How Mindfulness Stops You from Being a Slave to Your Bad Habits

Three ways mindfulness can prime the brain for healthier habits.

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Meditation is no longer a mystery, and no longer remains on the periphery of medical theory in the recent decades thanks to the work of pioneers like Jon Kabat-Zinn.

“There are a lot of studies that are being done now that are showing the benefit of mindfulness for all kinds of conditions,” says Mark Epstein, an American author and psychotherapist, in a recent video from Big Think.

Here are three ways mindfulness can benefit our brains:

1) Mindfulness pulls you out of emotional traps

Mindfulness helps us not cling to what’s pleasant and not condemn what is unpleasant. Unexpected situations can easily drag you to your emotional brink. Resistance can be our instinctive, knee-jerk reaction, but mindfulness shows us we don’t always have to respond the same way when we’re triggered.

Epstein explains that instead of being driven by your reactions, mindfulness provides a little bit of room where you can choose to respond differently. “Mindfulness basically helps us tolerate the aspects of the external world and the internal world that otherwise are hard to face,” says Epstein. Sometimes things happen, instead of letting them become the thorn stuck in your mind that keeps annoying you, you can try some meditation to help you work with accepting them and letting them go.

Mindfulness helps us not cling to what’s pleasant and not condemn what is unpleasant.

2) Mindfulness allows attention to flow with the mind

Epstein suggests one way to start practicing mindfulness: “the concentration practice.” In this practice,  focus your attention on a neutral sensation. “Instead of bringing the mind back every time to a central object, you let the attention go wherever the mind goes,” says Epstein.

Instead of paying attention to just the breath, you pay attention to abstract but touchable things, like emotions, feelings, thoughts, and memories. Your worries, anxieties, anger, and joy all pass through your mind from moment to moment. “And then what you start to see is that everything is changing all the time and you learn to pay attention more to process than to content.”

3) Mindfulness shapes your brain

Our brain is more plastic than we initially thought. Research suggests that the steady practice of mindfulness impacts areas of the brain that modulate emotional reactivity.

As you sow, so shall you reap. What you practice actually changes the architecture of the brain. “It’s possible to promote, to develop the areas of the brain that are there for kindness, for altruistic feeling and for the regulation of difficult emotions,” says Epstein.