Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation

Dan Harris explains the neuroscience behind meditation, but reminds us that the ancient practice isn’t magic and likely won’t send one floating into the cosmic ooze. He predicts that the exercise will soon become regularly scheduled maintenance, as commonplace as brushing your teeth or eating your veggies. Harris, an ABC News correspondent, was turned on to mediation after a live, on-air panic attack. His latest book is 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story (http://goo.gl/wfSX4E).

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Transcript – There’s no way a fidgety and skeptical news anchor would ever have started meditating were it not for the science. The science is really compelling. It shows that meditation can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help you deal with problems ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis. And the neuroscience is where it really gets sci-fi. There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress.

There was also a study out of Yale that looked at what’s called the default mode network of the brain. It’s a connected series of brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours when we’re doing that thing that human beings do all the time which is obsessing about ourselves, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now. Meditators not only turn off the default mode network of their brain while they’re meditating but even when they’re not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a new default mode. And what’s that default mode? They’re focused on what’s happening right now.

In sports this is called being in the zone. It’s nothing mystical. It’s not magical. You’re not floating off into cosmic ooze. You are just being where you are – big cliché in self-help circles is being in the now. You can use that term if you want but because it’s accurate. It’s slightly annoying but it’s accurate. It’s more just being focused on what you’re doing. And the benefits of that are enormous. And this is why you’re seeing these unlikely meditators now, why you’re seeing the U.S. Marines adopting it, the U.S. Army, corporate executives from the head of Ford to the founders of Twitter. Athletes from Phil Jackson to many, many Olympians. Scientists, doctors, lawyers, school children. There’s this sort of elite subculture of high achievers who are adopting this because they know it can help you be more focused on what you’re doing and it can stop you from being yanked around by the voice in your head.

My powers of prognostication are not great. I bought a lot of stock in a company that made Palm Pilot back in 2000 and that didn’t go so well for me. But having said that I’m going to make a prediction. I think we’re looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution. In the 1940s if you told people that you went running they would say, who’s chasing you. Right now if you tell people you meditate – and I have a lot of experience with telling people this, they’re going to look at you like you’re a little weird most of the time. That’s going to change. Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you. These are all things that if you don’t do you feel guilty about. And that is where I think we’re heading with meditation because the science is so strongly suggestive that meditation can do really, really great things for your brain and for your body.

The common assumption that we have, and it may be subconscious, is that our happiness really depends on external factors – how was our childhood, have we won the lottery recently, did we marry well, did we marry at all. But, in fact, meditation suggests that happiness is actually a skill, something you can train just the way you can train your body in the gym. It’s a self-generated thing. And that’s a really radical notion. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be subject to the vagaries of an impermanent, entropic universe. It just means you are going to be able to navigate this with a little bit more ease.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton


31 thoughts on “Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation

  1. I like this video very much! Dan really explains meditation very good and I think it will inspire a lot of people to start with it! I am already a long term meditator, but I learn a lot from this video! I learn that your brain changes so much. I have noticed that I am more in the zone as Dan mentioned and I am really focussed on what I am doing now when I am doing something. It is for example when I talk to people. I am totally focussed on what they say. It is the same as listening to music. It is really nice and I hope that more people get involved and that Dan is right abouth his prediction about the future! I hope so!

  2. Being told meditation is the latest health craze and we won't be called 'weird' any more for being in the present is like being told we'll soon be able to buy oxygen at our local supermarket. It narrows all focus onto a soon-to-be fashionable solution. I like this guy a lot for his humility and eloquence, but I think the greater issue is this: WHY do we live in a society where pausing and not thinking and just BEING is something we have to actively pursue? I think the real issue is not 'how do we learn to better look after ourselves in the social climate', but 'why is it so hard to be happy in the social climate we're in?'. Consumerism, comparing ourselves to others and a general romance with self-punishing habits is the crux of why we need to be sold a meditation 'package' at all.

  3. Maybe through meditation he will eventually realize that taking the drugs that a doctor prescribes is anything BUT a no brainer! Just look at the horrible epidemic of addiction to prescription opioids, and the ridiculous amount of Ritalin that is foisted on healthy young boys.

  4. Explained it better than I could've done. I tell people all the time about the benefits but they just say ok and brush it off like I'm a hippie. People have been doing it for a long time and science is now proving the benefits of it. A lot of successful professional athletes and famous people have been using meditation to focus so it tells you that it works and it will get more people to do it. I started meditating because I suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attack, and IBS. On top of that I have ADHD. When I was in college and working full time, it helped me with stress and it helped clear my brain so essentially, it helped me focus to get things done. The challenging part is to make it into a habit. If you can do it religiously, you can reap the long term benefits.

  5. meditation is like a detox of your mind and as your awareness increases the stuff in your subconscious you have been suppressing for years will surface.. you might be angrier and more frustrated than ever and even end things like relationships and jobs.. don't think that meditation is a easy pill you take without consequences.. it can change your life.. it's nothing to just play around with.. start very slowly and be careful..consult a expert.. better safe than sorry

  6. Now imagine how great praying to your creator is , and remember the almighty night and day for with the remembrance of Allah the heart is reassured. Imagine how great it feels to submit to your lord physically 5 times a day by praying physically and mentally, the only time the head is below the heart during the day is when a Muslim head is on the floor while praying.

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