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Measuring Mindfulness


Dr. Judson Brewer




Dr. Judson Brewer explores the neuroscience behind mindfulness, revealing how the default mode network in the brain leads us to get caught up in thoughts. Through brain scans and real-time neurofeedback, he demonstrates how experienced meditators show deactivation in these regions, leading to a state of effortless engagement and flow.


So now let's delve into what's actually happening in the brain. Let me begin with a story. Lolo Jones was an Olympic hurdler favored to win the 2008 Olympics. She was in the finals, leading at the ninth of 10 hurdles. In an interview with Time magazine, she revealed, "I was in the middle of a race, and at one point, I realized I was winning. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I'm about to win the Olympic gold medal.' It just seemed like another race. Then, at a certain point, I started noticing that I was telling myself to make sure my legs were snapping out. That's when I hit the hurdle. So, I overtried."

The idea here isn't that she had thoughts; it's that she got caught up in thinking. She became entangled in her thoughts and, quite literally, tripped herself up. This is a fairly common process. About half of our time is spent daydreaming or getting lost in our experiences. This can be seen as a continuous cycle of daydreaming and stress, with addiction at the far end. Given that we do this so frequently, we can study this phenomenon in the brain. This phenomenon is now referred

to as the default mode network, aptly named because it's where our minds tend to default to. I'll focus on a specific part of the brain: the posterior cingulate, located at the back of the brain. This region activates when we think about ourselves, when we mind-wander, when we ponder the past and future, make judgments, engage in social situations, reflect on choices we've made, work toward goals, consider immoral behavior, and more. What do all these activities have in common? They all involve getting caught up in our experiences. And mindfulness training aims to help us notice this pattern and then let go.

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