Mindfulness is the key to mastering self-control

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Because many of us start the year with healthier life goals, we are faced with not only the creation of new habits, but also the management of temptation.

Over the past decade, there has been an increase in research in scientific publications on the psychological and physiological benefits of the ancient meditation of Eastern consciousness. More recent research now documents that different forms of mindfulness practice (sitting and walking meditations, scanning and relaxing stress through the body, and breathing awareness) can significantly reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. , as well as increasing self-regulatory behaviors and helping to develop oneself. -control.

Intrigued by the possibility of consciousness regulating appetitive behaviors, Esther K. Papies, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology and an expert on diet and goal-related behavior at Utrecht University, led a three-part study. on the initial effects of conscious attention in Behavioral responses to two common appetitive stimuli: food and sexual attraction.

When we decide to change our food and sex-related behaviors, much of the battle takes place in the mind before the tasty dish is in our hands. Among a number of mechanisms, the act of simply looking at food or even reading appetizing words can stimulate the taste buds and pleasure centers in the brain, suggesting that the viewer processes a food signal as if eating it. really. These mental “reward simulations” are also seen in the processing of visual sexual stimuli. Among many functions, the amygdala is thought to process appetitive and aversive stimuli, as well as emotional arousal, prompting a sexual response to the hypothalamus. Looking at sexually attractive photos has been shown to stimulate activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus in the limbic region of the brain in both genders, and more so in men. If just looking and imagining the pleasure of consumption provokes us, how can we develop self-control and manage to act in the face of temptation?

In a 2015 publication of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Papies’ research team hypothesized that learning to see one’s own thoughts as mere passing events through a practice known as “mindfulness” can reduce the mental reward simulation of seeing attractive food and sexually attractive people, a simulation that usually triggers consciousness and the unconscious. appetitive behaviors.

In the first of three experiments, Papies’ team speculated that learning to view pleasure-related thoughts as mere ephemeral ones, using attentive attention, would lead to lower levels of perceived attractiveness from others. both would report on the choice of partner. Given the previous findings that people who are more interested in casual sex tend to have vivid simulations of sex reward and greater attraction to potential partners, participants ’levels of sexual motivation were taken into account through Sociosexual Orientation Inventory.

In this first experiment, a group of heterosexual participants received a previously developed mindfulness training: in 12 minutes, participants were advised to simply observe their thoughts as transient mental events after the computer presentation of photos of people. In a control group workout, participants saw the same photos, but were asked to immerse themselves deeply in the images. After the training phase, the two groups were shown 40 new photos of the opposite sex and asked to indicate whether or not they were desired partners by pressing a key (a one-second response window promoted intuitive responses). Both groups again showed the 40 photos, this time asked to indicate the level of appeal on a scale of one to 100.

The results revealed that, unlike the control group, the level of sexual motivation of the conscious attention group no longer predicts the perceived attractiveness of others. In the control condition, sexual motivation increased the couple’s perception of attractiveness and judgment. These results suggest that conscious attention could mediate how we perceive the sexual appeal of others, and therefore may regulate how we choose partners.

The second experiment almost replicated the first, this time evaluating the effects of mindfulness on the attractiveness and choice of food. Being hungry usually increases the attractiveness of food, especially unhealthy foods. Therefore, the Papies team predicted that the practice of mindfulness would be associated with a reduction in attraction toward the choice of unhealthy foods, which explains the level of hunger. Unlike the first experiment, participants in the control group were no longer asked to immerse themselves in the images and were advised to look closely at the photos, but in a natural, relaxed way.

Both the conscious focus group and the control groups were randomly presented with images of sumptuous foods with a high sugar and fat content and images of healthier foods and were asked to indicate whether they would like to eat the eat at that time. The results revealed that the level of hunger strongly predicted the choice of unhealthy foods in the condition of control, but not in the condition of conscious attention, suggesting that conscious attention may not curb appetite, but it can lead to healthier food impulses even in a state of hunger.

In a third follow-up experiment, Papies’ team extended beyond a lab environment and into the real world. At Utrecht University in the Netherlands, more than 100 student volunteers were randomly assigned to a mindfulness, control training, and non-intervention training group when they entered the campus cafeteria. After apparently completing their participation in the study before entering the dining room, the researchers reviewed the participants ’later food choices in the cafeteria. Although the level of appetite was associated with a higher caloric intake in all groups, 76 percent of conscious care participants chose salads compared to 49 percent of participants without intervention and 56 percent of control participants. Consciously minded participants consumed fewer calories than control conditions and were less likely to consume unhealthy foods in general.

Papies’ initial findings in all three experiments suggest that 12 minutes of mindfulness may modulate the effects of sexual motivation and hunger on the perceived appeal of food and people, as well as the response to temptation. More research is needed to address gaps in procedures and isolate neurological changes that may be the basis for observed behavioral changes, but these findings indicate that awareness can be a useful tool for anyone who wants to resist temptation. and implement positive changes in life.

How can mindfulness be practiced?

Conscious attention is simply the awareness of thought and feeling in response to a stimulus. The following practice is adapted from the tradition of mindfulness and Papies research, and can be done in minutes.

1. Bring an attractive image into your eyes or mind. It can be a type of food, person or activity. As an example, we will use the activity of participating in social media.

2. Recognize your thoughts and feelings. Remember that mindfulness is the act of accepting any thought and feeling as normal and impermanent. Start by simply acknowledging what comes up. You may experience reactionary thoughts such as “I like social media” or “I wish I could check my social media page right now.” You may experience sensations or sensations without words, such as a stomach upset or body aches. You may not notice any particular feelings or thoughts.

3. Let your thoughts and feelings go. Let your emotions and thoughts move through you. To add a little humor to the experience, as your thoughts keep popping up, imagine saying goodbye to them as they move through the screen of your mind. You could say in silence, “Let this thought / feeling pass.”

As with any practice, your mindfulness experience will likely be transformed over time.

Full attention can only seem like a way to unwind, though it could offer just the opposite; practicing mindfulness can help us actively decide when to participate and when not, and therefore shape our lives so that it resembles what we want. By simply observing and letting go of the appeal, we have more self-control in our hands than we might think.

This piece was originally written by Rina Deshpande for Sonima.

This story was originally published on Sonima.com. If you liked this story, check out these other articles:

A meditation to manage food cravings
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