The mind can be our most powerful ally or our most hated enemy. The mind can is capable of creating within us heaven and hell. It is the single most important factor which determines our success or failure.
Be conscious of the different ways the mind attempts to sabotage our success. When you can recognize these devious tricks then you can stop the vicious mind cycles before they send you into another abyss of depression, fear, or self-doubt.
Your mind loves to stress about things that will probably never happen
Our ability to plan for the future and see dangers and possibilities that have not yet happened is one of our greatest assets. But when that asset is allowed to run amuck it can do incredible damage.
Imagine that you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Imagine looking down the sheer cliff face thousands of feet below. The elevation is so high clouds are even lower than your position at the edge! A gust of wind blows at you and you feel yourself being knocked off balance. You totter precipitously on the edge.
How do you feel? Is your heart beating a little faster? Are your palms sweaty?
(If you said no you may be a psychopath, just saying). This is because your mind produces similar physical responses to imagined stimuli in the mind as it does to actual stimuli that occur to us.
So why does this mechanism hurt us? Because an undisciplined mind will constantly scan the future for possible negative outcomes. It will constantly imagine the worst case scenarios for any number of events. Failing your tests, getting fired at work, your girlfriend cheating on you, dying in a car accident, not getting into the school you applied for, being turned down for that date, not achieving the success that you want. And in the process of imagining these negative outcomes your body will experience releases of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol in small amounts can be extremely adaptive and positive, but very negative in large prolonged doses.
Effects of a short burst of cortisol:
- A quick burst of energy for survival reasons
- Heightened memory functions
- A burst of increased immunity
- Lower sensitivity to pain
- Helps maintain homeostasis in the body
Effects of prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream:
- Impaired cognitive performance
- Suppressed thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
- Decreased bone density
- Decrease in muscle tissue
- Higher blood pressure
- Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
- Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems!
If you allow your mind to constantly go over possible negative outcomes in your future you will flood your system with cortisol and experience all of the negative effects listed above, the most noticeable being increased fat storage.
The negative physical effects are just the beginning
The real danger of an untended mind is the paralysis it will cause in your life. Why would you ever start an endeavor when you can imagine all the terrible ways in which it could end? I would contend that uncontrolled thoughts of negative future outcomes is one of the leading causes of lack of motivation and drive in our society today.
Is the thought of going broke and being a failure keeping you from starting your own business? Is the thought of thought of not finding new work keeping you locked in a job you hate? Our fears of things that we have only IMAGINED, our fears of events that aren’t even a REALITY keep us from living the lives that we truly want to live.
The reason I wrote this post was because I experienced this paralysis this week. With the release of Guild Wars 2 and several other projects that I’ve taken on all I could think about was how I would never be able to get all of this work done in time and imagined all of the terrible ways in which I was going to fail at everything.
The logical thing to do in this situation would be to sit down, prioritize my projects, put off the ones that could wait, and plan and work piece by piece to accomplish as much as I could.
However my brain was flooded with cortisol. I was in a state of fear. When your brain is in a state of fear creativity shuts off. You cannot think outside the box. Creative solutions do not arise. All you can see is the problem facing you and the impending doom that your brain is projecting.
Mastering your fear, mastering your mind
What can we do? Are we just slaves to this mind-response of searching out all the negative outcomes in our future?
Not at all. Our minds can only hold one dominant emotion at a time. You cannot at the same time feel love and compassion for an individual and feel extreme anger toward them. You cannot feel inspiration at the same instant that you feel fear. You cannot simultaneously see yourself succeeding and see yourself failing.
This is the secret to mastering your mind.
My own cycle of fear and stress about all the projects I’d taken on was broken while driving today. I was listening to my favorite radio show(Coast to Coast AM) and a guest was on speaking about the power of positive intentions and positive thought and just how absolutely wonderful life really was. This program completely changed my state of mind from one of fear and stress to one of hope and inspiration. Instantly I saw my situation from a different perspective.
Sure, I had a lot of projects. But if I had to put one or two off for a few weeks then that’s fine. I also didn’t NEED to play GW2 for 16 hours a day like I’d been planning so that would leave me more time to finish some of these projects. And finally, even if I didn’t get any of this done, my life was still wonderful and the future looks great! In essence all of this stress and fear I’d been going through was completely artificial. There was no real threat or danger. It was a complete fabrication of my mind.
Recognize that scenarios the mind comes up with are almost always worse than reality
Very rarely in life does reality actually match the outrageous scenes we build in our mind. For example one common fear for most men is the fear of rejection. We fear that the girl will completely humiliate us if they turn us down. But this never happens. Most girls are pretty nice about it, and they’re usually rather flattered that you would even ask, even if they’re not interested!
And remember your mind can only hold one thought. So when you find that you just can’t shake a negative thought focus your mind on a positive thought. Don’t focus on trying to eliminate the negative, that will never work. If you can’t shake the fear of failing the test you should focus on the image of getting the test back and seeing a 100% and feeling the joy and elation at having done so well.
Accept the possibility of failure
“The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function: without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.” – Ron Speirs, Captain, 101st Airborne
Only when we can fully accept that we will die can we be free of the fear of death. Similarly only when you can fully accept the possibility that you may fail whatever endeavor you embark on can you embark on that endeavor without the fear of failure.
When you find your mind wandering to negative outcomes you need to recognize it immediately and then take action. Do whatever is necessary to think positively.
Here’s a list of things I like to do to get positive again:
- Watch Archer(because Archer is hands down the funniest show on TV right now)
- Watch inspirational talks on Ted.com
- Listen to great music
- Read biographies of inspirational people
- Read inspirational self-development books – One of my favorite is Megaliving: http://www.thehealthygamer.com/megalivingbook
- I’d recommend against playing Act 4 Inferno, this will just produce more anger and frustration
I find the most successful strategy is to get into a spiritual state of mind and remember the bigger picture. We are all here for just a short time. We will all die. The petty day to day struggles are really quite meaningless when we consider the bigger picture. Remember that your only job here is to live. All you have to do is live. Follow your heart. Follow your intuition. That’s it. Everything else is complications we pile onto ourselves.