Category Archives: Mind

Staying connected with an underlying joy

From the Mindfulbalance blog———-

Before one’s individual ability-to-be, there goes an unshakable joy in this possibility.  Heidegger, Being and Time

There are two things, to be and to do. Don’t think too much about to do – to be is first. To be peace. To be joy. And then to do joy, to do happiness – on the basis of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being compassionate. This is the basic practice. It’s like a person sitting at the foot of a tree. The tree does not have to do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive. When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to calm down the suffering in the other person.

Thich Nhat Hahn

Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Amazing Ability to Form New Habits

This is taken from the following blog:

This is a great blog so give it a visit.

Brain and focusOne of the most popular areas of research in psychology these days isneuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice.  In many ways, neuroplasticity is what makes personal growth and development possibleat its most basic level.  With the understanding that change is indeed possible, you’re able to focus on the ways in which you’d like to grow instead of whether or not it’s achievable for you.  It’s possible, it’s proven, and now it’s up to you!

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers.  This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways unbeknownst to them.

One of the fun sayings around neuroplasticity: “neurons that fire together wire together… and neurons that fire apart wire apart.”.  Effectively this means that when neurons activate at the same time as a response to an event, the neurons become associated with one another and the connections become stronger.  This is why people talk about “neural pathways being set” with respect to increased practice – the more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become.  Of course the inverse happens as well: if those pathways aren’t utilized, the space will be used by other pathways needing room to grow. Use it or lose it!

Click for photoYou can picture this yourself by imagining the flow of water through sand (I’m writing this from a beach in Kauai so excuse the metaphor – but I always find a mental motion picture is worth a thousand words!)  When seawater first runs over the sand, there isn’t a path for it to follow so it starts to form one for itself.  As the water continues to flow over the sand, the pathway forms a real groove in the sand and gets deeper and more defined.  It may start to branch off and take up more room in the sand if necessary, even reforming pathways on top of pathways that are no longer in use if it needs to.  Once the pathways are formed, it becomes more difficult to change the water flow – and if the water ever stops flowing, the pathway will remain for some time in the hopes that it’ll be used again at some point.  (This is why picking something back up after some time of inactivity is easier than starting a new activity cold).

The research around neuroplasticity is burgeoning these days – many people in psychology are talking about the hows and whys around it, and over the last decade a fair amount of research has already been done on the brain and its ability to reshape itself.  It’s no longer considered a theory in brain science, it’s fact.  Up until the 1980s or early 1990s, most scientists believed that your brain developed in your early years (throughout childhood) and then became “hardened” like dried concrete.  One has to assume this is where the moniker, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” came from.  But it turns out this just isn’t true.  You can fundamentally change your brain so long as oxygen and blood is flowing through you.  Which means you have no excuse when it comes to forming new habits.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of neuralplasticity has been around for far longer than Western science has recognized it – the term for it is le-su-rung-wa which means “pliability”; your brain can change based on repeated experience. It’s no surprise then that studies have been performed on plasticity during meditation and have shown that the brain can change based purely on mental training.  This of course has huge ramifications for mental practice and its impact on overall well-being.  If you can think yourself into being more compassionate, or more positive and more resourceful, or calmer and more content, it seems a little too good to be true.  But with some effort, it’s possible.

There are a few interesting things to note about neuroplasticity.  Change takes place rather suddenly in the brain.  Arecent study has shown that habits can be formed in as little as 7 days of repeated activity, but can dissipate just as easily.  In other words, change comes naturally and quickly and can disappear just as quickly as it arrived.  It also appears that “learning a variety of new things, rather than simply practicing old skills, may be most effective in terms of brain structure alterations”.  And while neuroplasticity is possible in adults, it appears that in children it’s rampant – which makes logical sense as it aligns with our overall perspective on learning.

In short: this is relevant research to all of us.  It implies that people of any age have the ability to learn new things and form new habits.  Therefore contentment (my preferred term for ‘happiness’) isn’t a state you’re born into, it’s a state you can discover.  And the sky’s the limit for the ability to learn and perfect new things throughout your life.

So what are you waiting for?

Marconi Union – Weightless

On October 16th 2011, Marconi Union created an eight minute track, ‘Weightless’ in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy. In a scientific study commisioned by the Radox, it was labelled as the “most relaxing song ever”. According to scientists at the renowned Mindlab institution it induced a 65 per cent reduction in overall anxiety and brought test subjects resting pulse rates to a level 35 per cent lower than their usual resting rates. The song features guitar, piano and manipulated field recordings. It is punctuated throughout by low tones that supposedly induce a trance-like state. This propelled the band into the media spotlight and news reports, and was reported in newspapers worldwide.
Characteristically, MU declined almost all requests for interviews with the exception of a brief interview with Jarvis Cocker, during which they explicitly stated that they refused to make any claims about the so called therapeutic properties of the track, their interest in the project had been limited to the process of writing it in collaboration with the sound therapy professionals and they had set about making a piece of music they liked. They had taken no part in the testing, and that all the claims made about Weightless came from scientists and the media. Since then they have reverted to type and declined all further interview requests. inf:Wikipedia

5 Freewriting Secrets for Being a “Genius” (From Psychology Today)

These 5 tips enhance freewriting to generate more ideas.

Published on November 21, 2010 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. in Creating in Flow


You’ve heard of freewriting, certainly. At its most basic, it’s about forcing your internal editor to stay away while you splash your most raw and unusual thoughts onto the page. 

In Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insights, and Content (2nd edition, revised & updated), Mark Levy tells how he uses freewriting, not only to loosen up his writing muscles, but to solve business problems of all kinds.

Levy, author, writing teacher, and marketing strategist, shares a few “secrets” for making freewriting an indispensible tool:

5 Freewriting Tips

1. Try Easy. “Start scribbling, then remind yourself that you’re simply looking to put some decent words and ideas down on the page: you’re not trying to produce deathless prose and world-beating ideas in the course of a single night’s writing.” That recalls my own advice to “trivialize the task.”

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  • 2. Work the Way You Think. “Use kitchen language. Coined by Ken Macrorie, it’s a phrase that describes the language you use around the house when you’re lounging in knock-around clothes. It’s good strong language, but not the kind you’d normally use to get your point across in most settings.”

3. Learn to Love Lying. Freewrite about fantastic scenarios and you may find your mind unclogged. “If an element in your situation is small, think of it as tiny or jumbo.” For a fascinating example of this, see the giant puppet girl.

4. Getting a Hundred Ideas Is Easier Than Getting One. When you seek the one great idea, your perfectionism gets in the way of creativity. When you set out to amass lots of ideas, you won’t stop at the first halfway decent one.

5. Build an Inventory of Thoughts. Make good use of your freewriting pages by grabbing and sorting keepable ideas into a set of files (or a writer’s notebook).

Levy elaborates on each of those tips, and many more, using anecdotes from many realms. (I suggest you keep a batch of yellow stickies handy while you read.)



From Lifehacker. Connected To Mindfulness.

How to Develop Sherlock Holmes-Like Powers of Observation and Deduction

If there’s one spy skill we all envy, it’s the Sherlock Holmes-like ability to quickly read a situation and come up with a theory that explains it (like the toothpaste stain that reveals your co-worker overslept, or the nervous twitch that shows your friend drank too much). Luckily, anyone can hone these same skills, and it isn’t that hard. Here’s how to do it.

Observing people and situations is an incredibly valuable tool. It gives you the ability to notice subtle cues during conversations, job interviews, presentations, and anywhere else so you can react to situations more tactfully. These are the trademark tools of Sherlock Holmes, as well as modern day detectives you see on TV shows like Psych, Monk, or The Mentalist. To figure out how to train your brain for Sherlock Holmes-esque intuition, I spoke with journalist and psychologist Maria Konnikova, author of the upcoming book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. The two core values of Holmes’ skills are simple: observation and deduction.

Increase Your Powers of Observation


Most of us don’t pay attention to the world around us. What makes a detective good is the ability to notice small details. Konnikova suggests this is all about building the habit of being mindful of your surroundings: 

It’s not a superhuman ability. It’s important to note when talking about Holmes that he has spent a lifetime cultivating the habits of mindfulness. So it’s not like he was just born with this ability to be in touch with the world. What we choose to notice or not notice is a way of framing it in our own mind. We have a lot of bad habits in our mind, and we have to retrain ourselves to really notice the world. Everything we do rewires the brain, but we can rewire it in a way that mindfulness eventually becomes less of an effort.

Our worst habit is that we simply don’t pay attention. We’re always trying to get things done quickly, and because of that, we lose the childlike wonder of focusing in on the smaller details and asking “why is that there?” So, like any habit, increasing your powers of observation means first identifying your bad habit (you prioritize getting things done fast and miss the smaller details), and cultivating new habits (slowing down and paying attention). The first step is to just stop and pay attention every once and awhile, but here are a few things you can do to train your brain along the way. Photo by Olivier Bacquet.

Give Yourself Monthly or Daily Challenges That Force You to Slow Down


One of the classic tricks for forming a new habit is to gradually work yourself into it every day. Since we’re looking at observation as a habit, let’s start by observing one new thing every day. 

You can do anything you want here, provided it causes you to slow down and observe the world from another angle. Personally, I try to take one interesting picture a day (like the 365 Project). For me, that means stopping and actually paying attention to the countless amounts of weird things I usually don’t notice when I’m moving around my city. Other ideas could include trying new foods weekly and writing about them, noticing the color of a co-worker’s shirt every day, or even just looking at a new piece of art closely once a day.

The idea is to gradually teach yourself to notice small details in your environment and daily life. As you do so, you’ll become more likely to notice everything that’s out of place. Photo by Stacie.

Take Field Notes to Focus Your Attentions


If you’re really struggling to pay attention and personal challenges aren’t working, scientists teach us another trick: start taking field notes throughout the day. Time explains

First, scientists train their attention, learning to focus on relevant features and disregard those that are less salient. One of the best ways to do this is through the old-fashioned practice of taking field notes: writing descriptions and drawing pictures of what you see.

When you get yourself in the mindset of taking field notes, you start paying attention to the tiny details. You can do this anywhere. If you’re at work, dedicate 10 minutes to observing one person’s behavior. Pay attention to how often they take a sip of water, when their eyes stray from their computer screen, or if they’re constantly checking their email. The more you do this on paper, the better you’ll get at doing it on the fly. Photo by Incase.

Briefly Meditate Daily


Meditation is sometimes equated with a religious experience or seen as silly, but it’s a good skill for anyone to learnthat can help increase your focus. It’s also not as rigorous as you might think. As Konnikova notes, a few minutes a day is all you really need: 

There’s this whole area of mindfulness training that teaches you to pay attention to yourself and what’s going through your head more. It’s not about going on a meditation retreat, but just taking a couple minutes at your desk. I think that’s important to keep in mind—meditation doesn’t mean you have to run off and become a monk, it’s just a way to refocus your mind.

As we’ve talked about before, meditation is all about teaching yourself focus. When you can focus on yourself, you’ll likely become a better observer of the world as well. Photo by John.

Power Up Your Deduction Skills with Critical Thinking

Once you start paying close attention to the world, you can start turning those observations into theories or ideas. Deduction is about thinking through a situation logically, and then applying critical thinking to what you’re seeing. Essentially, critical thinking is analyzing what you observe closely, and deduction is coming up with a conclusion based on those facts.

Analyze What You See or Read, and Ask Questions


You’re not going to find a complete guidebook out there for critical thinking, but the first step is to recapture your childlike awe of the world and start asking as many questions as possible. Konnikova suggests you start asking yourself questions: 

It’s important to teach yourself to think critically about something. So, when you store new information or learn anything new, you don’t just by rote put it in your brain, you learn to critically analyze everything. You ask yourself, “Why is this important?” “How does this connect with things I already know?” or “Why do I want to remember it?” When you’re doing that you’re training your brain to make connections between things and you’re building a network of knowledge.

This is a bit of extra work, but boosting your reading comprehension isn’t that hard, and when you get in the habit of doing it you’ll walk away with a stronger memory of what you read. When you’re asking a lot of questions, you’re thinking critically, and that improves your skills at deduction in general. We’ve talked before about using Michel de Montaigne’s idea of writing notes in books, and that’s an excellent step to take here as well. Once you write down your opinion, and the questions you have after reading, it’ll solidify those ideas in your head longer. Photo by francois.

Form Connections Between What You See and What You Know


Of course, all the increased perception and critical thinking isn’t going to do you any good unless you can start making connections between the knowledge you have and what you see. Konnikova describes this as maximizing your mental real estate: 

It’s not necessarily that Holmes remembers more, but that he can see connections that people usually miss. People think Holmes is this paragon of logic, but that logic is innately imaginative at its core. He doesn’t think linearly, he engages his entire network of possible connections.

Essentially, Holmes remembers so much because he encodes knowledge by seeing its uses right away. It’s similar to how the memory palace works, but instead of leveraging the memory on a space, it connects it to previous knowledge like a mind map. Traditionally, mind maps are used as brainstorming tools, but they’re a great way to take notes as well. I used mind maps for notes throughout college to connect ideas between classes together, and it helped solidify those memories in my head far better than when I simply wrote down what the professor was saying.

So, how does all this work together? The more connections you make, and the more often you think critically, the better you’re going to get at making deductions:

It has to do a lot with the way that information is stored in Holmes’ brain. It’s kind of a circular argument—learning to think critically about something will also innately teach you remember something better. In doing that you’re not only enhancing your ability to make deductions but you’re also increasing your knowledge base.

With a little practice and critical thinking, you’ll eventually be able to start making those trademark leaps in logic Holmes is known for.

Increase Your Knowledge Base


One of the big takeaways from Sherlock Holmes—or any detective out there—is that it’s rarely worth it to condense your knowledge into a specialty. Being more of a renaissance type with both your learning and your skill set will make your skills of deduction much stronger. Konnikova sums it up like so: 

You should be broad in your knowledge. Holmes says that you should have a clean “brain attic,” but he’s also a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. He reads incredibly broadly—he reads about art, music—things that you would think have no bearing on his detective work. I think that’s an important lesson that we can take. It’s bad to overspecialize, and we should try to remain as curious about all the different types of things you want to learn.

Being a student of everything isn’t an easy task, but whether you’re looking to read people better, or just increase your general knowledge base, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few places to start from our own archives:

It takes a lot of practice and the formation of true habits to emulate the way Sherlock Holmes and other detectives view the world, but it’s not that difficult to do yourself. Once you train your brain to stop and pay attention to the tiny details, the rest of the process falls into place. Before you know it you’re able to analyze any situation—whether it’s a friend’s hangover or a stranger’s affair—in no time. Photo by Nick Webb.

Maria Konnikova is a journalist, psychologist, and author of the upcoming book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. You can find more of her writing on her web site.