“I am of the personal belief that through tough physical training, proper mindset, and a high level of maturity that mental toughness is born.” -Stewart Smith, author of The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness
The Simple Sophisticate, episode #20
What we think has an amazing effect on the reality of our lives. If we believe we are deserving of a particular career path, and we set our minds to it, nothing can stand in our way if we refuse to give up. Contrarily, if we believe we don’t deserve a partner who respects us, we will allow ourselves to stay in underwhelming relationships. So as you can see, our mind foretells our future.
The gift, the beauty, is that our mind is under our control. And with purposeful attention, we can create the habit of allowing our minds to be our best asset rather than take us on a wild, hurtful ride. Much like an athlete who filters out everything but the moment they are on the court/field/course, so can you filter out negative thoughts, doubts and worries so that you can achieve your desired success and peace of mind.
As someone who will admit to having let her mind be in control at various times in my life, I have been and still am working on mastering my mind. But without question, I am much improved from the insecure young woman I was a mere decade ago. Because as you will see it is a constant process, but the process becomes easier as these skills I am about to share with you become habits.
Much like habitually assuming the worst, we can shift this mindset on its head with practice and instead cultivate a habit of refraining from assumption, communicating clearing and letting go until the time arrives for us to know the truth. This is not easy to do as it requires patience, blind-faith and the ability to shut down the negative thinking, but it is possible. And your mind and your life will be all the better when you claim this power.
1. Examine Your Core Beliefs
Believe it or not, we often are the source behind the debilitating thoughts that creep into our minds. Based on our past experiences, whether they were successes or heartbreaks, we believe we know how everything will work out in the future. We believe there is a black and white to life. And while the past did indeed happen, the future can’t be predicted entirely. To limit the possibilities of the future can only occur if we let it. Otherwise, the opportunities for the future are endless.
Today, examine your core beliefs. Do you believe that you are too old to do something? Let it go. Do you believe that no one will accept you because you’ve made certain missteps in your past (missteps defined by you or those around you)? Let it go. Your thoughts of how things “should” unfold are getting in the way of the possibilities life wants to unveil to you.
Be open to the unexpected. Yes, you can come with experience and knowledge, but stop assuming you know what will happen because typically, most often, life isn’t black and white. There is a lot of gray.
2. Don’t Give Up After the First Attempt
When we’ve never pushed past a certain level whether it be in our fitness class, learning a new skill, or applying for a higher position at work, if we let it, our minds can begin to accept that we can’t excel beyond what we’ve already done. Dismiss this. Dismiss it now.
Any athlete who has had a moderate amount of success will tell you, you will not become proficient until you practice repeatedly the results you wish to occur. So you didn’t get the job you were seeking on your first or maybe even second attempt at the interview. Ask for feedback, build your resume and try again next time. The first attempt at caramelizing the sugar on your creme brûlée resulted in a black rather than brown, golden topping? Try it again. We learn by our mistakes, as we’ve talked about before on the blog, and to allow our minds to think otherwise is letting our minds have control.
The only way you will be able to build your confidence, and thus strengthen your mind into believing you can do something is if you refuse to give up. Most people who try something new without much instruction or any instruction at all, produce their worst results. But that is how you learn, and that is just the beginning. Remember in order to see progress, you must have a starting point that is far from where you end up.
3. Exhibit More Gratitude
If you are someone like me, you’ve woken up in the middle of the night and your mind takes control. Sadly, it seems these early morning or über late mind trips lead nowhere positive as horrible thoughts of doubt, worry and fear dance freely throughout my mind. At first I thought I was the only one experiencing such moments of self-created terror (isn’t that always the case for those of use who are self-critical), but as I shared my experience, I realized this is quite common with people.
Part of the problem, I realized is that my mind was controlling me, not the other way around. Two things have helped me master this dilemma when it occurs: (1) read a book; or (2) begin thinking about all that I am grateful for.
Let’s look at the latter option. When you decide to think about all that is going well in your life, you are taking back control of your mind. You are stopping the fearful worrying and doubt in its tracks and reminding yourself of all that is going well.
Whether you are waking up in the middle of the night or find yourself with endless doubts and worries during the middle of your day, when this happens, turn to gratitude. Quickly, what I think you will realize is, you have so much that is to be celebrated. Does this mean you can rest on your laurels? No. But what it should provide is a reminder that things aren’t nearly as bad as your mind might have you believe.
4. Use Brain Energy Productively
Just like any muscle in our body, our brain can become taxed after extended use. Once we respect this biological and neurological fact, we can be more selective about what we ask it to internalize and analyze in any given day. In other words, why bog it down with unnecessary worry and fret?
I always find it interesting that when school begins and I am back teaching in the classroom, my creative bursts are less frequent. Having come to understand this fact about myself, I waste no time in writing something down when it pops up because I know it is less frequent during the school year. Conversely, during any holiday breaks or during the summer, my mind is flooded with ideas as my mind is not asked to focus on as many demands, problems and projects.
If we use our brains to worry about why we didn’t get the job, why he didn’t call, why our lives aren’t going as planned more than the initial thought, we waste valuable resources that could be used more productively to improve the quality of our lives. Choose to monitor your thoughts, toss the garbage and keep the gems.
5. Practice Regularly
In Dan Harris’ recently published book 10% Happier, he speaks to the beneficial powers of meditation. Now, he doesn’t say that meditation will lead to 100% happiness, but he does unearth the potential to improve our happiness by taking time to meditate regularly.
Part of the power of meditation is that it asks us to still our minds, or at least recognize when our minds are running free and we are at its mercy. Even if at first we are not able to rein in our minds, the mere ability to recognize when we’ve lost control is a tremendous step in the right direction. Whether you practice yoga, meditation or simply pay attention to your thoughts and stop them when they are leading you somewhere that is not going to be beneficial, do so regularly. Before long, you will have taken the beast by the tail and charmed it into submission.
6. Think Rationally & Realistically
To simply say, think positively in order to master one’s mind is actually counter-intuitive advice. Why? When we choose to be Positive Poppy about all things going on in our lives even during events of turmoil and frustration, we disrespect our feelings and those around us who need us to be sympathetic.
Now, by no means am I suggesting cynicism is the path to mastering your mind – absolutely not. Rather, be able to be aware of what our minds are thinking, recognize when our emotions are getting the better of us and bring ourselves back to reality. When we can think rationally even when it would be easy to get angry (and lash out) or extremely excited (and make a rash decision), we have mastered our minds.
Here’s a helpful exercise shared in The Charisma Myth when it comes to dealing with negative thoughts about ourselves or our lives. A cognitive scientist Steven Hayes suggests seeing such thoughts as graffiti on the wall. In other words, simply because you see or observe one ugly sight doesn’t mean the entire city in which it exists is ugly as a whole. Much like your negative thought, simply because you think an unpleasant thought doesn’t mean it’s a statement of truth about who you are.
7. Don’t Suppress Emotions
Now while we need to be rational and realistic, this by no means is to suggest that we should suppress our emotions. Rather, what mastering our minds asks of each of us is to be able to know our minds, to recognize how we are feeling and why and allow ourselves the ability to step into these emotions in a healthy manner.
For example, during a time of grieving, we should absolutely allow ourselves to feel the loss that has occurred. To shut this feeling out, to deny this authentic emotion will only lead to more frustrations down the road. On the other hand, if we are feeling ecstatic about something that is going well in our lives, we should most definitely celebrate, dance, raise a glass and cheer.
In each of these situations, we are respecting the emotion and giving it permission to be felt rather than letting the emotion control us. After all, “We make the best decision when we’re in control of our emotions – rather than visa versa.”
8. Be Patient, Delay Gratification
The ability to exercise self-control is the effect of someone who has mastered their mind. While instant gratification can be tempting, keeping our goals and purpose in mind will make it easy to be patient and say no.
9. Practice Becoming More Comfortable with Discomfort
Part of immature mental strength is that we don’t know what we are capable of until we do it. And because we’ve never done something, we often allow our minds (which crave certainty and control as it is trying to keep us alive) to talk us out of doing something new.
The good news is that for the most part, we live in a world with very few threats upon our lives if we use our common sense (seat belts, lock our doors, etc). Which means that we can stretch our comfort zone most likely a lot more than we realize. For example, if you desire to be someone who is more physically fit, you will have to go out of our comfort zone to take that fitness class, attend that gym and work on not obsessing about what others think when you arrive. Again, notice, it is our minds that get in our way, very rarely it is actual events or actions from other people.
And again, choosing to step out of our comfort zone must be done repeatedly, not just once if you are going to make mastering your mind a habit.
10. Become Self-Compassionate
Olivia Fox Cabane in The Charisma Myth explains that self-compassion is “the warmth we have for ourselves especially when we are going through a difficult experience”. And the primary way we choose to be self-compassionate toward ourselves is how we think about ourselves as we go through experiences that may not be up to our expectations. In other words, we are able to forgive ourselves so that we can move forward; we tame our inner critic so that we can be productive and not self-destructive. All of this begins with what our thoughts are about ourselves.
Once you master your ability to be self-compassionate, Cabane explains that studies have shown such people have greater emotional resilience to daily difficulties and fewer negative reactions to difficult situations.
Part of the frustration of life in our modern age, and especially in America, is that we feel that something must be wrong if we are not happy every given moment of our day. And when we’re not feeling this ecstatic satisfaction about our day or our lives, we often feel something must be wrong. Notice the word I used “feel”.
The truth is, every single human being has doubts throughout their day. Every single thinking, conscious human being will come across fear that they are not enough and aren’t where they want to be. And since there are a million different advertisers, businesses and people in our lives vying for our attention, our dollars and our time, we are being catered to because they want us to “think” a certain way of living is the best. And when we think we have not measured up to whatever we have accepted to be the path we must take, our minds start to beat us up.
Don’t let this happen. Master your mind, choose your path, choose your response. Because your response will determine the outcome which will ultimately determine the success and contentment of your life. Notice that at the core of this entire equation is mastering your thoughts rather than allowing your mind to be manipulated, thus allowing it to manipulate you. You can do it, but it must be a conscious effort.
And the good news is, if you take the job of exercising your mind regularly, it will become a habit and you will regularly default to healthy thoughts, healthy responses which will lead to a more fulfilling life.
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