meditation, selfhelp, wellbeing

Why Working Your ‘Attention Muscles’ Makes You Happier

IMG_E1025
This frog may look serene but he has a marble stuck up his bum to stop him falling over

It’s the noticing that matters

Every time you notice you’re distracted and bring yourself back to what you’re meditating on, you exercise and grow the ‘attention muscles’ of your mind.

So what? 

If you meditate regularly, the area of your brain that you use to pay attention to stuff, changes. How? Well, the more you realise how much of your thinking is ridiculous, repetitive or reactive, the less you’ll do it. You’ll think, “Christ on a bike, I’m still finding ways to make myself feel bad about what happened last Saturday! This has to stop.” The annoying thought will probably return, but you will give it less credibility and will shrug it off easier than you did before.

Watch yourself

When you’re flexing your attention muscles your thoughts become more rooted in what’s actually happening around you, and less focused on your own grumbly musings. And when you’re more present and engaged in the moment, you will spend less time worrying about stuff you’ve fucked up – or might fuck up in future. That alone will make you feel better.

Your concentration levels will also improve when you notice how easily distracted you are. This means you’ll be more immersed and focussed on the things you enjoy doing. And you’ll handle the things you hate with more awareness, which should help you put some space between your unpleasant experience and your thoughts about it.

Remember you’re not trying to clear your mind during meditation, you’re returning your focus to your breath. Noticing stretches the muscles that will make you happier and less anxious regardless of how often you behave like a complete twonk.

meditation, selfhelp, wellbeing

Brains Like To Worry About Stuff…

IMG_0800.jpgBecause you’re basically still a caveperson.

One of the more amusing things you will notice in meditation is your brain’s ability to escalate wildly. Your mind has an amazing capacity create much bigger problems. Say, for example, you feel a slight twinge in your back when you’re focused on your breath in meditation. Left to its own devices, your brain will be off and running like this:

Fuck! My old sports injury is back! It took years to recover the last time. My physio is really expensive too, he put up his prices last year. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I’m going on holiday next week and I don’t want to have to put up with serious back pain when I’m in Greece. That will be shite.

All this will take a fraction a second.

Dealing with this in meditation is simple. Notice your mind has wandered off, and gently shift your focus back. But it’s worth noticing the exaggeration process. You’ve gone from a tiny fleeting sensation to an expensive, debilitating condition that’s going to ruin your life. This is what brains do because…

Mentally – you are Stone Age

Your environment has changed enormously in the past few thousand years, but your mind is still wired to think everything is out to kill you. It was a good survival instinct at the time but Captain Caveman still rules your mind today. He’s always scanning the horizon for things that might go terribly, terribly wrong.

Given enough practice, you will get good as spotting when this happens. If you walk into work and your boss is unusually formal with you, you may notice that your brain is running away with itself thinking up reasons to explain why that would be. You can spot the daft theories about your boss not being happy with your finance report, or that HR has somehow caught you binge watching Great British Bake Off when you were working from home.

Catching your mind doing these bonkers somersaults and cheerfully ignoring them is one of the great skills to learn from meditation.