Transformation Requires Intentional Thinking - Mayo Center of Innovation - Healthcare Design

Initiation Through Intentionality

Post Written By Nitya Chandiramani

Take a moment and close your eyes. If I told you to keep your eyes closed and your mind blank for the next 20 minutes straight, would you be able to do it? I would guess that the vibration of your phone alerting you of a text message would cause your eyes to fly open or surreptitious thoughts of the next big project at work or an upcoming final exam would disrupt your meditative state. However, these things are not exclusive to you, we all get sidetracked by those distracting behaviors and thoughts. As our society and lives are continuously on a fast-track with words like “stressed and busy” almost a part of our daily vocabulary we don’t take time to think for ourselves, to embrace the details of our lives, and to enjoy the process versus the product of our actions.

As part of Mayo Clinic’s Transform 2015 conference Dr. Amit Sood, Director of Research at Mayo’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, enlightened listeners on the topic of Mindfulness in a special breakout session. As an avid advocate of mind-body medicine and a holistic approach to healthcare, he began by explaining the two primary “modes” of our brain. The first being the focused mode and the second being the default mode. The focused mode is when we are fully engaged and/or processing something of interest and novelty. In contrast, the default mode is where, what Dr. Sood calls, mind-wandering occurs. The default mode is the fast-track part of our lives whirling around our brain. Dr. Sood remarked that our minds are wandering about 50-80% of the time, as at any given time the average person has about 150 uncompleted tasks, thus for the majority of the time we are trapped in this default mode. Being in a constant state of thinking, thinking, and thinking a little more about what you have to do, how much of it you need to do, and the best part, how much of it you haven’t done yet is distressing to our minds. Dr. Sood mentioned that the more time we spend in the default mode can increase risks of: anxiety, depression, ADHD, and dementia.

Dr. Sood’s goal was to help inform people on these two brain modes, which most of us probably don’t pay heed to on a daily basis, and then provide some strategies to cultivate more self-awareness and create an intentional brain. We have certain neural predispositions, like the tendency to mind-wander. However, through a few simple steps, such as the proposed 5-3-2 program, we can overcome some of those predispositions. The first practice that Dr. Sood emphasized was a gratitude activity. He had everyone in the room close their eyes for a few minutes, think about 5 important people in their lives, and send silent gratitude to them. I participated in this activity myself, and after I opened my eyes I felt so much more relaxed and at peace with myself. In about 5 minutes of intentional gratitude meditation I was able to achieve the relaxation that I most likely would not have by trying to meditate for 20 minutes and regressing into the default mode. I think his message was that if we want to relax, eliminate stress, and be happy we must be intentional about it. Intentionality doesn’t necessarily mean more time, it just means using your time in a directed and productive manner. He recommended doing this gratitude activity every morning prior to getting out of bed to begin the day on a positive note.

The second practice was looking for novelty. He stated that “novelty tends to beat love, you need to find novelty where love is.” His example was that if you’re having dinner with your spouse and you see an old friend the novelty of your friend is going to distract you from the person you are with and who you love (spouse). Thus, it is important to take 3 minutes and find something novel in your spouse, friends, family, etc. Dr. Sood say he personally tries to meet his family at the end of each day, intentionally, as if he was meeting them after 30 days. In that moment, you should focus on the details, not trying to change anyone or criticize.

The final practice is kind attention. We tend to make judgments very quickly, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. However, Dr. Sood encourages taking 2 seconds to withhold judgment and silently wish someone well. This way of thinking changes how we engage with people and decreases the instinctive threat perception we have ingrained in us. Overall, Dr. Sood explained five primary principles to follow for each day of the week: Monday – Gratitude, Tuesday – Compassion, Wednesday – Acceptance, Thursday – Meaning, and Friday – Forgiveness.

Initiating change doesn’t always necessitate a product. Sometimes a concept, an idea, or simply a way of thinking and living can produce monumentally positive changes. Life is too short to waste on stress and mind-wandering. Transformation begins with yourself and being intentional about what you think and how you think it. The choice is yours. Do you want to be in the default mode or the focus mode? Choose wisely!