The “me” channel. One of the best strategies for good mental health is to stop continually thinking about oneself. Turn down the dial on the “me” channel, it will help you be less self-referential and free you from some of your storylines.
We are all natural storytellers. In order to create meaning, we process our experiences through our ego or sense of “I”, and we relate it to everything that’s happened to us in the past. When we experience sadness, we try to process it mentally by asking; “How does this relate to me?” or, “If I could just understand this then I could fix it” and so, we create a story.
“How you arrange the plot points of your life into a narrative can shape who you are – and is a fundamental part of being human.” ~ Julie Beck, Life Stories, The Atlantic, Aug. 10, 2015
But sometimes,these stories get in the way. In fact, thinking about oneself is part of our default mode; we do it without really knowing it. When we’re not performing a task, planning, or solving a problem, our mind is endlessly ruminating on things that may be of no particular consequence: there is this continual inner chatter. At times, these thoughts can be emotional or sticky and have the tendency to spiral out of proportion, using up all our mental bandwidth, making us feel tired and unhappy.
One way of turning down the dial is to train through mindfulness meditation. As demonstrated in a cognitive neuroscience study out of the University of Toronto, “Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” (Farb, N. et al., SCAN, 2007). This study aimed at finding out what effect an eight-week mindfulness course had on people using brain-imaging scans. The researchers asked, “How do we know mindfulness training is working?” and “What has changed in people that can be empirically measured?”
The Task Positive Network over the Default Network. What the researchers found was that we have two separate neural thought networks. One is the Default Network, which, when functioning is mostly self-referential and the other is the Task Positive Network which is task-driven, and active when participants were meditating. Scans showed how participants in the eight-week mindfulness training were able to shut down the Default Network and light up the Task Positive Network, which resulted in less ruminating, and generating of conceptual thoughts. You might call this just being aware of your present experience, without having to analyze it. It’s notable that the Default Network can easily override the Task Network. One could speculate that it happens because we use it so much. It’s therefore useful to be able to shut down the Default Network through mindfulness training, which not only helps shut down inner chatter, but helps you stay on task without being hijacked by some intruding storyline.
A way into to restfulness and productivity. Although it may seem like we need to think harder in order to be successful, unwittingly, we may be laying down the habit of overthinking. More is not necessarily better. Mindfulness training offers a systematic way of dialing down and overriding the self-evaluation network, opening us up to the restfulness of the present moment and paradoxically helping us be more productive.
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#Mindfulness #Mental Health