Every day you are busy.
Emails fill your inbox, some of them might even matter. Your todo list gets ticked off… or not. You attend meetings, deal with clients, chat with the boss, communicate with colleagues, deal with crises, handle problems, worry about tomorrow, think about yesterday, fret over a sick child … and the list goes on.
If you are disciplined, you get to the gym or exercise at least 3 times a week and keep a wary eye on your diet, and make sure that you get enough rest at night. If you don't do these then you know that your body is more likely to break down.
You know that you have to make time to look after your body and put in some effort. But do you look after your brain as well?
Taking time to pause and meditate or be mindful is perhaps the most critical instrument to cultivate peak performance. You train your body to grow muscles and keep your weight in check. Well, taking time to pause, meditate or be mindful is like training your brain and taking control of the five types of brain waves so that you can be in charge of your life.
At the root of all your thinking, emotions and behaviours is the electrical and chemical communication between neurons inside your brain. And all that electrical activity is measured in the form of brainwaves.
Brain waves are grouped into five distinct categories, each associated with specific tasks and mental state.
At our highest frequency we have gamma waves. These are associated with insight, peak focus, and expanded consciousness. If you are currently sharply concentrating on this new information, it'll be gamma waves that are helping you store this learning and associating it with existing knowledge and experience.
A little slower in frequency and we have beta waves. This is the state you probably spend most of your active day especially in the urban jungle and our always-on society. Fabulously, beta waves allow us to concentrate hard on the task at hand and they are critical when we read, write and socialise but there is a cost in that beta waves can sap our energy and reduce emotional awareness and creativity.
Once you get home and relax and reflect quietly your brain waves slow down to alpha waves. If you suffer from insomnia, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive symptoms you likely don't switch down to alpha and you need help. If on the other hand, you keep on socialising, watching fast-paced television or studying, you are keeping your brain in beta or even gamma state. And that's simply exhausting you.
When you nod off into the world of dreaming, you experience theta waves. Interestingly, theta waves are also present when you are in that elusive, brilliant, effortless state often called being in the “flow” of peak performance. It's that autopilot type state you've been in when driving home on a familiar route, arriving home and wondering how you got there. It's in this state that many people get their flashes of insight or bursts of creativity.
Lastly, we have delta waves which are associated with deep dreamless sleep. Some people can meditate themselves into this state whilst remaining alert and awake. These waves are the source of empathy, healing and regeneration – hence why deep restorative sleep is so essential to the healing process.
Manipulating brain waves
The biggest issue for most people in this modern, always-on, hustle and busyness lifestyle is that we rarely make time to allow our brains to slow down. We get stressed and perhaps anxious, and the mind is whirring away at a fast pace zapping through energy and leaving the body exhausted.
So how do we alter our brain waves?
Any mindful process that changes your perception, changes your brain waves! Our brainwaves change according to what we are doing and how we are feeling. When slower brainwaves are dominant, we can feel tired, slow, sluggish or dreamy. When higher frequencies are prevalent, we feel wired, hyper or “buzzed”.
So, change what you are doing, and your brainwaves soon respond. It can take some degree of effort to force yourself to jog when you are feeling sluggish, but it will do the trick.
Of course, chemical interventions such as medications or recreational drugs are the most common methods to alter brain function.
Beta-blockers, for example, commonly used by people like me with serious heart conditions, slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and block crucial chemicals like norepiphrine or adrenaline (terrifically useful in the flight or fight response and memory consolidation). This makes it difficult to lift brainwaves into the high beta frequencies and tougher still getting to gamma waves.
ONE thing that everyone can do is choose to control their brainwaves to a greater extent. Since most people spend most of their waking time in beta state, what is truly needed is to biohack their brain and slow down their brain waves. Though you can, biohack to get into gamma state.
And you have two simple choices to start gaining control of your brain and hence, your life. Both of which, by the way, you've been doing since day zero. The first is “The Easy Way”, and the second is “The Easier Way”.
The Easy Way
Take One deep breath!
Bring your full completely focussed attention to your breathing for two minutes. Just two to start. You'll get up to seven within a week.
Become aware that you are breathing and then pay attention to the process of breathing. Anytime your attention wanders, just bring it back to your breathing.
The Easier Way
Find a quiet spot (or plug in your earphones and tune in to relaxing, restful meditative music played softly).
Sit without agenda for two minutes. Stare into space, or close your eyes. Just remain awake but completely relaxed. Any moment your attention wanders just wipe it away and go back to nothingness.
And you can switch between the easy and easier way anytime you wish.
Hold on John, you said the most powerful seven minutes. This is just two.
Research tells us that seven minutes is the sweetspot for habitually choosing to take control and biohack our brainwaves.
Two minutes is just your easy starting point. You can either extend your practice of this by, say, one minute each day until the end of the week. Or, if you find more time just too difficult right now, then do three or four two minute breaks throughout the day.
Cannot do a full two minutes, you say? Then just take ONE MINDFUL DEEP BREATH. Just one. If you can, take another.
Every time you are waiting for something or someone. Waiting at the traffic light. Waiting for your computer to start. Waiting for a webpage to load. Waiting in a queue. Just take ONE mindful, deep breath and practice.
Want to have some help?
If you want to delve more deeply into meditation or mindfulness there are a whole bunch of resources out there. Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan is by the Singaporean-born Google Engineer is one I can recommend.
There are a bunch of apps out there that come recommended. My personal recommendation for binaural beats is brain.fm
For Christian guided meditation, I like Abide.co
Others Ive tried and found to be good, “Calm”, “Headspace”, “Stop, Breathe and Think” and the Singaporean made “MindFi”.
There are also wearables to assist with your successful bio-hacking. As at writing, I have not yet tried any. Most appear to be aimed at reducing stress or helping you sleep better. The Muse headband looks particularly interesting.