Has someone ever sent you an angry email, and then you found yourself, weeks later, thinking about it while you’re wide awake at 2am?

Emotions can be a major source of distraction, according to researchers Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, who have chronicled what we know thus far about the meditator’s mind in a new book, Altered Traits, Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

In this whiteboard session for Harvard Business Review, Davidson and Goleman talk about one of the most important discoveries: repeated practice helps us untether from emotional cues that keep us mired in distraction — specifically, rumination.

More emotional control

Research suggests mindfulness practice can strengthen the connections between the brain that direct our decision-making and impulses, so that when we encounter a strong emotional trigger, we’re not pulled to immediately react.

“[Mindfulness]  strengthens the prefrontal (cortex’s) ability to say no to emotional impulse,” says Goleman. This increases resilience because it helps us hold things more lightly —  like that snarky email — and not devote all of our attention to emotional cues. Davidson explains:

The “recover more quickly” is really an important attribute of what we think of as resilience. Resilience is, in many ways, the ability to recover more quickly from adversity. So instead of ruminating about the email that ticked you off for several weeks after, you can come back down and recover.

Goleman cautions that the science of mindfulness — what we know, what we don’t — is still in the early stages of study. There are benefits, but there is a lot of hype as well. Since the early 2000s, research on mindfulness has been expanding rapidly. For more, here’s a look at 10 leaders in the field, what their research has shown us, and the future directions their studies are taking.


Video from HBR.org


Meditators Under the Microscope

Why Emotional Self-Control Matters


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