For most of human history, power came in the form of knowledge. The more the Kings, Priests, and Generals knew, the better able they were to rule, teach, and lead. We live in a very different time. With the exponential explosion in information, those who are most successful today are those who have honed the skill to ignore the 99%, and have cultivated the skill to maintain focus on the 1%.
Meditation has been found to help our minds do just this.
A group at MIT used MEG (a magnetic EEG that’s really accurate) to see if an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) course could improve selective attention (the ability to consciously choose what to focus your attention on while ignoring all that is not useful.) They found not only that the course did indeed improve this function, but this finding also overturned an old belief in neuroscience, that one’s attentional ability is largely fixed. This kind of research introduces doubt into how our healthcare system currently attempts to fix attention deficit disorders.
The second source found the same improvements of selective attention in meditators who did an intensive 3 month meditation retreat.
Our Cultural Stories About Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
Jerome Kagan, a Harvard Psychologist, and one of the highest ranking psychologists of all time (yeah, there is a ranking system based on peer-reviewed citations), has strong opinions about our cultural story around ADHD. He thinks it’s largely made-up; something created by pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists to make money.
ADHD is defined as “a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity.”
A weird thing happens when someone in this culture, wrapped in a white coat, gives us a label. Most of us are relieved that our perceived unique condition indeed has a name, then something subtle happens; we begin to identify with the label. We subconsciously begin to perceive this label as a fixed characteristic, something unchangeable and non-improvable.
This is to the woe of the individual, and a boon for the pharmaceutical companies.
This state of mind of “persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity” is improvable. Meditation improves this.
How Does Meditation Do This?
One of the most significant insights to come out of modern psychological research is something called “neuroplasticity.” This has become a buzzword, and rightfully so. For decades, scientists believed that after childhood, our brains didn’t grow anymore, but would just wither away as the years rolled by. It turns out, thankfully, that this gloomy lens of the mind is false. Our brains constantly are rewiring and changing in response to our daily actions.
ADHD is a type of thought pattern. When we meditate (especially in the way I will explain below) we slowly, consistently, daily, re-groove this habitual distracted nature. Each time we catch our wandering thought and bring it back to the breath, we gently prune and cultivate this type of thinking.
Change takes time. Most of us have 20+ years of grooving the neural pathways of our chronic distraction. Meditation is a cumulative good. If you commit to practicing it daily, and with patience…if you change your identity to “someone who meditates,” you will see change. Your mind will slowly begin to seem like an ally, rather than a deranged monkey.
How Should I Meditate?
Keep it simple. First thing when you wake up, set a timer for 5 minutes. Sit in whatever position is comfortable (I prefer position 4 with a pillow underneath instead of a stool.)
Choose to attempt to keep your awareness on the sensation of breathing.
Within seconds, you’ll notice you’ve began thinking about something. Your awareness has slipped from your breath into this thought stream.
This is actually the most important part of meditation. When you’ve noticed your awareness has slipped away, gently note what thought took you away (example: planning, back pain, last night’s dinner,) and return awareness to your breath.
This is it! It is that simple, and that devastatingly difficult.
The nature of (a part) of your mind is to produce thoughts as relentless as your heart beats. It is like an advisor to the King who is neurotically trying to offer the King advice. Before meditating, you’ll be unaware of how often you let this advisor determine how you rule. With a meditation practice, you begin to see that the advisor is insane, but genuine, and that you should be much more discriminate about which thoughts you accept to influence how you rule.
This ability to recognize which thoughts are worth your attachment, seems to be the same brain function that helps us not instinctually react to the maelstrom of push notifications that scream for our primordial threat detection program to activate.
More Meditation Research
If you’re slightly insane like I am, and you want to review over 50 of the best studies looking at the benefits of meditation, I’ve created just such an article.
I truly think meditation is THE Metaprogramming foundation habit. Love you and Namasteezy.