Lasting improvements in the physiology of the brain often take intense focus, discomfort, and high repetition. We have Dr. Michael Merzenich, the father of brain plasticity, to thank for teaching us this. Now, expanding research on meditation is showing how a little effort everyday can have a lasting impact.
The Amygdala and Brain Plasticity
Scientific studies have repeatedly implicated the amygdala in emotional responses to positive and negative stimuli. Activation of the amygdala initiates the emotions of fear, fight, flight, or freeze. With regard to daily focus and performance, a cursory thought in the subconscious of the mind can trigger the amygdala. That can disrupt momentum and lead to a break in consistency.
Have you ever faltered on a goal when it seemed like nothing could stop you? I have one client who tells himself the same story of failure over and over again when it comes to fitness. He will make progress quickly. Then, when it appears he has hit his stride, he will lose consistency and begin a downward spiral again.
Consistency will always win in the end. If you label yourself a failure in one area of your life over and over, you will almost surely continue to fail. The self-fulfilling prophecy will come to fruition. For my client, setting an expectation of failure makes it less traumatic when he does fail. By prefacing his goal with, “I have always made progress and then backslid,” he makes the blow softer when it happens. But he also makes it inevitable.
Often these narratives run in the subconscious. That makes it difficult to understand the real reason for failure. So when we do fail (and we should), we must run a thorough assessment as to why. Did I encounter an unforeseen external force I couldn’t overcome, or did something trigger my brain to cause me to freeze or flee? If I don’t diagnose the reason for the failure, I will almost always repeat it.
Therein lies the power of meditation. One study shows lasting control over the amygdala after just eight weeks of meditation. And controlling the amygdala can prevent it from hijacking your life without your permission. You may not “feel” the need now, but wouldn’t you like to know you’re in full control when you’re faced with that high-pressure situation? Is the return on investment of 10 minutes a day worth it?