Training the Brain to think right and I don't mean politically!

by DavalosMcCormack on April 7, 2008

It turns out that there is more to do than just exercise the body! My gosh, as if we don’t have enough to do with our precious time! Mr. McCormack recently wrote about how much he disliked running, yet he does it because it puts variety into his exercise routine. Now, he’s the guy that taught me that power walking 6 days a week is not enough. It’s great for the legs and cardio but when you do the same exercise over and over, without any variety, the benefits are limited. Your body gets used to it and not much happens to continue the improvement you experienced when you first took that power walk.
Taking Mr. McCormack’s example, I became interested in an idea. If you can make your physical body better, more efficient and stronger by doing a variety of exercises, can you train and strengthen other things, like memory?

It turns out you can definitely work the brain and train it to remember better as I wrote in “Here’s some really good news about Alzhiemers and Dementia!” so I wondered, how about your emotions can you learn to control your emotions better or increase your capacity for compassion, forgiveness, or for over-all happiness?

Recently, I saw a news story about a guy who weighed 600 pounds and lost 400 pounds over a 2 1/2 year period with the help of a friend. They asked him, what made him decide to loose the weight, he said, that he was so unhappy he thought, “If I can be this unhappy, why can’t I learn to be this much happier? Losing the weight certainly made him happier or, another way to think about it is, in the course of becoming happier did he lose weight?

Ah, something to ponder, no? So his life took a turn for the better when he focused on being happier. I’m still working on finding a study for that, but in the meantime, I found a study that asked the question; “Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? The answer is yes!”

This study was done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published in March and they used MRI (brain imaging) which showed that loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being good at sports. All it takes is practice. Practice, Practice, Practice!

They used a group of Tibetan monks who cultivated compassion meditations and some lay people who learned to meditate just recently. The newbies were asked to think good thoughts about relatives and friends… and then (now this is just a thumbnail explanation) they were asked to generate good feelings toward all beings. Guess what? The more they practiced good feelings and giving compassion toward all, the better they got at it and the more positive feelings of compassion they experienced!

Why should you care you ask? Well, the more compassion and positive feelings you have, the lower your stress level, the better your blood pressure and the better relations you have with others. In children, they find that training the brain to become more compassionate decreases bullying on the playground and lowers depression. Society in general can benefit from the increase in compassion. All we have to do is practice it.

And that’s not all. Wait till I tell you what I found out about “Forgiveness”!

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