Your mind can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability!
If a mind is untrained, which is, unfortunately, the default state for most people, it typically gets distracted by inner self-talk and excessive thinking, and your awareness is being redirected to every little external event, or thought as it appears. This state of mind, which is also known in Buddhist teachings as the “monkey mind” (as it bounces around untamed and restlessly), can also be a source of stress and anxiety. It has trouble keeping a focus, and there is no inner peace, as it already identifies the next possible threat (worry state.)
An untamed and untrained mind, therefore, can be your most outstanding liability!
Compare this to a trained mind that rests in a peaceful and calm state: it has the necessary availability to focus (even for a longer period of time) and quickly gets down to productive or creative tasks to solve complex problems, like a surgical instrument that can perform well if needed to support your goals and vision. This type of brain can be your greatest asset at all.
However, it requires systematic and regular training, as it develops from a chaotic untamed state to a fully trained and effective tool that serves you well.
How can this be achieved effectively, and what is the commitment and timeline one can expect?
Before we go into timelines, I would like to share a bit of my own journey. Back in 2012-2014, while working as a tech leader in Silicon Valley, I lived in a state of constant stress, which I did not pay too much attention to. My life wasn’t balanced, but it did not occur to me that the major culprit was my mind. Only later, when the stress symptoms became worse and led to anxiety, I figured it was time to act. Luckily I did this before completely burning out.
I took an 8-week mindfulness based stress reduction class (MBSR), which was offered by my former employer Yahoo. This class was extremely helpful, and for the first time, I experienced a calm state of mind for a short duration a few times a week.
As I’ve seen the tremendous impact the training had on my state of mind, I started to study mindfulness in more detail and made it a clear priority. I worked with several teachers, participated in retreats and workshops, and my mindfulness journey seemed to go in a promising direction.
However, as a scientist, I was always interested in how to measure progress. What effect did the mindfulness training have actually on my mind? Did my stress levels decrease? I felt much better, but how do I know what the actual impact is?
To better understand how the mind works, I also studied the fundamentals of neuroscience, as well as fields such as neurofeedback. It became clear that there are scientific ways to support my mindfulness training. It was just a matter of continuous learning and reflecting to determine new insights.
Over time I realized that there are different overarching themes or focus areas that, when combined systematically, can lead to a trained mind in a more effective and straightforward way.
It is not simple as doing a 5-minute meditation every day and then hoping your mind will be in a fully trained state after a few months (although the formal meditation itself is one of your most powerful tools to tame your mind.)
As mentioned in earlier articles, I refer to the mind as the “operating system” or “software” that runs on your brain (“hardware”), which as a result outputs your “ego” or personality. Therefore, as the mind is a piece of software, it can be debugged and upgraded to serve you better.
Then there is awareness, the silent observer of all your actions but also of all your thoughts and feelings. In an untrained mind, both your awareness and your mind are entangled and completely mixed up.
As you are training your mind, you gradually introduce a certain distance between yourself as awareness (or observer) and everything inside or around you that happens in this context. This distance to your own mind and the thoughts it produces is quite helpful; as you know, everything looks less scary or dramatic from a distance.
I noticed this combination of different methods and activities to train and upgrade your mind can be put together into a robust and systematic approach to manage your mind.
Therefore I refer to this as “mind management,” and it is one of the most fundamental skills that I highly recommend for every person on this planet (not just tech leaders.)
The term and the science behind mind management itself are not new, and are also used, for example, in the neuroscience literature. With proper knowledge, training and discipline, it is possible to unleash the mind’s infinite potential.
Here are the different aspects or themes of mind management that help you to understand on a high level how to put together an effective and systematic training routine to upgrade your mind.
Each of these themes can have several methods and exercises. There is no one size fits all approach, and the idea is that you can pick whatever method(s) work(s) well for you within each of these categories.
However, there are also clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of these areas that I have observed to be very valuable as guidance on your progress. The idea is that for each category, you measure a baseline, pick a method and practice it, and then determine your progress. If it works well, keep doing more. If not, investigate and make changes that work better.
The most important pillar for your mind management is your investment in cultivating your consciousness growth to increase your self-awareness level. There are countless methods like mindfulness exercises and different types of meditations that all focus on the goal of increasing your level of present awareness (LPA), which is also your primary KPI. The more aware you are, the better are your chances of success for the other categories of mind management.
Everything in life is based on a never-ending cycle of growth and contraction. When you are actively doing stuff, you will need sufficient energy. Once something is completed, and your energy levels are depleted, you need to take some time to rest and recharge. However, most people focus only on the doing part, not setting aside enough focus and priority on the recovery. Therefore you need to set aside lots of mini-breaks over the day and additional longer breaks, including sufficient sleep for your body and mind to recover. Otherwise, you will eventually burn out, leaving you exhausted and no energy left for getting things done. As part of your training efforts, you need to determine your personalized strategy to rebuild and recover your mind on an ongoing basis. Your primary KPIs are your (perceived) stress level, HRV (heart rate variability), and overall energy levels.
As your mind is constantly producing thoughts and some percentage of potentially negative ones, there is energy produced that is building up in your body’s energy field. I wrote about this also in a recent article on the importance of regularly draining this energy and letting it go. Otherwise, it will accumulate over time and eventually causes symptoms of stress. There are several methods of letting things go, and each of us has different preferences on what works best. As part of your mind management, it is crucial that you are making the process of letting go an integral part of your daily routine. To measure progress, it is helpful to use KPIs related to your (perceived) stress level, HRV (heart rate variability), and overall anxiety or fear levels.
Identify & Inquire
As your subconscious mind shapes itself from the day you are born and continuously learns by observing the world, it is also storing and shaping beliefs. Furthermore, it is possibly limiting thoughts that were maybe correct in the context of your early childhood but are now no longer valid. However, these limiting thoughts are invisible to your conscious mind but have a significant impact on your day-to-day decisions, therefore impacting your quality of life. We can measure the number of limiting thoughts identified over time, as well as the number of thoughts we have actively inquired about. This is an ongoing process, and you will notice (positive) results quickly once you are getting started on making this process a habit.
Form healthy Habits
Identifying your limiting thoughts or false beliefs is helpful, but you actually want to go beyond this. It is time to upgrade your (possibly outdated) programming of your mind, and replace it with more powerful and helpful routines. It is time to reinvent yourself and install new procedures and healthy habits that take your state of mind to the next level! You do this by simply replacing old routines with new ones. However, this is a tedious process that requires your full commitment, as well as a high level of present awareness (LPA). Without awareness you may fall back quickly into old automated ways of living, and the success is not sustainable. Be aware that reprogramming and installing new habits in my experience can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks (not 3 weeks as sometimes claimed in the literature.) As part of a successful mind management program therefore the aspect of forming new habits on an ongoing basis is very important.
I will describe each of these categories in more depth in upcoming articles.
In fact, I have over the years developed comprehensive training to help you to develop your own unique mind management system.
Reflect about each of the proposed mind management areas above on what methods or activities you are already doing on a regular basis, and which require more work, or even where you need to get started. Then pick one and get going by creating a balanced focus.
If it is not already, I encourage you to make mind management actually a priority. Then act and do something that shows that you actually are serious about it.
If you are experiencing stress and anxiety and are committed to systematically tackling this, contact me for more details on possible training options. For example, parts of my "10x Presence & Self-Awareness" training focuses on areas 1-3 of mind management. This training elevates your level of present awareness systematically and significantly over 4-6 months. It is truly a transformative training and available for those who are ready.