Mind Hack Monday (on Tuesday)—What’s a Mind Hack?

Many years ago I worked as a copyeditor for a psychology journal, an enterprise that was fascinating and tedious in direct proportion to the number of tables in each article.

I was struck by an article about cortisol levels in people who had undergone various kinds of severe stress or trauma. The people in the study had permanently elevated cortisol levels; whatever stressor had lead to the release of the cortisol hormone had occurred so much or so severely that it effectively stuck the body in the on position. In plainer English, the adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response we all have when faced by a crisis had become permanent condition for these people.

This article depressed me profoundly, because not only did I see myself in those people, but I saw the possibility that I would Never Feel Better. My Stress Hormone Release Valve (note: not scientific terminology) had broken and would now stay broken, maybe forever.

Not too long after that I took up the practice of meditation. Honestly, I was kind of desperate to feel better: anti-depressants weren’t common then, and talk therapy—the kind where you review all your grievances against your parents and the bullies in school and whoever else might have wronged you—had gotten stale and repetitive for me. (Nothing against therapy; I’ve had great therapists since then.) I would have tried anything, and while I was trying the stress-relieving qualities of a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread at the bakery I saw a sign for a meditation class.

Truly it changed and saved my life, and now we are learning why. Scientists have begun studying the effects of meditation on Tibetan lamas and casual practitioners, and they are finding that meditation can change the way the brain works—including long-term cortisol levels!—for the better. We’re also learning that brains are more plastic than we think and that cognitive decline can be slowed or possibly (in some cases) even reversed.

Some people call this “Mind Hacking,” a term that reflects a kind of cheeky optimism about the possibility of reprogramming our thinking—and maybe even the physical processes underneath it—by hacking into our brains like a programmer rewriting less-than-functional software.

Meditation is one example of a powerful mind hack, but I like to think of a mind hack as anything that reframes my thinking in a way that breaks some previously written loop and starts me in a new direction. A great metaphor, analogy, or question can be a deceptively effective mind hack. Sometimes it’s just the right advice, permission, or idea at the right time.

I think all three of us are fans of a good mind hack, and between us we should have at least one to share each Monday, like AM’s post this Monday about letting go of “the idea that They need you and that the world won’t be right” if you take time off from your responsibilities and schedules.

So true, which is why I am writing this piece about mind hacks on Tuesday, when I wanted to have it done on Monday. 😉

Play along with us and share any good mind hacks you know, too. We’d love to feature your idea, book suggestion, inspirational quotation, or any other trick to keep our minds agile, positive, and healthy.

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About mina

Like a rock: sometimes hard, sometimes crumbly, occasionally brilliant, sometimes dense.

Posted on September 13, 2011, in advice, buddhism, inspiration, meditation, mind hacks. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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