Even Old Dogs Can Learn SIYLI Tricks

September 9, 2012

When you work in a high pressure industry, it’s essential to find peace of mind as meet your deadlines. At Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, we work with heads of business, engineers and more to teach them how to train their brain for success.

But what happens if you’re not a fresh-faced college student? It turns out that 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. DeCharms 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 up- or down-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.” Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it 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 greatly strengthened with practice. It leads directly to the attentional 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 (ie: rush hour traffic or phones ringing off the hook), they show lesser 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 little mindful meditation. It’s easier than trying to delete a rash message off the server…

SIYLI Suggestion:
This week 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.