There are some things that don't just metaphorically change your brain, but physically change it, too. Mindfulness (along with narcotics) is one of them, but it changes it for the better. You've probably heard all the buzz about mindfulness, and if you practice yoga in a studio on a regular basis, you might even be burned out by the term. However, now that mindfulness is backed up by real science, it's time to revisit it. Being mindful and in the moment can change your brain in a myriad of ways. Clearly, this is something business leaders need to know.
The Harvard Business Review contributed to the research in 2011 with an eight-week study on mindfulness. It was found that there were dramatic boosts in gray matter density following a regimen of "present-ness." Since then, a smattering of additional labs from around the globe have looked into how meditation (an integral part of mindfulness) can optimize the brain. Most recently, researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology collaborated on over 20 studies to find out exactly what parts of the brain are most impacted by meditation.
Shockingly, mindfulness can make a big change in more than eight regions of your brain! However, let's look at two of the most interesting areas and see what's cooking.
Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) part of the brain is nestled well below the brain's surface right behind the frontal lobe. It's a region linked with self-regulation, such as your ability to sustain focus and attention.
It's also what keeps you from telling your boss, "You're an idiot" on a regular basis, eating an entire cake, and being flexible when your flaky friend changes their plans yet again. It basically stops you from being an asshole.
If you don't have a well-functioning ACC, you can be impulsive, aggressive, and do poorly on your work (in other words, it's you after too many cocktails). Having an unhealthy ACC is bad for decision-making and collaboration.
People who meditate have highly functioning ACC areas and can avoid distractions more than the average person. They do better on tests and in MRIs, the ACC level is more active overall. You'll become better at learning from your mistakes, which help you become a killer decision maker! In today's world of fast changes and uncertainty, a great ACC is certainly a perk.
The hippocampus part of the brain also has more gray matter for the mindful. It looks like a seahorse and is located in the temple areas of the forehead. Integrated into the limbic system, which is connected to memory and emotion, you want a healthy Hippocampus.
Nearby are receptors for cortisol, the stress hormone, which other studies have indicated can be damaged from regular stress. Those with PTSD and depression have a smaller hippocampus than normal. A good hippocampus is related to resiliency, which of course is critical in today's world.
Keep in mind (perhaps in the ACC!) these two regions are just part of the mindfulness impact. Studies show that mindfulness benefits the brain areas that govern pain tolerance, complex thinking, self-awareness, perception, emotional regulation, and body awareness.
Being mindful for even 3-5 minutes at a time is a great start.
Mindfulness is no longer an ooey, gooey, nice crunchy granola, treehugger-type benefit--it's paramount for optimal brain health and crucial for success in many different parts of your life.