“Altered Traits”: Default mode part two

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The default mode turns on while we chill out, not doing anything that requires focus and effort; it blossoms during the mind’s downtime.

 

Conversely, as we focus on some challenge, like grappling with what’s happened to your Wi-Fi signal, the default mode quiets.

 

 

With nothing much else to capture our attention, our mind wanders, very often to what’s troubling us—a root cause of everyday angst.

 

 

For this reason, when Harvard researchers asked thousands of people to report their mental focus and mood at random points through the day, their conclusion was that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

 

 

This self-system mulls over our life—especially the problems we face, the difficulties in our relationships, our worries and anxieties.

 

 

Because the self ruminates on what’s bothering us, we feel relieved when we can turn it off.

 

 

One of the great appeals of high-risk sports like rock climbing seems to be just that—the danger of the sport demands a full focus on where to put your hand or foot next.

 

More mundane worries take backstage in the mind.

 

The same applies to “flow,” the state where people perform at their best.

 

Paying full attention to what’s at hand, flow research tells us, rates high on the list of what puts us into—and sustains—a joyous state.

 

 

The self, in its form as mind-wandering, becomes a distraction, suppressed for the time being.

 

 

Managing attention, as we saw in the previous chapter, is an essential ingredient of every variety of meditation.

 

 

When we become lost in thoughts during meditation, we’ve fallen into the default mode and its wandering mind.

 

 

A basic instruction in almost all forms of meditation urges us to notice when our mind has wandered and then return our focus to the chosen target, say, a mantra or our breathing.

 

 

This moment has universal familiarity on contemplative paths.

 

This simple mental move has a neural correlate: activating the connection between the dorsolateral PFC and the default mode—a connection found to be stronger in long-term meditators than in beginners.

 

 

The stronger this connection, the more likely regulatory circuits in the prefrontal cortex inhibit the default areas, quieting the monkey mind—the incessant self-focused chatter that so often fills our minds when nothing else is pressing.

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