The Brain Can be Trained
No matter your age, your brain can be trained. This claim is based on a fairly new branch of science known as “neuroplasticity.” The idea is that what we think, do and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brains. So what would happen if SIYLI helped you gain control of your emotions and bolster your productivity?
An example comes from the work led by Christopher deCharms. He had people who suffer from chronic pain lie inside a MRI scanner and, using real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging technology, he showed each participant an image of a fire on a video screen. The greater the neural activity in the parts of their brains associated with their pain, the greater the fire became. By using that visual display, he could get people to learn to regulate that brain activity and, with that ability, participants reported a corresponding decrease in their levels of pain.
So how do you start training your brain if you don’t have access to an MRI? By training your attention. The way to train this quality of attention is something known as “mindfulness meditation,” which Jon Kabat-Zinn defines as “paying attention in a particular way—on purpose, in the present moment and non- judgmentally.” Mindfulness is a quality of mind that we all experience from time to time, but it is something that can be strengthened with practice. It leads directly to the calmness and clarity that forms the basis of emotional intelligence.
Once you’re able to be mindful and present, you’ll be amazed at the control you wield. An interesting study by neuroimaging researcher Julie Brefczynski-Lewis reveals that when expert meditators experience negative sounds (e.g. rush-hour traffic or phones ringing incessantly), they show less activation in the part of the emotional brain called the amygdala compared to novice meditators.
What does this mean for someone just trying to get through the work day? A lot, actually. When your amygdala detects what looks like a threat to your survival, say a charging saber-toothed tiger or a slight from the boss, it puts you in a fight-flight-freeze mode and impairs your rational thinking.
So the next time you feel like sending your boss an angry email about the meeting you’ve just had, instead try a moment of mindful meditation.
Try labeling your emotions. Studies from UCLA have found that if you take the time to label your emotions (“I feel anxious”), it helps you control them.