The mind is an amazing asset that keeps our body functioning and is clearly a friend. But it has some characteristics that periodically make it a foe. Below I’ll discuss those situations and how to deal with them.
The mind serves us best when it answers questions about the past, ponders the future and generally tries to keep us safe (our survival being its top priority). Metaphorically, it’s a sophisticated computer with the brain as the hardware and the mind as software.
As such, the mind is a question-answering machine. You ask, it answers and gives you thoughts/ideas related to your Q&A-based thinking. You may not articulate every question, but your mind gets the message. Look at what you’re wearing today; this was a question you asked yourself this morning.
The problem comes when it “speaks to you,” even if you didn’t address it first. That’s called “self-talk,” when it blurts out for seemingly no reason. Per Eckhart Tolle, the mind is needy and lonely and wants our “attention” to engage us in internal dialogs and that drives it to annoy us with unrequested self-talk.
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This often negative-and-repetitive chatter robs us of our awareness in the moment and has the feel of the dreaded “pop-up” window.
After reviewing dozens of authors on the mind, the “voice” within and consciousness, I can say these teachers all provide great insights and there’re some common themes throughout.
For example, all agree it’s good to stay present, in the moment, the “Now” as Tolle calls it And the domain of the mind is the past and the future and that it plays a lesser role in the moment, where it’s more an observer. For example, like a camera person at a film shoot, the mind records what unfolds in real-time, but doesn’t speak when filming.
That in itself is great insight, the mind “loses its voice” if we can be present and “not in our head,” and it allows us to “quiet our mind” from any unwanted internal chatter. But we can’t stop all of its annoying broadcasts.
With that said, here’s my list of top mind-management lessons:
How to stay present.
Meditating is the most recommended technique to seek quiet. It’s refreshing and a great de-stressor. But at 15-30 minutes of solitude, even a few times a day is often not enough to address this all-day problem.
My favorite as-needed technique for quieting my mind is to simply LISTEN intently to others or to the sounds of nature or even my own breathing. It’s simple and allows me to quiet my mind, on-demand. Many find that deep breathing, say 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out, quiets the mind almost immediately.
Silencing the mind often requires a “state change.” To achieve this, you can stand up and move around vigorously, shift your focus to a different topic or lighten up your language as not to embolden the mind with emotion and negatively. This can work for you and to liven the spirits of others.
How to influence what the voice says
“Mindset” is your fixed attitude, generally either positive or negative. A positive mindset can influence the mind to follow suit in its self-talk.
“Questions,” you ask yourself are key as the mind understands “premise,” a better question gets a better answer. For example, “How can I … vs. Why can’t I,” the former gets more positive answers and related self-talk.
There’s no “reality” in the mind, it’s all a simulation of past or anticipated events, so you can interpret them any way you want (e.g., victim vs. survivor). A more-positive meaning can impact self-talk.
”Mindful” is a step up from being present. Mindfulness adds the ability to avoid “judging” what you hear in your head. It allows you to ignore it and let it pass, much like watching clouds glide by on a breezy day.
How to shut the voice up.
Tolle teaches, “you are not your mind,” and to dis-identify with its historical content (all that junk from the past). Meaning, it doesn’t “define you.” For example, stay present and you can more easily ignore the emotional-and-negative history it tends to focus on and serve up.
Many think of themselves as physically separate from their mind. I personally envision reaching into my head and pulling out my mind (metaphorically speaking) and holding that little 3-pounder in my hand. It lets me feel dis-identified with my mind and allows me to speak to it, instead of letting it control the internal conversation.
I keep a small mind model on my desk for that very purpose — to help me feel I’m in charge, not it. Then, I can just tell it to “shut up” or “shut the F-up” if needed.
Another technique is to anchor a negative thought to a positive thought and instantly switch, so the bad always ends on a good note. If the thought plays out over an extended period, imagine attacking it with a fast-forward button and then ZIP, BAM it’s over.
You can also dispute what it says. If the voice calls you stupid, you can say, “That’s not true.” Or if it calls you a failure, you can say, “I’m a business owner and you’re a mushy blob in my head.” Or, you can make fun of it — “You’re funny” — or empathize with its antics — “must be lonely in there!”
But beware, once the mind realizes you’re “on to it,” it may unleash all kinds of verbal abuse. Be ready for that escalation and be “comforted” that it’s “not you” saying all that junk, just that needy little mind. It’ll eventually figure out you’re in control and by that point, you’ll only have to periodically deal with its shenanigans.
Taming the mind is a war of sorts for your consciousness, and it’s hard to fully win unless you’re a Tibetan monk. But with these techniques, you can compete effectively and win most of the battles. In doing so, you can begin to see the mind as far more friend than foe.