You have a super tool to create what you want. Always available at no cost.
Your brain is rewiring itself constantly. The brain adds neural capacity to regions you exercise. Choose a different experience, like meditation, and your brain begins working differently. Change your mind, and information starts to flow along new neural pathways in the brain. The brain’s neurons reconfigure themselves accordingly, firing and wiring to fit the new pattern. As the mind directs, the brain responds. (…)
Emotional regulation may be jargon from neuroscience, but those two words have a big impact on your daily life. Better emotional regulation means that you’re not derailed by common challenges such as:
- Getting triggered by co-workers at your job
- Annoying things your spouse or partner says or does
- Being startled by sudden noises or sights
- The problematic behavior of your children
- What politicians say and do
- Being stuck in traffic
- Stories in the news
- The way your body looks and functions
- Winning or losing at games or conflicts with others
- Religious conflicts or views held by others
- The stock market, your investments, and the economy
- Staying calm when people around you “are stressed out
- Being short of time or feeling overwhelmed
- The amount of money you have or expect to have
- The way other people drive their cars
- Your age and how your body is changing
- Crowds, shopping, and close physical proximity to other people
- Other people’s opinions that clash with yours
- Your expectations about the way your life ought to be
- The way your parents think and what they say
- Having to wait in line or wait for something you want
- The enviable lifestyles of movie stars and celebrities
- People who make unwanted demands on your time and attention
- The possessions you have or don’t have
- Annoying relatives you interact with at family gatherings
- Random mishaps of daily life
- Getting or not getting promotions, rewards, and other things you want
- . . . and anything else that routinely annoys you
Imagine having a brain with vastly increased ability to master those challenges, preventing them from compromising your happiness. Meditation doesn’t just change your state—the way you feel at the moment. It changes your traits—the enduring aspects of personality engraved in your brain that govern your outlook on life. Among the positive traits fostered by meditation are greater resilience in the face of adversity, more sympathy for others, and increased compassion for oneself (Goleman & Davidson, 2017). It also leads to a greater degree of self-regulation, making you the master of your emotions rather than a slave to them.
A classic 1972 study called the Stanford marshmallow experiment tested emotional regulation in preschool children. A marshmallow was put in front of them, after which they were left alone in a room. They were promised that they would get a second marshmallow if they could refrain from eating the first one for 15 minutes. Thirty years later, the lives of those who could regulate their emotions were better in many ways. They achieved higher scores on college entry exams. They earned more money and created happier marriages. They had a lower body mass index (BMI) and fewer addictive behaviors (Schlam, Wilson, Shoda, Mischel, & Ayduk, 2013).
The parts of the brain tasked with emotional regulation are also the ones that handle working memory, as revealed by MRI scans (Schweizer, Grahn, Hampshire, Mobbs, & Dalgleish, 2013). Working memory involves awareness, enabling you to remain focused on an activity and to sort relevant from irrelevant information. When your emotions are disturbed, those parts of the brain go offline for use by working memory. You then make poor decisions. When you learn effective emotional regulation, as Graham Phillips did, you are able to control your emotions, freeing up the brain’s memory circuits to run your life wisely.
YOUR EVERYDAY SUPERPOWER
This is the everyday superpower that you possess: second by second, you are changing your brain by the way you use your mind. The consciousness of your mind is becoming the cells of the matter of your brain.
We’re impressed when we see on-screen superheroes who can change their bodies at will. They may develop mental brilliance, like the hero in the movie and TV series Limitless, who takes an experimental drug called NZT that unlocks the full potential of his brain. Or the X-Men, each one of whom has a unique superpower gift.
Yet you, at this very moment, possess the superpower to change your brain. With each thought you think, as you direct your attention, you’re signaling your brain to create new neural connections. Use this power deliberately, rather than allowing random thoughts to flow through your mind, and you start to consciously direct the formation of neural tissue. After a few weeks, your brain changes substantially. Keep it up for years, and you can build a brain that’s habituated to process the signals of love, peace, and happiness.
This isn’t a comic book or sci-fi movie; this is your life! Changing your brain is something you’re doing every day. Now it’s time to direct the process deliberately in a way that improves your life. Just as you upgrade the operating system of your computer or smartphone, you can upgrade your brain by changing your mind. Mind to matter.
- Goleman, D., & Davidson, R. J. (2017). Altered traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain, and body. New York: Penguin.
- Schlam, T. R., Wilson, N. L., Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., & Ayduk, O. (2013). Preschoolers’ delay of gratification predicts their body mass 30 years later. The Journal of Pediatrics, 162(1), 90–93.
- Schweizer, S., Grahn, J., Hampshire, A., Mobbs, D., & Dalgleish, T. (2013). Training the emotional brain: Improving affective control through emotional working memory “training. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(12), 5301–5311.