Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity by Shauna Shapiro, PhD
Updated: Feb 21, 2020
This weekend I reached out to Shauna Shapiro, PhD, expert in mindfulness and the author of Good Morning, I Love You. I was interested to learn more about mindfulness and neuroplasticity and how they compliment one another.
Mindfulness has become so popular that the word has almost lost it’s meaning. How do you define mindfulness?
Mindfulness means to “see clearly.” When we see clearly we can respond effectively. Mindfulness involves three key elements- the IAA model:
Intention directs the compass of our heart, reflecting our deepest hopes and values.
Attention trains and stabilizes our mind in the present moment.
Attitude refers to how we pay attention – with an attitude of kindness and curiosity.
In Good Morning I Love You, you talk about the miracle of neuroplasticity. Can you explain why this is such an important discovery?
The most important discovery in brain science of the twentieth century—neuroplasticity—has found that our brain is constantly changing throughout life. No matter how old you are, you can actually sculpt new healthy pathways in the brain and prune away old, unhealthy ones. This discovery of neuroplasticity changed everything. Why? Because it confirms our boundless potential. It affirms our remarkable capacity to adapt and grow, not just when we’re young, but at any time. In every moment of your life, you have the capacity to change the physical architecture of your brain. You can grow new neural connections, strengthen existing ones, and eliminate connections no longer useful. You can, quite literally, transform your mind. Essentially, what you practice grows stronger.
You also talk about the 5% principle. Can you share more…
Personal change is not linear. There are stops, detours, setbacks, serendipities, and surprises. Transformation is longitudinal and it is experiential. Layer upon layer, we literally integrate new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving as we lay down new pathways in our brain and then let these pathways express themselves in our thoughts, words, and actions.
But for anything to happen, we have to start. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.
The key is to develop “micro habits”—small shifts in behavior that lead to big changes.
Taking baby steps gives us permission to lighten up and take the pressure off.
Even the smallest experiences count, especially if repeated again and again. Consider drops of water dripping into a bucket. The first few drops don’t seem like much, but eventually the bucket will overflow. When we struggle with an all-or-nothing mentality instead of embracing and celebrating small increments of change, we get so focused on the finish line that we’re often less efficient at getting there.
Research bears this out: people who break a complex task down into smaller milestones and then set about accomplishing them finish the task faster and with better quality than those who focus entirely on the end result.
To help yourself stop worrying over the ultimate destination and focus instead on direction, try asking yourself, “Can I do just 5 percent?” So, for example: “Can I do 5 percent more exercise? Can I relax 5 percent more? Trust 5 percent more?” And if 5 percent feels like too much: “Can I do 1 percent?”
Shauna Shapiro, PhD
SHAUNA SHAPIRO, PHD is a best-selling author, professor, clinical psychologist and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion. She has spent two decades studying the benefits of mindfulness and compassion, publishing over 150 papers and three critically acclaimed books. Her TEDx Talk, What You Practice Grows Stronger, has been viewed over 1.5 million times.
Please email Shauna to receive a free good morning I love you meditation video sLshapiro@scu.edu