In this week’s spotlight, I want to remind everyone of just how important training your own mind is. Surprisingly, at least to me, there are many people who do not understand what it means to train your mind. Perhaps we need a beginner’s book for dummies on how to train your mind. Indeed, I think it would be a great thing for young people to encounter an illustrated version when they first begin to read, but let me flesh that out some.
More Than Positive Thinking
Training your mind is much more than positive thinking. That said, when I address audiences with this idea, it’s not uncommon for many to think that positive thinking is the subject matter that I have in mind. Positive thinking is important—AMEN to that; but it is only a portion of that which is involved in managing your thinking.
Since this is a blog, I will try to be brief. Training your mind has several components. In no special order, here are just seven very important ones:
1. Engineering your self-talk
2. Choosing your beliefs carefully
3. Learning the heuristics of your mind (mental shortcuts)
4. Becoming aware of patterned thinking/conditioning
5. Utilizing physiological feedback
6. Understanding your neurochemicals
7. Positive thinking
What’s actually involved in each of the seven? Let’s crisply unpack each of these. Engineering your self-talk is literally programming your subconscious in such a way that when you decide to go for something, that silent sentry inside doesn’t erode your enthusiasm with negative feedback. For example, you say to yourself, “I’m going to stop eating, or smoking, or getting angry, and so forth.” The subconscious sentry comes back with, “Sure—I’ve heard that before. Who are you kidding? What makes you think this time is different?” Or perhaps instead, it equivocates with you as opposed to directly challenge, and you hear that inner voice say things like, “Sure—maybe, but not today. One more piece of chocolate, one more cigarette, one more whatever, and so forth.”
Choosing your beliefs carefully is of great importance. Each of us should be aware of our beliefs and even interrogate them for internal and external consistency. For example, let’s assume that you have read and believe in the Bible. Let’s further assume that you have accepted the notion that money is the root of all evil and like the laden camel trying to enter the gates of Bethlehem, you believe that riches can withhold the kingdom of heaven. Now this belief exists in your mind, but you give it little awareness when you decide that you want to be successful. You just want to have a nice home, a good car, raise a family and provide college for your children, and more. Notice how these two beliefs fail to support each other.
Heuristics are efficient mental processes that help us solve problems or learn new concepts. Learning the mental heuristics (short-cuts or rules of thumb) can be done quite easily by simply reading a couple of books. Taking control of those short-cuts can be another matter. Generally speaking, there are three key heuristics: representativeness, anchoring and adjustment, and availability. Heuristics exist so we don’t have to evaluate every piece of information or stimuli that is presented. So, as William James pointed out, we see a bear and run, and then we think about why we ran. The potential problem with heuristics is that they can lead to cognitive biases of which there are many. These biases can literally lead us to making the wrong decision and/or deducing the wrong conclusion. This is a critical element in becoming truly aware and that is an implied purpose in training your mind.
Patterned thinking arises when we establish habitual behavior. Neurons that fire together wire together so these patterns should be of our conscious choosing, for if they’re not, we will find ourselves struggling with addictions, repeating our mistakes, and generally unable to grow our potential.
Utilizing physiological feedback is also important. For example, we know that exercise improves cognitive abilities. Indeed, simple tricks can change our mood. If you smile, simply smile, your brain does not know that the smile is fake; it responds the movement of the facial muscles and releases endorphins, the bodies good feel chemicals. The result—you feel better. So, when you’re feeling a little down, just smiling can change your mood. As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of research that shows laughter can heal the body.
Understanding our neurochemicals aids us in managing our lives. It is a fundamental aspect of thorough mind training program, and there are many reasons for this. For example, most people are totally unaware that if you expect to fail, and you fail, your brain will bathe you with basically the same reward neurochemicals that it would if you were successful. In other words, expecting failure leads to a neuro-addiction of sorts, in that every time you fail you have wired together a reward loop for doing so.
A positive attitude is critically important if living a long healthy life is important to you. Research has demonstrated that optimistic people enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing, and do indeed live longer, healthier lives. They enjoy better relationships, experience a higher quality of life, and are generally more satisfied with their lives than the pessimist.
Okay, training your mind is taking control of the program in your own subconscious. To do that we must understand the rules and begin writing the program ourselves, as opposed to accepting the program thrust on us from infanthood on. Bottom line, as Buddha put it, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.”
Your thinking machine is your mind. This has been but a pithy introduction to material that easily would fill a book. Altogether too many people rely on parents, school, society, media, etc. to write the script your mind will carry out. I hope you now understand why I believe this sort of thing should be taught our children as early as possible. It is my understanding of the hows, whats and whys that led me to create InnerTalk, for when you do change your self-imposed limiting beliefs—everything changes!
Today’s read is the subject of a new book I’m working on. If you’d like to know when it’s available, let me know.
Thanks for the read and I welcome your feedback.