Happy New Year! We are all starting off 2016 with different resolutions, be that improved productivity, reduced stress, healthier body, or more enjoyment. The research is now overwhelming that core to our wellbeing, and the basis for achieving our resolutions, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be present moment-to-moment and simply notice new things.
Ellen Langer and Jon Kabat-Zinn have been studying mindfulness for decades and demonstrated myriads of positive effects. Research shows that mindfulness can alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders, improve your health, slow aging, and improve relationships with others.
A telling overview comes from the review of 52 pieces of research:
“Both basic and clinical research indicate that cultivating a more mindful way of being is associated with less emotional distress, more positive states of mind, and better quality of life. In addition, mindfulness practice can influence the brain, the autonomic nervous system, stress hormones, the immune system, and health behaviors, including eating, sleeping and substance use, in salutary ways.”
With all the evidence, it is clear that making mindfulness the first resolution for 2016 will allow all the other resolutions to fall into place.
Two more recent pieces of research:
1) Mind wandering makes us unhappy
The Greater Good wrote up research in 2013 that Matt Killingsworth conducted in his doctoral program at Harvard University through an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness.org. The study gathered 650,000 real time reports of 150,000 people on happiness. The research found that when people are paying attention to something other than what they are doing in the moment, they are significantly less happy. Unfortunately, except for during sex, people had wandering minds on average 47% of the time. During sex it was only 10% of the time J.
2) Meditation actually changes the brain
Washington Post in May 2015 wrote about Susan Lazar’s et al research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) out of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, which showed that long-term meditators have more brain gray matter. Meditation has positive effects on four regions of the brain, as shown in FMRI:
- Posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation
- The temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is associated with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion
- The Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced
Meditation also reduces the size of the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain, which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.
With all this positive research on mindfulness, here is a quick reminder of ways we can all practice being more mindful:
1) Meditate On Your Breath – the simple process of paying attention to the breath, which is always there and available, brings our focus to now. In-out-in-out. Practicing this for a few minutes in quiet time every day gives us the skill to use the breath as a grounding element throughout our days, especially when tension rises.
2) Simply Notice New Things – keeping a curious mind helps us remember that we don’t actually know what is going to happen next in life. How fun is that? Everything is always changing and everything looks different from different perspectives. We can just observe what arises and be curious about it without judgment.
3) Pay Attention to Your Body – a quick scan of your belly and your shoulders will tell you plenty about your current state in the moment. Pausing and listening to our bodies makes us mindful of what is happening now. It gives us information about our reactivity and makes us aware of the choices we have in our words and actions.
Make as many New Years resolutions as you like, but make sure the first resolution is to be mindful. May your 2016 be filled moments of noticing something new.