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How to Develop a Buddha Brain

Updated on November 9, 2013

"Just One Thing" can make your life better

Feeling twitchy and stressed? Find yourself spinning your wheels and beating yourself up at the same time? Want to choke the living crap out of your coworkers, friends, families or that guy who just cut you off at the light? Help is on the way -- and you don't have to sell everything, quit your job, and move off the grid in the process.

Rick Hanson's "Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain one simple practice at a time" is one of those rare books that is easy to read, simple to apply, impossible to do wrong, and potentially life changing. It won't stop that guy from cutting you off at the light -- but it will help you learn how to take a breath and "respond rather than react." That simple shift of perspective -- from a twitchy reaction to a more thoughtful response -- can make a huge difference in your health and happiness.

No wonder famed meditation teacher Jack Kornfield said:

"These are great practices -- wise and straightforward, scientific and nourishing. They can transform your life."

Jack Kornfield, PhD, author of The Wise Heart and A Path with Heart

Read on for more on why you might want to make "Just One Thing" part of your daily practice.

Just One Thing

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time
Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

Warm, funny, inspiring, simple and very practical steps to reduce stress and improve your life.


“You’re taming and purifying the unruly mind -- and the jungle that is the brain with its reptilian, mammalian, and primate layers. You’re offering beautiful gifts to your future self. . .

Rick Hanson from "Just One Thing"

Rick Hanson, PhD
Rick Hanson, PhD

Yes -- change can really be this simple

Science and spirit, grounded in daily life

Self-help books are a bit like the porridge in the story of Goldilocks. Some are too hot -- almost scolding you into change. Some are too cool with endless pages of long dense science that is all head and no heart.

Rick Hanson’s “Just One Thing” is the third bowl of porridge -- it is just right -- grounded in the latest brain science but delivered in 52 short, compassionate and often humorous doses. Hanson, who wrote the best-selling “Buddha’s Brain,” is a neuropsychologist but at his heart he is simply a wise friend who counsels being kinder to yourself.

Hanson’s premise is that “neurons that fire together wire together.” As a result, simple changes -- something as small as taking a deep, slow breath before picking up the phone -- can over time repattern your brain to be calmer, healthier, and more creative.

Why is this important? For starters, Hanson notes that our brains have a built in “negativity bias.” They are literally wired to scan the horizon for threats and to take negative stimuli more seriously than positive ones. (Hanson says “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”). This is a very useful trait when dodging hungry mammoths or rampaging visigoths -- not so much when you are wanting to improve your family relationships or destress yourself at work.

(A side note here: don’t worry that by reprogramming your brain you will lose the ability to react when it all hits the fan -- the negativity bias is so deeply rooted in your DNA that you will probably need several more lifetimes to unwind it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put the negativity beast back in its cage so it isn’t running your life all the time).

Videos with Rick Hanson, PhD

Stress makes us sick (and can even kill us). Rick Hanson shows us ways to make our brains more resiliant when stress rears its head (which it will as long as you are on earth).

Science shows we all have a "negativity" bias -- learning how to take in the good takes practice but can make a huge difference in our quality of life.

A longer talk by Rich Hanson on how to tame the craving beast we all wrestle from time to time.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Practices you can do at your own pace

Slow and steady wins the race

I first encountered “Just One Thing” in a study group where we worked through a few of the short chapters (they are about three to five pages long) each session. My wife and I then went back and read the book to each other, alternating chapters over a couple of months. I find myself now dipping into random chapters as a way to center myself around a practice. And the best part is -- from Rick Hanson’s perspective -- you can’t do it wrong -- whatever works best for you is the best way to use the book.

Just One Thing starts with a series of chapters on how to treat ourselves better, with more insight and compassion. These range from taking better care of our bodies to forgiving ourselves for our transgressions (real or imagined). It then moves to how we can enjoy life more by slowing down and enjoying the journey (which is all we really have anyway). Next comes ways we can build more strengths into our lives to persevere when challenges come, followed by suggestions on how we can engage with the world without it driving us mad (or vice versa). Finally Hanson concludes with a series of short exercises to bolster a sense of inner peace -- and the knowledge that you are enough, right now, right as you are.

While the book is full of techniques and practices you can try, they are like the rest of the book -- short, sweet and easily accomplished. From Hanson’s perspective small changes are fine because they build on each other. And progress is best measured over time. If you are looking to accomplish a massive life change overnight this is not the book for you. If you are willing to have a little faith that small changes followed over time can lead to enduring results this is a great roadmap.

I tend to think of it a little like starting an exercise program after years of being a couch potato. If you start with ten minutes a session and add one minute a week you will be at 60 minutes in less than a year. If you instead leap (ok, crawl) off the couch and do 60 minutes right away you will pull every muscle in your body and end up right back on the cushions eating Cheetos and watching Duck Dynasty. Slow and steady wins the race -- as Hanson says, “practice is not for wusses. You will earn its benefits."

For those who want more of the science behind these practices, Hanson’s Buddha’s Brain is an excellent choice, as well as his most recent “Hardwiring Happiness.” Kelly Howell and Michael Gelb’s Brain Power also is a good resource for practices that can make your brain healthier and happier. But for those who want a simple, clear and supremely kind introduction to the big results that can come from small changes “Just One Thing” is a great place to start.

More from Rick Hanson and other helpful tools

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time
Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

Clear and simple, kind and compassionate -- a great book.

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

Hanson's classic book on how simple meditation and mindfulness practices rewire your brain for the good.

Woodstock Chimes ZENERGY3 Zenergy Chime, Trio
Woodstock Chimes ZENERGY3 Zenergy Chime, Trio

A fun little chime to use in your meditation practice (or try it to bring an unruly meeting to order -- it really works).

Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age
Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age

A great book on how to improve and protect your brain through nutrition, meditation, and fun games.

The Secret Universal Mind Meditation
The Secret Universal Mind Meditation

Kelly Howell is a pioneer of brainwave research -- her CDs combine music, spoken word, and subtle pulses that put you in a relaxed and creative state.

Guided Relaxation: Relieve Stress & Tension
Guided Relaxation: Relieve Stress & Tension

Another great title from Kelly Howell for unwinding after a long day.

Deep Insight
Deep Insight

A more intense brainwave massage from Kelly Howell, for those times when you really want insight.

Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again!: Handbook for a Spiritual Revolution (A Cody's Book)
Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again!: Handbook for a Spiritual Revolution (A Cody's Book)

Just for fun -- Scoop Nisker is a very funny meditation teacher who loves wrestling with the absurdity of life. High energy and very funny stuff.


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