Researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate what mental experiences actually rewire the brain for better coordination, heightened awareness and quicker access to stored information. The studies have been held at the W. M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, led by neuroscientist Richard Davidson.
Using electroencephalograph testing and brain scanning with the monks since 1992, Davidson’s team found that certain types of meditation increase the activity of the pre-frontal cortex, increasing mental activity and the ability to perform without increasing adrenalin and stress. The greatest bursts of activity occur when the monks focus on positive thoughts and emotions.
As a result, there is now scientific evidence that choosing your specific thoughts and emotions can permanently change the working of the brain.
In fact, the brain impulses were the strongest in both monks and volunteers when they focused on unconditional compassion. The Dalai Lama’s teachings describe this state as the “unrestricted readiness and availability to help living beings.” The focus does not have to be on particular objects, memories or images. Participants practiced feeling love and compassion. When they did, their brains went into action, connecting and building new circuitry at high speed.
The increase of gamma waves, the highest-frequency and most important of electrical impulses, was found in all participants regardless of prior mental training. When shifting into feeling happy and loving, brain activity increases. However, the greatest effects are seen in the trained minds of the monks, and those who have been practicing this “emotional meditation” over time.
“What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one,” Davidson said. Yet lesser but significant results were found when testing volunteers who had no practice with meditation.
Previously, most studies on increasing mental acuity and physical performance focused on either changing thought patterns or clearing the mind of all thought when doing a task or sport. Davidson has found that adding in the emotional element to our mental practice is the key to increasing the gamma waves.
BRAIN TIP: Spending ten minutes a day focusing on feeling loving and kind can make your smarter.
These studies also prove that mental connections are not fixed at any stage of life. With the help in advances in brain imaging, scientists have embraced the concept of ongoing brain development and “neuroplasticity.”
BRAIN FACT: Therefore, changing the way we think and behave is a matter of will. We can no longer say that we “can’t” change our habits, temperaments and possibly, our personalities. The brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine. The work has just begun.
BRAIN PRACTICE: However, the key word is “discipline.” Mental discipline means first, being aware of our thoughts, and even more importantly, our emotions. Then we must engage in the daily practice of shifting our emotional states and keeping our emotions intact for as long a period of time as we can. I suggest you choose your emotional state at least three times a day: when you get up to set the tone of your day, at mid-day to reset your state, then before you go to sleep to make sure you rest with peace of mind. Choose to feel happy, grateful, kindhearted, appreciative, affectionate, amazed, and even amused.
Do you want to be smarter? Then you must commit to choosing your emotions and thoughts. With practice, the new circuitry will create the new mental habits that will actively change your life.