Train-Your-Focus… Rewire Your Brain
Learning to Focus Requires Practice
We have all heard the expression “practice makes perfect” throughout life starting in childhood.
Then in 1993 Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, went on to popularize the concept that a person becomes an expert with just “10,000 hours” of focused practice. This has been debated and proven incorrect on many levels. What we do know is that practice is needed to learn and improve on any function.
Practicing Mindfulness in Focus Rewires Our Brain - The Science
How does it work?
When we repeat an activity, like playing an instrument, we strengthen the neural circuitry in the brain. You might have heard the saying that “practice is like building muscles for the mind.” The changes that we actually see is happening at the cellular level.
Enhance Brain Matter with Practice
There are two types of matter in your brain. The first gray matter, processes information and directs signals and sensory stimuli to nerve cells called neurons. The second, white matter, is a combination of nerve fibers called axons and fatty tissue. Axons are long, thin projections of neurons. Their function is to conduct electrical impulses away from the main body of the neuron to a target cell.
You can think of axons as electrical wires in the way they function because most electrical wires have insulation around them to prevent the loss of energy and to keep the energy moving efficiently along its proper path. Axons work the same way. They have a natural insulating sheath made up of a fatty substance known as myelin that serves as a covering that protects nerve fibers, prevents energy loss, and helps information move along neural pathways. When we repeat an activity, the myelin coating thickens, leading to a more efficient transfer of information.
So when we practice meditation in a systematic way, instead of building muscle memory which by the way does not exist, you actually build up myelin in neural pathways—creating a “superhighway of information connecting your brain to the rest of your body and especially your gut via the vagus nerve.
Train Your Mind and Rewire Your Brain
Interesting that it was once thought that the brain is static; but research has proven that the brain is plastic, meaning that it continues to change over the course of our lives. Cells grow. They form connections with new cells and create new communication pathways. Some stop talking to others. And it’s not just nerve cells that shift and change as we learn. Other brain cells also get into the act.
As we practice something new, cells that send and receive information about the task become more and more efficient. We create new pathways in the brain and new grooves in the mind. This is when we see that it takes less effort to do something because the neurons have become wired together. This applies to meditation.
Meditation brings your awareness into focus with a systematic process that brings you from outside to inside. Learning to regulate the body, breath, senses and mind you discover that training the mind to focus is not that difficult. However, it does require practice. You would never expect to learn to play a musical instrument without practice, so why would you expect to work with the instrument called mind, without practice.
What can you do?
To strengthen your brain pathways supporting focus and attention, learn to meditate for 10 minutes per day. Just 10 minutes per day consistently will have profound effects on your mood, emotions and ability to focus.
The goal here is to make practice through experience center stage so that you can build a stronger brain network. Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of yourself and your life.
Four ways to get the most out of your practice.
- Learn the science behind the practice to get those myelin sheaths thicker and create a superhighway for electrical impulses, then the practice recommendations make a lot more sense.
- Set aside a specific time every day, even if it is for one minute to sit, breath and practice.
- Create a specific space to do your practice free of distractions: cell phone, computer, interruptions and foot traffic.
- Start slowly to build a foundation. Create a target time less than what you think that you can do and stick with that. Example would be 5-10 minutes per day. Follow this for 40 days. Then re-evaluate. If you go over the 5-10 minutes then that is a bonus, but don’t make that your target.
Visualize yourself sitting with your head, neck and trunk aligned and set the intention that this is your time to meditate and know that you will do it, want to do it and can do it. Turn your will into action. Meditation training is not a silver bullet. But when combined with at least 10 minutes of formal daily practice that is supported over a sustained period, it can lead to valuable change in your life and your relationships. Then you can say that meditation works.