Meditation is Mental Fitness — If You Do It This Way

Meditation can boost focus and resilience, says Daniel Goleman, but only if we practice this key mental rep.

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Athletes get into “the zone.” Creatives tap into “flow state.” We may obtain a heightened sense of awareness in these moments, but they are exactly that: temporary. Once the rock climber comes down from the mountain, she snaps back into her “everyday sense of the world,” says psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman, discussing his recent book Altered Traits written with neuroscientist Richie Davidson.

In this video for BigThink, Goleman explores how we can bring the beneficial effects of those “altered states” into the everyday.

How Meditation Changes the Brain

When we are able to concentrate wholly on something, we enter a heightened state of temporary awareness—what Goleman refers to as altered states. Through meditation, however, we can create what he calls altered traits—a permanent change in the way our minds work.

“Altered traits […] are lasting changes or transformations of being, and they come classically through having cultivated an altered state through meditation, which then has a consequence for how you are day-to-day—and that’s different than how you were before you tried the meditation.”

The mind is a gym and meditation is a basic workout.

Goleman says research suggests seasoned meditators are better able to focus, staying on task despite distractions around them, and are more resilient—able to snap back from an angry outburst, for instance.

The key to developing this mental strength? Bringing the mind back, again and again.

“At some point, when you’re trying to do your meditation, your mind will wander. We’re wired that way. The key is: Do you notice that it wanders? Once you notice your mind has wandered off and you bring it back, you’re strengthening the circuitry for focus [and] attention.

Ultimately, meditating more has long-term benefits, such as a better stress response.

“Just like going to the gym and working out for years and years doing reps, you get bigger muscles and more strength and fitness, the same thing happens in the mind. The mind is a gym and meditation is a basic workout.”