Meditate To Become A Fine Tuned Willpower Machine

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In Willpower Instinct, Dr. Kelly McGonigal tells us:

“There is growing scientific evidence that you can train your brain to get better at self-control. What does willpower training for your brain look like?… Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness… One study found that just three hours of meditation practice led to improved attention and self-control. After eleven hours, researchers could see those changes in the brain. The new meditators had increased neural connections between regions of the brain important for staying focused, ignoring distractions, and controlling impulses. Another study found that eight weeks of daily meditation practice led to increased self-awareness in everyday life, as well as increased gray matter in corresponding areas of the brain. It may seem incredible that our brains can reshape themselves so quickly, but meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, in much the same way that lifting weights increases blood flow to your muscles. The brain appears to adapt to exercise in the same way that muscles do, getting both bigger and faster in order to get better at what you ask of it.”

Imagine if we could enhance our willpower, our ability to stay focused and make better decisions. That’s exactly what meditation can do by boosting blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for these functions.

As we persist with more and more reps, we steadily improve at attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness.

I have a formal meditation practice, but I also use all the tasks I do throughout the day as a form of meditation. For instance, if I listen to an audiobook and my attention wanders, I bring it back. That is a rep. If I do a deep work time block and my attention wanders, I bring it back. That is a rep.

Any behavior we engage in can be transformed into an opportunity to practice meditation, making it a versatile and adaptable tool in our daily lives.