mental state. Author of “Why Sports Aren’t a Replacement for Mindfulness Practice” explains this. With a background of being an athletic skier, Sasha Dingle says: “You would think body awareness would be the natural gateway to self-awareness, since both are seated in the brain region the insular cortex, yet that does not seem to consistently be the case.” She is specifically talking about the correlation of sports to mindfulness. Just being an athlete and having the feeling and focus from the sport does not translate to day-to-day actions. Sports can be a great way to find self-awareness because it takes practice, scheduling, and setting goals in both areas to become successful. “But, sports can also be a great avoidance strategy,” says Sasha. Some may use sports as an entrance to be aware and find that certain feeling. Without that time those people cannot find that feeling. They need this feeling to connect with themselves (Dingle). There are further arguments against mindfulness. Dr. Bence Nanay gives his counterargument by explaining the downfalls of this practice. Some of which can be agreed upon. First, he states, “Mindfulness is not the one-size-fits-all solution that blows away all of our problems”.
This is true because there is not one health practice that will fit everyone’s problems. There is also not one healthy habit such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness, that can stand alone. They are all components of living healthy. “Mindfulness is used to describe a more general approach of being aware of our experience in the present moment – without judging it – which the practice of meditation can help us to develop” (Watt, pg. 4). The statement makes clear that “meditation can help us to develop”, not to fix, or to guarantee that we then can be more present. Second, taking every moment to focus intently does not allow our minds to relax (Nanay). Agreed, if the intent is to focus all the time there will be no freedom to just let the mind go. Which is a needed time to relax the mind. Meditation and mindfulness just give the mind time to relax because it lets go of the other problems flooding our mind. “If you do experience any sense of calm, it is not from stilling the stormy weather of life, but from learning to ride its chaotic energy” (Watt, pg. 6). Third, having a completely focused mindset may take away from being able to do certain tasks of daily life (Nanay). This, like the last reason, is valid. There are some tasks where the mind needs to let go. There is a time though that the mind needs to be reset. Through this time, it is not a time to necessarily become relaxed. It is finding yourself at the moment (Watt, pg. 6). Fourth, “Exercise is good for you, of course, but exercising all day every day is just too much” (Nanay). Like any other body part, the brain should not be over-exercised. Although, like any other muscle in your body it is important to “exercise the brain”. The reason being is that the brain can change and adjust to the environment which is known as neuroplasticity. Therefore, it is important to “exercise the brain” (Pickert). Finally, “Defocused attention is the mind’s downtime and without it, life would be tough” (Nanay). When we have time where our mind is not focused and is just drifting through thoughts it is a very relaxing time. As those thoughts turn into an obsession it will be hard to come back. Our minds will get into o “automatic pilot” where we do things without thinking about them. Our minds can get into a pit of negative thinking while being on “automatic pilot” without even knowing how we got there. This is where being aware can come into play (Watt, pg. 10).
Mindfulness can pull us out of the spiral of negativity. There are many ways to become mindful. One simple practice to start with is to establish your position and then concentrate on your breathing. Every time your mind wanders bring it back to the breath (What is Mindfulness). This exercise gives something continuous to come back to after your mind goes away. A very simple thought of what the body is doing and being able to come back to it. Doing this will help the whole mindset control the body and thoughts. The author, of Startups,game-changer Made Simple, Matt Knee says, “Being able to calm your mind is an incredibly valuable skill and a game-changer for me personally” (pg. 15). As a very influential man for many entrepreneurs, it is empowering that even high-profile people use this in their lives. The idea of mindfulness may seem eccentric and something only certain religions do or people who are weirdweirdly spiritual people spiritual, but it is an everyday idea. Talking about it could be uncomfortable, for it is not a well-taught or universal idea. It is a normal thing that needs to be talked about more. Having the ability to take a hold of thoughts is a strong attribute that will help everyone become more successful in life. “From this point forward, choose to perceive discomfort not as an obstacle but as an opportunity for growth” (Edbald, pg. 13).