The mind is our most powerful tool to expand human capabilities and overcome mental limitations.
The techniques shared in this article are focused on overcoming behavioral and mental issues. Most importantly, these same methodologies may be used to combat depression, unlock your maximum mind potential, giving you a more healthy, happy and fulfilled life.
16 million Americans suffer from depression. 40 million adults have anxiety problems and the numbers worldwide continue to rise exponentially. Accounting for the upcoming financial crisis, loss of jobs and increased uncertainty, the number of depressions and mental illnesses is set to skyrocket.
Thus now more than ever it is paramount to learn the tricks to utilise your mind to uplift your mood, augment behaviors and bring last changes to your life.
To sum up, these tricks are: Meditation and Emotion Driven Imaginations (also known as visualizations)
Meditation and Depression
I am certain you have heard several times: meditation is a good way to clear your mind. But why would you want to clear your mind in the first place?
For non scientific background readers, I shall try to make this as painless and as less boring as possible.
Neuroplasticity, a branch of Neuroscience, is the brain’s ability to change its structure and function by forming new neural connections. Drugs, diseases, thoughts and emotions etc have been shown to make such changes.
In layman terms, when you have a thought, the synapses of your neurons fire to communicate that thought. The more you think that specific thought, the stronger the communication between those neurons. And if you continue to think that thought persistently and repeatedly, you can develop what is called LTP ( Long Term Potentiation). LTP is when communication between neurons becomes faster, more efficient and prone to occurring often because of consistent communication.
The strengthening of these synapses is what allows learning to occur, memories to form and habits to ensue. In a depressed patient, who is constantly thinking anxious thoughts, he/she forms synapses with each thought and soon enough, it becomes a habit. This is how we become optimists or pessimists, through having a majority of same type of thoughts constantly firing in our brain and creating strong mental pathways, that eventually dictate our attitude.
To disrupt that ongoing thought pattern, meditation works to clear your mind. Starts you at a neutral place, per say . So when you come out of meditation, you are more likely to disrupt a negative thought pattern and voluntarily pick a more positive, empowering thought.
In a recent study focused on establishing correlations between changes in the anatomical structures of the brain and long term meditation. It was observed that individuals engaged in long term meditative practises had significantly larger grey matter and hippocampus. Studies have long shown that depressed individuals register lower volumes of grey matter than positive ones.
This can be partially explained by the finding that hippocampus and grey matter are regions responsible for emotional regulation and response control. Long term practise of the Sahaja Yoga Meditation is associated with increased grey matter in the brain, according to a 2016 study. A larger volume in regions of your brain that control habits and govern emotional stability, means patients are more likely to exercise emotional autonomy over environmental stimulus than those who have less grey matter.
Being able to regulate your emotions is an extremely valuable capability for depressed patients. Meditation has been found to assist in that.
The 2016 study also shows that long term meditation practises is associated with positive changes in brain structure and function, proving that voluntary neuroplasticity plays a vital role in improving mood and behavior in depressed patients.
How Do You Meditate?
There are many ways to quiet your mind. But I have found that laying still on my back and listening to my breaths or mundane sounds like the air conditioner helps to quiet my mind.
Others have leveraged breathing techniques or employed sound therapies to facilitate the process. You can scour the internet for one that works best for you. I have been meditating religiously for the past 4 years and I have seen the positive effects it has on my psyche. Leaving more relaxed and attuned with my broader intelligence. A state I think we all can benefit from regardless if you are depressed or not.
Imagination and Depression
It has been long believed that our thoughts create our emotions, and our emotions direct our actions. And what are we, other than a collection of our actions?
The reason why visualizing or imaging the outcome for an experience you want is important is one of the surest ways to facilitate that outcome is because of a little known thing called the RAS (Reticular Activating System).
Think of it as a region in your brain whose job is to identify information from your environment that is valuable to you and bring it to your attention. How does it know what information is valuable to you? It gives attention to the things you focus most on. So if you are battling with depression, RAS brings to your attention ways to have more emotional control, if that is what you constantly think of.
Say if you are depressed about losing weight. It does not register, “ Lisa wants to lose weight”. What it registers in the negative emotions you have about losing weight: sad, insecure, depressed… Then it looks to bring to your awareness things about your weight in the environment that makes you feel that way. But in order to achieve your goal and overcome depression – what you really have to focus on are the positive thoughts of you after the achieved result, whether it is losing weight or passing the exam. To sum up, you must focus on conjuring the emotions of what you want, not what you dislike.
A recent 2012 study on the effects imagination has on the brain, found that emotional factors (positive or negative), along with repeatedly simulating a future event in one’s mind, makes the plausibility of the event to occur to increase . It is like having your brain asking you to pick a side: empowering or disempowering thought?
This is especially valuable to a depressed patient seeking to overcome negative thought patterns or behavior. You must focus on conjuring the emotions of what you want, if you are to make them a reality.
Very important finding could be that it has been established scientifically through the aid of brain imaging, that your mind cannot differentiate between visualized and actual experienced events. Research involving athletes hooked to electrodes that detect muscle activity, show the same muscle that fires on visualization of a race, were the same fired during the actual race.
These findings show how easy one can trick the mind into rewiring itself to new behaviors, beliefs and results by just imagining the desired outcome.
Would it not be smart to use imagination to train your mind into a habit you want?
How Can You Train Your Mind To Positive Outcomes?
There isn’t a set duration you must visualize to retrain your mind or to manifest a desired outcome. But in his book Psychocybenetics, Dr. Maltz recommends a minimum daily requirement of visualizing for 30 minutes, until the desired change is noticed. Factors that play a role in the quality of visualization and manifestation of results are: Time, Emotional Intensity, and Quality of the Imagination.
The more often and longer you visualize, the more your brain is exposed to that information and quicker the shift occurs. Remember our earlier discussion on synapses: your brain learns from repetition. So you want to affect a new behavior? Think of it constantly.
As I mentioned earlier, your brain responds to emotions, because they are what give meaning to your thoughts. So focus on conjuring the emotions that you will feel when you finally overcome your depression, anxiety or weight loss, and feel them now because that is what gives value to your imagination.
And finally, the quality of imagination means making it as descriptive as possible by registering details of the environment and feeling them as you visualize them. Things like: room temperature, time of day, placement of items or opening of a door etc should be registered and felt in the moment.
There are countless way to work on your psychological condition, and we hope this article gave you some additional practical armour in taking control of your mind and future self.