Society is waking up to the powerful effects of mindfulness on the brain. However, most people (even research scientists) don't realize that different forms of mindfulness yield different benefits. Which one is right for you? It depends on your goals.
There are now over 3000 studies showing that mindfulness is the most important skill that one can master to improve cognitive function, lower stress and enhance emotional intelligence. Yet, many are unclear on what mindfulness is.
Broadly defined, mindfulness is a state of awareness in which you remain anchored in the present moment, allowing thoughts and feelings to flow through your consciousness without judgement.
The two forms of this awareness are: focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM). Both types of mindfulness have very different effects on the brain, and different advantages.
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In FA, as the name implies, you literally “focus your attention” on a specific sound, object, or experience such as watching or counting your breath or listening intently to the sound of a bell. When thoughts or feelings intrude, you notice them without judgment and then bring your attention back to the focused activity. You gain greater control over your emotions and your ability to concentrate on work tasks is enhanced.
In OM, you do the opposite of FA. You just observe all the different thoughts, feelings, sensations, or memories that constantly flow in and out of conscious awareness. You let your mind wander and daydream, observing the spontaneous shifting in consciousness and awareness. In this state, both your intuition and creative problem-solving skills can be enhanced.
Each of these forms of meditation has specific neurological and cognitive benefits. Used together they can increase your ability to integrate states of alertness and relaxation. You'll enhance your ability to observe the creativity of your mind-wandering. You may discover fascinating insights that way. Plus, you'll improve your ability to monitor excessive mind-wandering that distracts you from your goals.
If you master these states, you'll have a powerful tool to solve virtually any problem or obstacle you encounter. And as you get better at it, you'll find solutions in a matter of minutes. Over time, you'll be able to play these beautiful neuroelectrical patterns like a piano and radically accelerate your progress towards anything you want in life.
Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity – A review
Dominique P. Lippelt, Bernhard Hommel, Lorenza S. Colzato
Front Psychol. 2014; 5: 1083. Published online 2014 Sep 23.
Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking.
Colzato LS, Ozturk A, Hommel B.
Front Psychol. 2012 Apr 18;3:116.
This post was lovingly crafted by Josiah Hultgren. He is Founder/CEO of MindFullyAlive, a Senior Lecturer at California Lutheran University, a cognitive coach, and a practical neuroscience expert. He produces and curates mindfulness content designed to improve structure and functioning of the brain.