Control your thoughts, clear your mind.
“Mind control”– it’s the stuff from science fiction movies typically with sinister overtones. In its purest form though, it’s simply about training your brain to serve you better.
Previous blogs have covered ‘exercising your mind’ and ‘your thoughts aren’t necessarily facts’. In this post, we’ll focus on controlling your thoughts in the sense of noticing when they’re not helpful and trying some strategies to disrupt your old, ingrained ways of thinking and reacting. We’ll also suggest some ways of clearing your mind. Finally, we’ll look at how to continue to build on your mind’s capacity.
It’s important to remember that as a species, we’re hardwired for negativity. While from an evolutionary perspective this is understandable, in reality it means we’re far more likely to remember negative experiences or amplify potential threats, then we are to remember positive experiences or objectively assess potential risks. We therefore need strategies to over-ride this tendency and to help build our resilience when feeling stressed.
The first step…
The first step is to become aware of unhelpful thinking, e.g. rumination, catastrophising, generalising (https://ccp.net.au/unhelpful-thinking-styles) or notice if you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions, e.g. anxiety, anger or agitation in any given situation.
- Slow belly breathing and other mindfulness techniques to help you ‘pause’ (for more detail on the benefits of mindfulness for brain fitness and as a buffer to stress see https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/can-you-make-your-brain-work-harder-for-you-20210315-p57ats.html)
- Naming or labelling the emotion
- Naming the critical voice e.g. Clarence, and letting him ‘drive past on the freeway’
The second step…
Accept whatever you’re feeling or thinking, without judgement or blame. Then shift to an action that’s aligned with your values.
- A reframe- shift the narrative to a growth mindset as Carol Dweck explains and, see the potential learnings and opportunities in the challenge or setback https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
- Use the voice of a kind friend
- Engage in a self-compassion meditation or exercise
- Mentally put your error or anything unwanted into a nearby rubbish bin as Mat Ryan (the Socceroo’s number 1) does when he makes a mistake on the field (see The Guardian, Emma Kemp article 16th March, 2021).
- Use meditation or grounding techniques to help focus and to bring yourself back into the present moment.
- Pivot 180 degrees, i.e. do something or respond in a way that’s 180 degrees different to how you would normally act
- Visualise the outcome you want (in terms of your personal goals), associate something pleasing with achieving the goal and take steps towards that end.
Some simple practices to clear your mind include:
- Doing physical exercise every day
- Regular Mindfulness or meditation practices
- Reading more (fiction in particular, engages the imagination)
- Consuming less social media
- Listening to or playing music or singing
- Immersing yourself in your garden or nature
- Doing a jigsaw or a craft you love
- Restricting screen time, place boundaries on how often you look at your phone, and especially refraining in the 30mins before going to sleep
- Engaging in ‘real’ social connection, i.e. face to face or over the phone – with supportive people
- Practising self compassion daily
- Engaging in random acts of kindness or volunteer in a way that is meaningful to you
- Having a gratitude practice or reflection before going to bed
The third step…
We all know that regular physical exercise assists with cognitive functioning, e.g. problem solving, attention to detail, memory and concentration. And while some cognitive aspects decline with age, what the neuroscience has shown us is that even as we age, our brain still has the ability to grow. For this to happen though, we need to keep doing new and challenging activities.
- Picking a new skill to learn (e.g. a language, a game or a craft)
- Scheduling regular times to practise it or go to a class.
Ideally, the activities should continue to challenge you over time i.e. involve increasing levels of complexity or the need for greater creativity.
None of these strategies to train and develop the mind are complicated. But rewiring our brain to create and deepen new neural pathways requires constant repetition. So, the challenge is in practising them on a daily or regular basis. Sure, we may slip up occasionally and revert to our old negative thinking (Clarence may barge in uninvited), and that’s where the voice of a kind friend or self-compassion comes into play.
Make Your Mind Up and choose to combine these approaches and day by day, you will build your mental strength, resilience and well being.
Our Psych Up! resources in April are based on ‘Make Your Mind Up’. Thus, make sure to stay tuned for our weekly blog post updates, as well as our podcasts and webinars.
For more information about performance psychology, the MBTI, managing team differences or anything else mentioned, get in touch with our team today.