Archive for the “meditation” Category

It may be hard for you to picture a bunch of Marines meditating but that’s just what they did under the guidance of The Mind Fitness Training Institute  in a study to boost resilience. 

The short version of this story is that mindfulness training works.  That’s not news to the many people who already practice a mindfulness based program but it certainly was news to the Marines who engaged in this project. 

Here is an example of one of the mindfulness exercises the Marines were taught:

An early exercise was to have the men consciously shift attention between 2 places.  They were asked to sit quietly and simply bring their attention to the point of contact between their feet and the floor or their seats and the chairs or their hands on their laps. If or when they noticed their minds wandering, they were asked to bring their attention back to that point of contact. 

Once their attention had stabilized, they were then asked to shift their attention to a new bodily sensation or sound.  It could be a focus on breathing or sounds in the environment.  When attention moved away, they were asked to bring it back to the breath or the sounds.  After that had stabilized they were then asked to shift back to the original point of focus. 

The shifting back and forth trains the mind to be able to place attention where you want!  And when distractions occur, to bring it back to where you want it to be. 

This is an easy and portable exercise that works to boost working memory capacity which is essential to healthy cognitive and emotional functioning.



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You might think that Marines are already mentally tough!  Well, sure – those who become Marines are brave and willing to put themselves in harms way but mental toughness represents a specific constellation of qualities and behaviors that some Marines may lack. (These include ability to concentrate and manage distractions; ability to bounce back from set-backs and mistakes; ability to manage emotions, etc.)  

For example, we know that the number of suicides among Marines increased from 33 (among a total troop level of 208,000) in 2007 to 42 in 2009. After eight years of war, record numbers of troops are experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as the more severe conditions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  According to the Pentagon, American troops in Afghanistan are suffering the highest rates of mental health problems since 2005, and morale has deteriorated. Mental problems send more men in the U.S. military to the hospital than any other cause.  

 Being a warrior in the ambiguous battlefield that is Iraq or Afghanistan induces high stress that can lead to impulsive, erratic behavior and anxiety and depression.

Liz Stanley of the Mind Fitness Training Institute  along with her colleague Amishi Jha has created a program to teach Marines mindfulness.  The goal is to build a resilient Marine who is able to withstand the rigors of combat stress.

Bottom line?  It works! Read the rest of this entry »

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Ever since Osama bin Laden met his demise, there has been significant interest in the mystique of the Navy SEALs.  Who are these tough guys and how do they train? Can an average citizen learn some of these mental toughness techniques? 

Well, if you have any fantasies of becoming a SEAL, think again.  The training and initiation is beyond rigorous and somewhere between 75 – 90% of applicants don’t make it. 

Still, you can learn some of the techniques used by SEALs and in fact, you probably already do! Read the rest of this entry »

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High stakes, high visibility situations are accompanied by excitement and tension.  It’s easy to get distracted by extraneous thoughts and feelings that interfere with your performance.  Meditation is a great technique to train yourself to let go of distractions and focus on what is most relevant – your performance! 

Now your first reaction might be the thought that you don’t have time to meditate. Well okay, but if you have a big event coming up you may want to think twice about this. 

Meditation is simple and hard; teachers of meditation say it is the simplest hard thing you can do!  Why?  Well, take about 10 minutes and try it – at least once. Come on… 

There are many different “types” of meditation but what they have in common is a focus on the breath.  So, what I recommend is this: 

Find a nice quiet place and sit up with your eyes closed. Now just notice the rise and fall of your breathing and don’t try to “do” anything. Meditation is more about “being” than “doing.” 

Just notice how your breath rises and falls, comes in and out. Just notice it and as you do so, when thoughts appear, simply notice those and let them go, without staying focused on the thoughts, without deepening them. Just notice these thoughts as distractions but don’t judge them or become attached to them. You’re going to practice not reacting to new thoughts. You’re just going to acknowledge their existence and let them go. 

Okay, if you’re like most people you realized you have many, many thoughts of all kinds and you probably noticed that it’s not easy to just sit there and focus on your breathing! (It’s the letting go of all these thoughts that prompt people to say meditation can be hard.) 

 When I meditate, I start thinking about such things as: that person I need to call; an email I must respond to; a birthday I forgot; what to cook for dinner tonight; something I forgot to tell my husband; and lots of other stuff. Each time that happens, I notice it and let it go…and again – I notice it and let it go…over and over.  You might be thinking – so what!? Well, each time I go through this process I am training my brain to let go and refocus, let go and refocus, let go and refocus. I am also training myself not to react impulsively but rather to observe with a somewhat detached interest. 

Now, isn’t that important for performing?  Consider how useful it would be to have that skill of letting go of irrelevant thoughts and feelings which can undermine your productivity and your performance and being able to refocus on what is most important – your performance in the moment! 

You also must be able to let go of any mistakes that you make because if you dwell on those mistakes you won’t be able to pay attention to what you need to do next.  Meditation can help you with that. You can learn to stay focused on your performance instead of getting caught up in distractions. 

Although it’s recommended that you spend 20minutes a day on meditation, you can also incorporate mini-meditations of a few minutes throughout the day.  A few moments here and there can also train your brain to let go and refocus. 

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