Mindfulness: My 2014 Resolution
It’s a time of new beginnings. A new year presents a new opportunity for us all to be the people we want to be. Here are some of my goals for 2014:
- Practice yoga at least 3 times per week
- Meditate at least 5 times per week
- Write at least one blog post per week
- Travel to at least two new places by plane (for pleasure)
- Complete at least one educational course
I got started on goal #1 yesterday by attending class at O2 Yoga in Cambridge. The studio was packed. It seems I wasn’t the only yogi with a 2014 resolution.
At the end of class, the instructor made an amazingly insightful comment, “A lot of people say they love practicing yoga because it makes them feel good, but what if we take off the ‘good’ in that statement. ‘Yoga makes us feel’. It attunes us to our breath, to our bodies, to our awareness of our minds. Yoga makes us more alive”
Her profound words couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. My number one resolution for 2014: to be more mindful. Mindfulness is something I’ve written about before, and have made much progress on in 2013. In 2014, however, I want to take my ability to be mindful to a new level. Too many times in 2013 I made mistakes that came back to one root cause: I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was acting absent-mindedly. I’m hard-pressed to think of a worse feeling than making a mistake that could’ve been easily avoided if only I had been more mindful. I hope to fill 2014 with as few of those moments as possible.
I recently read an absolutely fascinating book about the human brain called Your Brain at Work by David Rock. Written for the scientific layman by a business consultant, Rock details daily challenges most working adults face and why we react the way we do in dealing with them. Beyond the psychology of how mental patterns are formed, Rock delves into the neuroscience of which regions of the brain perform given functions, and how taking them into account will allow us to maximize our efficiency and effectiveness.
Rock uses the metaphor of a stage to stand in for the pre-frontal cortex, the most evolved region of the brain, with actors representing conscious information and audience members sub-conscious information. He points out early on that while the pre-frontal cortex is highly evolved, it’s also very energy inefficient. That’s why things like multitasking can be so difficult and downright exhausting.
About halfway through the book, Rock introduces the idea of the director. Activating the director, as Rock puts it, allows us to cultivate self-awareness or mindfulness. With self-awareness, we can pause before we react. It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones. Rock cites scientific studies linking mindfulness to reduced stress and improved immune system functionality. It appears cultivating mindfulness does more than just allow us to keep from making stupid mistakes.
Rock then goes on to cite a study that outlines mindfulness from a neuroscientific perspective. Scientists at the University of Toronto discovered that people have two distinct ways of interacting with the world using two distinct brain maps. There’s your default, every-day, auto-pilot network which turns everything into a long narrative where every new piece of information attaches to the piece before it to create one long story. Then there’s the direct network which processes information as it comes in unfiltered, as it truly is.
The interesting thing about these two ways of perceiving information is they use entirely different regions of the brain. If you’re perceiving information as it relates to the narrative in your head, you’re allocating brain resources to visualize your narrative at the expense of the sensory experience in front of you. When you focus entirely on that sensory experience, however, you’re utilizing your brain to be present and alive in that moment. Your brain isn’t trying (and failing) to be two places at once causing you to be absent-minded in the present. You can either be here now, or keep spinning that narrative in your mind. It’s entirely up to you.
Rock also touches on the subject of neuroplasticity, the concept that the brain can and will change. By practicing mindfulness on a habitual basis, we can steer the direction in which our brain evolves, and that’s my goal for 2014. Practicing yoga at least 3 times per week, meditating at least 5 times per week, and writing blog posts at least once per week will all help me move in that positive direction. I invite you to join me in making 2014 a more mindful year than the last.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2014 for all of us!