In this episode, I share my learning and experience with how to adjust the “default settings” in our brain that tend to want it to wander and lose contact with our direct experience. There is a network of brain regions called the Default Mode Network that come online when we are not consciously focused on one thing, when our mind is wandering. Research shows that the default mode network exists for many reasons, but the one I am most interested in is that it is there to help us conserve calories. The human brain requires a lot of cellular energy to run (about 25% of our total energy demand is from the brain!). It is especially taxing to focus on our direct experience, so the mind goes into power saving/default mode to help us save energy. This made sense for our early ancestors where food was not as plentiful, but for most of us today this is not a problem. We therefore do not need to go into mind wandering mode as much because we can keep our energy levels up throughout the day.
Think of the default mode like you think of the factory settings in a new computer. The power saving mode in the new computer is designed to come on often, especially when the computer isn’t plugged in. You can adjust these settings, and the same is true for our brain. How? Through practices like the one I offer in this episode. If we practice “open awareness”, being in our direct experience instead of in our narrative/mind wandering experience, we can adjust the factory settings in the brain. And being in our direct experience, being present is perhaps the most important thing we can do to work well in a VUCA world. Being present allows us to see past our biases, past our brain’s desire to seek validation for our story/narrative. It allows us to listen to other perspectives, to see things in context, to be aware of what is happening in our bodies, and to be aware of our emotions.
To learn more about the default mode network and the role that mindfulness can play in lessening our mind wandering, go to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529365/