Many students find that getting through their studies takes a lot of energy and they long for the day they complete their course. While that day will surely come, you don’t have to feel negative about the intervening time. It has been proven that you can actually train your brain to be happy and positive, just like you can train your muscles to make you fitter.
Our brains seem to be wired to focus on negative situations and things eg. worrying about whether the lettuce you ate for lunch had salmonella in it or feeling disappointed that you didn’t finish your assignment on the weekend. However scientific evidence exists that this can be changed. One particular study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital had participants and a control group have MRI brain scans both before and after an 8-week mindfulness training program. In those that underwent the mindfulness training and practice, it was found that the structure and plasticity of their brains had changed, becoming thicker and stronger in the central cortex.
Not only did this make them feel happier – the part of the brain that was strengthened included memory, emotion, and learning. In addition, the parts of the brain associated with stress and anxiety became thinner, meaning that participants in the study felt less stress.
In the control group that did not undergo the meditation and mindfulness training and practice, no difference occurred in the brain structure.
What does this mean for you as a student? Practicing mindfulness such as living in the present, thinking positive thoughts, starting meditation or yoga and doing things that make you and others happy will actually help you in your study goals and life in general. When you encounter challenges you will have the skills and mindset to rise above them.
It is easier to do than you may think:
- At the end of each day jot down three good things that happened. Spend some time thinking about those things.
- Make an effort to communicate positively with someone each day – just telling the barista they make a great coffee is a start.
- Help someone each day. Shout them a coffee, help someone carry their heavy groceries or whatever else happens your way.
- Be mindful – that is, pay attention to what is happening in the present moment whether you are eating, drying the dishes or reading your course notes (you won’t even need to re-read the paragraph!)
- Breathe! Sitting still each day, in a quiet place, closing your eyes and monitoring the rise and fall of your breath for even 5 minutes is incredibly calming.
Try and keep this up for at least eight weeks.
It seems amazing that doing these five simple things can alter the structure of your brain for the better, make you a happier person and make studying easier. And by minimising the anxiety/stress factor in your brain, you will be able to sail through your assignments without any worries.