The pace of our everyday lives slowed unimaginably and unexpectedly nearly a year ago, but for many of us our minds have kept their ferocious pace. Almost as if the mind was the conveyer belt of chocolates in the now iconic I Love Lucy episode continuing at robotic pace unconcerned with the response to the pandemic to stay home, clear your social calendar and just be still.
Add the uncertainty prompted by the pandemic, and the conveyor belt that is our mind sped up just as it did in the comic episode (shown above). For many, unaccustomed and not desiring to slow down forcibly, the mind took the reins and twirled us into a tizzy of worry, just as unhelpful as Lucy and Ethel’s approach of simply stuffing the chocolates into their hats, dress and mouths. The only benefit gained was a false perception of all being well, and the pace of the conveyor responded by speeding up even more.
But we don’t have to be Lucy and Ethel.
We can be the person at the helm of the controls and simply slow down the conveyor belt to support our lives rather than run our lives ragged. How? By understanding why the mind presents intrusive thoughts, why it busys itself with worry and practicing the mind strengthing tools and habits to bring it back into our control to put it to constructive use.
My own mental journey these past 12 months spotlighted evermore the need to learn, put into practice and become more than proficient at understanding the mind and putting the mind to work for me, rather than reacting to wherever it chooses to take me due to the world events, media inadvertently exposed to, media chosen to explore, social interactions, and any other number of moments which the mind takes in during our day-to-day lives. Am I proficient yet? I am getting closer, but no. I honestly am not yet proficient, but I have come a long way and have especially made strides over the past year.
With the help of building self-awareness, improving my choice to respond rather than react, seeking out regular sessions with a counselor, reading a variety of texts, forgiving myself when I make temporary regressive actions, and incorporating meditation and yoga into my mental health routine, progress continues to be made.
A thinking life is a beautiful life, a life rich in wonder, awe, exceeding what we might have once thought possible, but in order for the beautiful gifts to reveal themselves consistently as opposed to one-time moments never to be experienced again, we must understand how to think well. Today I would like to share with you eight ideas for taking back control of your mind and understanding how it works so you can find the peace you seek while capturing all of the creativity it can share with you to live your most fulfilling life.
1.Understand your mind and you will change how you live
In order to think well, we must become aware of the machine that is our mind. We need to know the answer to this question: How does the mind work?
Understanding why our minds revert to their Lizard Brain tendencies, understanding that intrusive thoughts are normal and nothing to fear, but rather something to dismiss and moving beyond such intrusive thoughts each time they arise will liberate you from the unnecessary worry and unhelpful impulsive thinking holding you back from finding peace.
Prompted by her time and experience at Harvard, Due Quach set out to understand her mind, step away from antidepressants and now teaches others how to reach Brain 3.0. Brain 3.0 surpasses the 1.0 stage – Self-Preservation as well as the 2.0 stage – Reward and Acquisition, arriving at a state of 3.0 – Well-being and Mastery of the Mind, aka The Inner Sage (I love the latter descriptor). Read her book here and read a helpful introductory post about these three stages of the Brain here.
2. Become self-actualized
In order to step off of what Due Quach describes as the roller coaster of Brain 1.0 and 2.0 where we are at the mercy of our emotions, cultural demands and Lizard Brain’s fears and desires, we must choose to understand how to find the path to eudiamonia (meaning good spirits). In other words, a feeling of deep self-groundedness and deep contentment – a meaningful life.
In other words, to arrive at living with our 3.0 Brain – our inner sage – we must choose to do the homework to know ourselves – what gives us purpose, what talents and gifts do I have within me, how can I polish them, hone them and bring them to the world? We need to reach self-mastery as well as self-actualization.
In episode #25 of The Simple Sophisticate podcast, Why Not . . . Become Self-Actualized, I share in detail what self-actualization is, but to briefly introduce the idea, it is to reach your full potential. Once you reach your full potential, your brain is put in the passenger seat and you are now at the wheel and not at the whim of the mind’s fleeting worries, doubts, desires and fears.
3. Practice being mindful
“Virtually all of our suffering comes from our mindlessness.” —Ellen Langer, Harvard psychology professor
Habits to free our mind to focus on other more pressing or important tasks are not necessarily a bad idea. What is a bad practice is living habitually in a way which is not constructive to living well. Abstraction abounds in this statement, so to put it more concretely, examine closely your every daily habit – does it contribute or detract from a life of quality?
Practicing the skill of meditation is to exercise the mind, to teach it how to observe the thoughts we have rather than believe and partake with each and every one. Yoga embodies the fundamentals of practicing breathing techniques which help us become more mindful and present.
Last year, I wrote a detailed post about how to cultivate the habits we want. It starts small but in so doing, we can create grand positive changes to our daily lives. Not sure which habits to cultivate? Check out this top episode of all time from the podcast – 15 Everyday Habits to Live a Life of Contentment, episode #93.
However, let’s be honest. Even when we tend to the above three items, even though we may still be in the process of learning and we understand our minds are a tool we need to master, there will be days when we have to grab back our mind. How do we do that? What works? Let’s take a look at the latter half of the list of finding mental tranquility and maintaining creativity.
4. Step outside and spend time with Mother Nature
For long-time readers of TSLL blog, you know Mother Nature plays an everyday role in my life thankfully due in large part to living in Bend, Oregon. From skiing in the winter, paddleboarding on the many lakes and rivers in the summer, and taking walks and hikes at least five days a week in the wilderness with my dogs, the elixir of Mother Nature is awesomely powerful for clearing the mind. Not only does it pull me away from the worry and doubt-filled thoughts which will not be helpful, it pulls me toward new ideas I would not have found had I not set my mind free to wander as I walked, paddled or slid along on top of the snow.
In 2016 I wrote this post – Why Not . . . Spend Time with Nature?, and the key word is ‘with’. When we step outside and are nudged ever so gently to be present, it is in the presence we find ourselves with something grand and awe-inspiring. It is in being present we practice the mindfulness mentioned in #3 (above), and when we are with Nature, we are more truly ourselves and can more clearly see ourselves, thus bringing us ever closer to finding our Inner Sage mind – Brain 3.0. 🙂
5. Regular aerobic exercise
A study in 2019 demonstrated how regular vigorous aerobic exercise (consistently for at least three weeks) prompted the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus being the location in the mind for memory and learning, thus enabling the ability to explore different and new ideas, learn new skills and boost creativity.
Exercising alone helps each of us sleep more deeply, and as shared in point #6 (below), a quality night’s sleep is vital to clearing out toxins from the mind, helping us to move on from the previous day and start fresh and rested the next, all helpful qualities for keeping the mind in its place (the passenger’s seat) and us at the driver’s seat.
“Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.” —National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Often, sleep is a passing thought, something which just happens when the tasks of our day are complete. In actuality, the priority order should be reversed. Regardless of whether your tasks are done, you must take to your bed and sleep well.
As shared in #5, sleeping well is itself a skill. We must come to understand what aids a good night’s sleep.
- Sticking to a regular sleep schedule habituates your body in a helpful way as it is prompted knowingly when to fall asleep
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink – each of us will be different, for example, caffeinated tea does not inhibit my sleep (studies have shown a gene some people have determines their sensitivity to caffeine or lack there of, so assuming that all people will not be able to fall asleep if they have caffeine if faulty; however, the key is to know how you respond to caffeine is crucial). Most doctors recommend not eating a heavy meal late into the evening and limiting alcohol just before bed. But with each of these, explore, experiment and listen to your body.
- Create a restful setting to prompt your body (and mind) to sleep – some people prefer blackout blinds; however, that is not the case for others (me, for example). I prefer a hot bath, slowing down my day gradually beginning with making a balanced and satiating dinner and allowing fresh, cool air to sweep through the room to keep me cool as I sleep. Preferring to wake up with the sunshine naturally or when my body clock is ready works best for me, but again, get to know yourself and create a space intentionally that welcomes deep sleep each night.
- Tend to your worries. Now, this may seem a bit, which comes first? – a good night’s sleep to help our minds, or strengthening our minds so we can enjoy a restful night’s sleep; however, what I observe in this overlap is how powerful the knowledge of our minds is to increase our overall well-being. Begin with journaling, but also take action in your life: make the changes, permanent changes, to reduce your stress levels – something as grand as eliminating responsibilities and streamlining your calender or changing your job, to something as powerful, yet simple as cleaning your house and creating an organizational system which leaves your mind at peace when it is awake and at home.
- See #5 above – partake in regular exercise.
7. Engage your mind in a book, podcast or thought-provoking article
In order to get away from your worries, be conscious about where you direct your attention. Reading or listening to other ideas – be it fiction or nonfiction – works wonders. Stepping into another word, listening to someone else’s ideas about a particular topic of interest to deepen your understanding, each of these tasks are constructive, can be entertaining and uplifting giving you distance to help gain perspective on what may have been consuming your mind in an unhealthy and unhelpful way.
8. Write it out
Time and time again when I wind myself up in knots in my mind, the best way to untie myself is to put it all in a journal. Quite quickly, much of what I thought was a sound worry is discovered to be absurd and provoked by sources I know are nonsensical.
It is as if by writing it out, we clear out the trash and find the wisdom of what is truly prompting us to feel uneasy. Often is it lack of knowledge about ourselves, and while we may feel intimidated or feel we don’t have the time to invest in getting to know the ever-present person in our lives; in fact, it is the most valuable investment we can make. The value comes by eliminating the perpetual cycle we find ourselves in each time a worry arises. Instead of consuming our thoughts, we acknowledge and put it in its place. We hold the steering wheel of our minds, not the other way around.
~explore TSLL’s 1st book – Choosing The Simply Luxurious Life: A Modern Woman’s Guide to learn more specific ideas for getting to know yourself and the benefits of doing so.
Peace comes with intentional practice. The practice builds upon itself as we can lift the quality of our lives up with skills to help us understand why the mind does what it does. To acknowledge we have an awesome tool at our daily disposal is to harness a gold mine. We are each rich and more wealthy regarding enjoying a deeply fulfilling life every day of our lives if only we would take advantage of what we have had and will have with us every day – our minds.
Once you become the person in control of the speed of the conveyor belt, your ability to appreciate and fully see the amazing things happening each and everyday becomes possible and will deepen your appreciation and heighten your clairty about what truly matters most to you. Once you have clarity about your priorities, editing your life becomes far easier.
In many ways, the slower pace the pandemic dictated back in March of 2020 gave us the opportunity to see clearly, if we chose to be present and look around us and to examine our feelings, exactly what we needed to see to live well. The question to each of us is did we truly look? Did we choose to examine our lives and find a truth of best direction for how to live well? I hope so, and in fact, I am confident many TSLL readers were doing and are doing just that. I am excited to see what ápres pandemic brings for all of our lives.
Thank you for choosing to stop by today, and wishing you strong mental health to navigate any day well. Each day of practice builds upon itself, and you are far stronger than you realize. Bonne journée.