Although I usually focus on writing original content, I read a few articles this week that were so relevant I felt compelled to share them and add my own comments.
Train Your Brain
This fascinating article covers a scientific experiment on neuroplasticity — the brain’s recently discovered ability to change its structure and function, in particular by expanding or strengthening circuits that are used and by shrinking or weakening those that are rarely engaged.
In simple terms, the brain becomes stronger with training and weaker with idleness, similar to the way muscles react to exercise. In the experiment, the brain activity of Buddhist monks (who’ve spent up 10,000 hours in meditation) was compared to novice meditators.
In a striking difference between novices and monks, the latter showed a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Thought to be the signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung brain circuits, gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators “showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature,” says Prof. Davidson, suggesting that mental training can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.
The study will be published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We can’t rule out the possibility that there was a pre-existing difference in brain function between monks and novices,” says Prof. Davidson, “but the fact that monks with the most hours of meditation showed the greatest brain changes gives us confidence that the changes are actually produced by mental training.” (bold text is mine)
This discovery disproves fixed intelligence. Mental training can improve your mind by physically changing the structure of your brain. The study focuses on meditation, but I wonder about the impact of other mental activities.
Is there a difference in brain structure between a person who reads/writes for several hours a day compared to a person who doesn’t? How does learning a language, studying math/science, or playing music affect brain activity?
This is great motivation for self improvement and it might set off a mental bodybuilding craze. It’s made me more excited to read, meditate, and challenge myself.
Other Good Reading
It isn’t often that I come across an internet writer who really makes me think. Dyske Suematsu did exactly that. These two essays are enlightening.
Friend and fellow self improvement blogger, Scott H. Young, has just released his new ebook How to Change a Habit. It has some great strategies for fighting addiction and replacing bad habits with good ones. I also recommend his free ebook Holistic Learning. Both books have great content and colorful illustrations.