2012 is winding down, and I’m looking forward to 2013. Typically, I’m not really good at following through on long, detailed lists of new year’s resolutions, but at this time of year I’m on the lookout for inspiring ways to get my new year off to a great start.
Maria Konnikova is the author of the upcoming “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.” Her recent New York Times article The Power of Concentration draws parallels between ancient forms of meditation, the power of concentration, and some easily-accessible improvements we can make to our mental and physical well-being on a daily basis.
Sounds good to me.
More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness.
Though the concept originates in ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese traditions, when it comes to experimental psychology, mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about concentration: the ability to quiet your mind, focus your attention on the present, and dismiss any distractions that come your way.
In 2011, researchers from the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that daily meditation-like thought could shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what cognitive scientists call positive, approach-oriented emotional states — states that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.
Mind and Body
The concentration benefits of mindfulness training aren’t just behavioral; they’re physical. In recent years, mindfulness has been shown to improve connectivity inside our brain’s attentional networks, as well as between attentional and medial frontal regions — changes that save us from distraction. Mindfulness, in other words, helps our attention networks communicate better and with fewer interruptions than they otherwise would.
Sherlock Holmes has inspired me to experiment with ways to incorporate even a few minutes of quiet concentration time in my day.
Wishing you a peaceful and prosperous new year.