Meditation was one of my breakthrough habits in 2016.
It’s something that I’ve dabbled with for many years but never did consistently. Sure, I’d occasionally meditate here and there for 10-20 minutes at a time but it was far from a devoted practice.
In 2016 that all changed.
After reading so much research on the positive benefits of meditation I decided that I needed to make it a keystone habit in my life. One of the great things about meditation is that you don’t need to sit for hours at a time in order to derive benefits. Even just sitting for 5-10 minutes at a time each day is enough to have a positive impact on your life.
With this in mind, in 2016 I decided to make it a habit to meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening every day.
And the results have been fantastic.
Before I get into some of the benefits I’ve experienced let me be clear: I’ve never had any significant mental health problems before. No severe bouts of depression or anxiety (at least nothing that crippled me from living my day to day life). No issues with ADD/ADHD, PTSD etc. So I can’t speak to the effects of meditation on such mental disorders (although I’m sure it has a profound positive impact).
That being said, I’ve still experienced benefits from meditating every day. I think the best way to describe my results is being “10% happier” to steal a phrase from the popular book written by Dan Harris.
For example, my mind is a lot more calm and focused since meditating regularly. I’ve also noticed that my general well-being has improved and that I’m more apt to experience feelings of joy and happiness.
But it’s not just an improvement in my overall well-being and mood that I’ve noticed. I’ve also noticed cognitive improvements, too. For example, my working memory is better, my ability to think creatively has improved, and my ability to analyze and “put pieces together” has gotten better as well.
None of these benefits, by the way, are things that I noticed overnight. They have built up slowly over the weeks and months. Meditation is strange like that, some of its benefits you’ll notice right away (mood) while others (cognition) sort of creep up on you over time.
I think most of us are familiar with meditation improving your mood, but few of us know that meditation can enhance our cognitive abilities.
In fact, meditation can make your smarter. I know It’s been my anecdotal experience but there is also research backing it up.
The study examined 48 University of California undergraduates. Each student was evaluated for working memory capacity, mind-wandering, and performance on a GRE reading comprehension section. Then half the group was randomly assigned to either take part in a nutrition program, in which they were educated about healthy eating and were instructed to keep a diary, or take a mindfulness-based stress reduction class 4 days a week for two weeks.
After two weeks the students were re-tested on their working memory capacity, mind-wandering, and performance on a GRE reading comprehension section.
The results of the nutrition group did not change.
The group that underwent mindfulness training, however, not only improved their working memory capacity but their minds wandered less and they improved their average GRE reading comprehension score from 460 to 520.
Pretty impressive results.
The authors of the study suspect that the reason why test scores improved in the meditation group is because they were better able to focus their minds and less likely to get distracted. Based on my experience I’m inclined to agree with this reasoning.
One caveat worth mentioning, however, is that in order for these effects to last you have to continue to meditate. Meditation is much like physical exercise in that you have to do it routinely in order to continually reap its benefits.
Even though this was a small study the results are certainly encouraging and in line with many of the other positive benefits of meditation.
If you’re interested in learning more about how meditation can affect your brain I highly recommend picking up Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson:
This book is a great read on the underlying physiology of meditation. Wonderful for those of you who are more analytical and find some of the books on meditation or mindfulness to be too “new-agey” and lacking scientific rigor.
There are many wonderful benefits to meditation and now you can add improving your smarts to the list. If you are interested in leveling up your life I highly recommend you incorporate meditation into your life. If you are not sure how to start, be sure to check out our beginner’s guide. It’s got everything you need to get up and running.
Here’s to staying fit (mentally) and looking sharp!