Funny how things work out. Fifty years ago, putting ‘science’ and ‘meditation’ in the same sentence would’ve got you laughed out of the ashram. Meditating was something you did in robes and sandals, often with suspicious yogis who all drove BMWs.
These days, meditation is mainstream. Oprah does it. Your postman probably does it. But there’s still a sense (particularly in the corporate world) that meditation is all crystals and candles. That it doesn’t actually do anything. Is there really any science to this stuff?
Turns out, there is. Way more than you might think.
How we do it
At The Good Place, we teach secular, evidence-based mindfulness and resilience training, backed up by the latest neuroscience research.
A quick search will show literally thousands of studies proving the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Here’s one that shows meditation alleviates stress. Want to check if mindfulness improves sleep , memory , concentration or creativity? Grab a stats textbook and knock yourself out.
But if all this is triggering Year 12 Psych flashbacks, here’s our user-friendly version. Let’s start with the basics…
So, what is mindfulness?
This is how we think of mindfulness: it’s being fully present, aware and engaged in each moment. That’s it. No judgmental thoughts. Just quiet acceptance. A little curiosity and self-compassion. Slow, steady breaths.
Some people call it brain training, or resilience training, and that’s a pretty good way of looking at it too. Mindfulness is basically a tool for staying cool, calm and collected. Oh, and Sandalwood incense is not required.
Stress isn’t good
A lot of people reckon they perform better under stress, but science disagrees. When you’re stressed, you’re running on adrenaline. Your brain’s amygdala (the lizard-like fear center) is in control. It’s an evolutionary thing to help us outrun saber-tooth tigers on some frozen tundra. Nailing a sales pitch or meeting deadlines…not so much.
Studies have found meditation doesn’t just reduce the density of brain tissue associated with anxiety, it also activates the pre-frontal cortex (the CEO part of the brain). That’s the bit that helps you perform better under stress – it lets you think clearly and stay creative while other people are losing their minds.
Albert Einstein had a good way of putting this: “We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” In other words, we need to think differently. And that’s particularly true for creatives – they’re pretty much paid to think upside down.
A 2012 study found mindfulness meditation can improve insight and problem solving, boosting overall creativity. Other studies have examined how meditation improves divergent thinking (how many uses can you think of for a brick?) and convergent thinking (what do ‘time’, ‘hair’ and ‘stretch’ have in common?).
Turns out good ideas don’t just fall from the sky…well, apart from Newton’s apple-gravity thing. You just need the right kind of mind.
Get super powers (sort of)
The Good Place isn’t just about helping people feel better. We want to help them live better. To smash professional goals like some superfusion hybrid of Zuckerberg, Tony Stark and the Dalai Lama.
And this is the really exciting stuff, because multiple studies have shown that meditation can help you make better decisions , remember more information , and improve focus. It’s about as close as you can get to super powers without being bitten by something.
"Your mind is your most important asset.
It’s the thing that makes you you.
It’s weird how little time we spend looking after it".
Switch off the autopilot
Ever find yourself scrolling aimlessly on your phone? Sure you do. You might be doing it right now. That’s your brain on autopilot.
A 2010 Harvard study found that we spend 47% of our lives either worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. In other words, half our lives are spent elsewhere. That kind of aimless zombie-think is the brain’s default mode, and it’s not great. Studies have linked mindlessness to stress and anxiety (plus you tend to ignore your friends at dinner parties).
Meditation breaks that thought pattern. It’s all about pulling your brain gently back into the now, where it belongs.
How does it actually work?
We don’t want to get too technical here, but the answer is Neuroplasticity. Which is another way of saying you can alter the physical structure of your brain. Make some parts stronger, quieten the bits that are holding you back. Sounds weird, but there’s a heap of good science to back it up.
That Harvard study also proved just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation each day for eight weeks was enough to start the process. Beginners literally grew the parts of their brain associated with empathy and compassion, while shrinking the parts associated with stress.
The best thing about good habits? It’s never too late to start one. We’ll teach you how to live mindfully, how to begin meditating, how to keep doing it, and how to build a lifelong practice. If you want someone to teach you the infinite power of healing crystals…that’s not really our thing.