We think.. we imagine.. we plan and execute… That’s what makes us different from other animals. The power of thought has helped us, humans to build the world we see today. This is one of the greatest gifts we have. This is a great power and deserves proper use and respect.
But most of us are very poor at using this precious resource wisely. We squander a lot of thought energy in useless mental chatter and thinking.
If you don’t use a car for a long time, it’s difficult to start. If you run it too hard, too often, you run the risk of damaging the engine, or at least aging it early. The secret to optimum performance and longevity is balance and regular maintenance.
Same holds for our minds. If the mind is used optimally, it can work wonders. We see it all around us, people accomplishing great feats with their mind power. Even seemingly physical accomplishments have a lot to do with how well you have tamed your mind. If we don’t use it at all, we live a life no better than other animals. And if we are constantly thinking, if something is going on in our minds all the time, it’s bound to be dull and less effective.
An optimally working mind requires balance and proper exercises. If you thin your thinking needs improvement, here are a few things you can do to make yourself better.
1. Meditation. I cannot stress how much this helps. When I say meditation, some people associate it with ascetics or yogis sitting in the jungle, meditating for spiritual enlightenment or nirvana. Enlightenment may be the ultimate benefit you can get from meditation, but while you are still at it, meditation has a host of other benefits to offer. Sharpening your mind, focusing your thoughts, reducing stress and enhancing your feel-good factor are a few among them.
Mediation is all about being totally present in the Now. If you have never done it before, you can start with a simple and powerful form. Sit in a relaxed position or lie down if you will. Just focus on your breath. Observe yourself breathing. Don’t try to control your breath, don’t try to shorten or lengthen it, just observe it. With time, your breath will become slow and rhythmic. Hold this as long as you easily can. That’s it!
Doing this even for 5 minutes daily can make a lot of difference. If you want to go further, try to move your focus to the feeling of ‘I am’. Or you can focus on just being aware of yourself and your surroundings. Whenever the mind wanders away, become aware of your mind thinking, look at your thoughts as a detached observer. Don’t admonish yourself, just bring back your focus gently.
In the beginning, you might be surprised by how little control you have over your mind. But just like body building, you will improve slowly and slowly to have more control.
2. Decide certain things you will do with awareness. Decide on some daily, routine things that you will try to practice with awareness. It can be any activity – taking a bath, brushing your teeth, cooking food or driving. Try being fully aware of yourself and what you are doing. Be totally present. If you are taking a bath, think of nothing else, just become totally aware of the water running over your body. Do it without hurry and with full focus. Feel everything, the smell of the soap, the lather, the cool of the water…
As you start finding it more and more easy, you can start adding other activities to this list, till the point where you are totally aware all the time, at everything you do. This will improve your focus and response to external stimuli(they practice this in martial arts). This will also improve clarity of thoughts.
3. Practice detachment. At any time during the day, if you feel over whelmed with something, try the detachment technique mentioned above under meditation. Just imagine you are an outside observer to your thoughts. Observe your mind thinking. Don’t judge, don’t think of solutions, just observe. You might be surprised how certain situations, that were hitherto a cause for problems and stress, just cease to be so, when you do this! This will also lessen the chances of you making rash decisions that you repent later.
4. Your friendly phrase! You can try to associate a phrase and/or action with a general feeling of being aware and happy. For me, it is thumping my chest lightly and mentally saying – ‘All is well’. I do this daily, after my journal writing time. I repeat it a few times. This way, I add a feeling of good with this activity. Later on, if I feel stressed at a particular moment, or I feel my mind is very stressed and acting hyper to no good effect, I use this phrase. I immediately start feeling good and aware. It is sort of like programming a phrase to be used later. First you relate a feeling with a phrase. Later, when you need it, your mind automatically relates the phrase with the feeling.
5. Participate in some interactive activity daily. Do some fun activity that requires you to be totally present. Sports seem like a perfect candidate here. You are supposed to respond to an external stimuli. You have to be totally present and prepared for the unexpected. Playing regularly sharpens your responses, improves the feel-good factor and focuses your mind. You totally get pulled into the moment, you become totally alive!
In this regard, I find sports much better than going to the gym. I find it a more wholesome fitness activity that engages the mind and the body in proper balance and unison.
6. Allow yourself proper rest. Proper and regular rest is a no-brainer for body and mind to function properly. Yet a lot of people ignore it. Some do it because they don’t want to miss out on fun(more common in kids) and some do it to allow more time for work or simply because they have allowed things to slip to this state.
Take control! You don’t work better if you work long hours, you simply become dull and do in 10 hrs what you can do in 3. You don’t avoid missing out on things, your tired mind keeps you from being totally present. You do not experience things fully. When you are past them, you wander what actually happened or how the time passed.
While there is a lot of focus on looking after the body, the mind is often neglected. But it is important to nurture and grow the power of our mind too. Remember it is our minds(and not our bodies) that make us so special among animals.