It’s an undisputable fact that our mind plays tricks on us.
I have a feeling that this is a statement that you, the reader of this article, are likely to agree with. And my guess is that i wouldn’t even need supporting arguments to convince you about its truth.
Your personal experience is probably convincing enough.
Still, I’ll play by the book (as I, by default, prefer to) and present you with the following scientific facts, to further cement and validate my opening line:
- Let’s start with something very basic, and for this reason also quite shocking, shall we? According to this BBC story: “Visual, or optical, illusions show us that our minds tend to make assumptions about the world – and what you think you see is often not the truth” [Source],
- Not convinced yet? Check this article by what’s probably the most mainstream, hard facts-oriented and respected scientific journal in the US, Scientific American, which cuts to the chase immediately, starting with the phrase: “It is a fact of neuroscience that everything we experience is actually a figment of our imagination” [Source],
- Do I hear you well? You still want something more? Hey, I’m here to serve you! Muster all the courage you can, and go ahead and read this very recent article. It popularizes a scientific publication according to which the visual illusion known as “crowding” (a hotly debated topic in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience) may help explain consciousness [Source].
By the way, spoiler alert: I’m willing to bet you whatever you would be willing to bet against me that no scientist will ever manage to fully and finally “explain” what consciousness is.
The reason for this is that consciousness, being the absolute subject, could never become the object of any enquiry.
Of course, this is a bet that, unless I would live to be the last man alive, I could never win, right? But even if this unlikely event were to become reality, there’s probably not much I could enjoy from my “victory”…
But, let’s leave aside the problem of consciousness for now and return to examining the machinations of the Trickster inside our heads.
When Your Mind Plays Trick, Guess Who’s The Treat…
You know, the thing is that despite all the scientific facts about the power of illusion as a defining factor of the way we experience reality, in most everyday life cases the tricks that our mind plays on us are much more “innocent”.
And they usually take the form of a relentless internal monologue or dialogue (pick whichever you prefer).
So, it’s in this seemingly unstoppable mental noise or chatter or babble where the true powers of our mind, the Master Illusionist, are hidden.
Drawing from your own experience – and please BE HONEST with yourself – take a moment to seriously consider:
- How many times have your mind’s deliberations further complicated a situation which was much simpler to handle in the first place?
- How many times has your mind’s storytelling alone entangled you in a web of confusion, uncertainty, even serious psychological or physical distress?
- How many times has a completely fictional mental image devised by your mind, rather than the actual events or facts, dictated your actions? And in how many instances was this to your detriment?
I could go on and ask scores of similar questions, but I’m sure you get the point.
And the point is that the biggest obstacle in you achieving self-fulfillment and true happiness is between your ears.
Many a wiser than me human being would remark that this is, in fact, the ONLY true obstacle to you living your life as you should.
Does This Mean That Our Minds Are Dangerous And Useless?
So, first thing’s first: the human mind is quite the opposite of uselessness.
It’s unquestionably a wonderful instrument with tremendous capabilities. There can be no serious argument against this.
However, that’s also exactly where the danger lies: when you perceive your mind to be far more than the super-tool it is. When the first violin, the most dexterous organ player of your body’s orchestra, grabs the baguette and becomes its conductor. Contrary to its prescribed role. In violation of the natural order of things.
This is precisely when disaster strikes.
But What’s The Root Cause Of This Self-Inflicting Misery?
It’s your self-identification with your mind; in particular, with its main product: thoughts.
And I believe it would not be unfair if I proposed that the main objective found at the core of any endeavor, movement, establishment or institution labelled as “spiritual” during the whole history of humankind is the deidentification of yourself from your mind and its thoughts.
The realization that you are neither your mind nor its output.
The awakening to the fact that all your life you’ve tricked yourself into believing that whatever your mind tells you that’s going on is your ultimate reality.
In essence, this realization and the radical change it triggers in one’s life – with mathematical certainty – is what people commonly refer to as “enlightenment”.
Don’t worry, though. I’m not suggesting that the only choice you have here is between enlightenment and eternal damnation.
And while I’m of the view that enlightenment could not hurt anybody, I’m also a practical person. Therefore, I understand that because of the way our everyday lives are structured in today’s frantic world, the key to self-improvement usually lies within a gradual, step-by-step process, rather than a “big bang” kind of revelation.
Not that I necessarily consider the latter to be forbidden or unhelpful, but let’s face it: for most of us chances are we cannot easily realise it.
Okay, So How Do We Go About Turning The Tables Around On Our Minds?
I thought you’d never ask!
I’m about to go ahead with presenting you some tips that I have personally tested in my life and found them to be quite powerful (if you’re interested, you can read more about me and my story by following this link).
Still, let me begin with a general word of advice.
This advice relates to the way I recommend you frame this attempt to gain back control over your mind and, eventually, your life. It has to do with something we’re all so familiar with these days: the brave, new, digital world terminology.
Thus, I invite you to begin by viewing your mind as a powerful computer hardware or processing unit. Easy, right?
Now, here’s a point where your attention is a must: in this analogy, the software describes the way you interact with your mind.
It logically follows, then, that this way derives from the underlying programming code of this particular software.
That’s where the key is: my claim is that, for most human beings, this code has been compromised by a bug embedded into its foundations. The result of this bug is that each time our software is run, it produces a serious fallacy.
And this fallacy – yes, you guessed it right! – is the propagation of the misbelief that the User – that is, who you really are – IS the hardware!
Naturally, then, the tips that follow aim at helping you rewrite this code to start getting rid of this bug and reprogramming yourself according to YOUR deepest and truest needs and aspirations.
So far, so good? If not, please reread at least this section (if not the entire article) before you further proceed.
1. Accept That Your Thoughts Aren’t Who You Are
See, they truly aren’t.
First of all, they change all the time, don’t they?
They appear, disappear, shift from topic to topic, jump up and down, shout out loud something, and then sneakily whisper it to your inner ear.
And so on, and so forth.
Let’s admit it: in a very real sense, your thoughts are like the weather: they come and go, rarely staying put for too long.
Ask yourself: “do I truly perceive me to be something so fleeting, so volatile, so unstable?”.
Yes, your mood may change frequently like your thoughts (actually, the two are closely interdependent). Same for external circumstances and events. Same, even for your attributes and possessions.
However, amidst and despite all these frequent alterations, you (your true self) are a constant, aren’t you?
Physics and Philosophy agree on the fact that change makes sense, can be realized and measured, only if there is a non-variable factor in place to act as its background and contrast.
Everything around you changes, but you. You’re always there. Your presence, your awareness is stable and consistent.
So, yes, you can HAVE thoughts, but, no, you aren’t, and could never be, identified in any way, shape or form with them.
2. Recognise That The Joy Is In The Doing, Not In The Having
Doing is always readily available to you.
You can always immediately start engaging with any activity you wish to and brings joy to your heart. Literally so.
Do I detect some disbelief from you regarding my claim? OK, I understand. Please give me a chance to prove my point.
Let’s suppose you wanted to climb atop Mount Everest.
Granted, you cannot instantly teleport yourself from the comfort of your sofa to the Himalayas, 8,849 meters (or 29,032 feet) above sea level (and if you can, please e-mail me). What you can do, though, is go online and Google about it. Read a Wikipedia article. Maybe check a trustworthy mountaineer’s blog to see how someone can start planning such an ambitious expedition.
I trust you get the picture.
Now, in my book, all these are legitimate actions that will bring you even few baby steps closer to the final objective of the journey named: “[Insert Your Name] Conquers The Peak Of Mount Everest”.
Thus, in a real sense you’re already doing it, you’ve started conquering the peak of Mount Everest. Maybe your objective’s completion status is at 0.0005%, yet no one can deny that you’re somewhat already active in this journey and you’re probably ahead of 99.9995% of the rest of us.
Isn’t even this something that you can celebrate and feel proud of?
And this realization and mini celebration can then fuel you to pursue further onwards with your journey.
And, please, notice that even if you make it up to the highest viewpoint of planet Earth, your achievement is practically momentary. You stay there for a couple of hours, take some pictures and off you go back towards your camp, before the menacing nighttime at the Rooftop of the World envelops you and your company.
What will tangibly remain with you thereafter are some pictures and, perhaps, a commemorative plaque. Maybe also an article or two in your local press.
Was this what climbing Mount Everest had been all about? Or was it rather in the joy of performing every single step, the moment you performed it? Starting from this first Google search, perhaps on a long, lazy Saturday afternoon.
It’s a fact that everything you have – without exception – you may lose. You’re sure to lose most of the people and things that currently matter in your life. And, biologically, you’re hard-wired to hate any kind of losing. This is because you view any loss inflicted upon you as a threat to your (idea of) existence.
Doesn’t it make sense, therefore, to a) accept this big truth of life, and then b) shift your focus from having (and achieving, which is just a bridge among the two) to doing?
Please, don’t get me wrong: This doesn’t mean that you can’t and shouldn’t enjoy what you have. By all means! Just beware of the fact that: a) nothing is forever, except who you truly are; and b) true enjoyment lies in DOING things (sometimes, by means of what you have).
3. Adopt A Student And Practitioner Mentality In Everything You Engage With
Aside from the obvious general benefits you will draw from being a perennial student of life, learning new things is something that keeps your mental noise pollution at bay. This is because the process of learning will occupy your mind with grasping something it has never heard before. And – other than killing the poor cat – curiosity is one of your mind’s inherent features.
The notion of the permanent practitioner is one that also closely relates to that of the permanent student. Actually, it’s sort of its logical extension: as you always learn new things, it follows that you want to practice by putting them in use. Experiment with the various ways and techniques of applying them to your work and life.
Notice that the revered class of doctors have “practices” rather than “offices”. Same with another – perhaps not-so-revered – class, that of lawyers.
By operating from a practitioner’s standpoint, you remain the archetypal explorer, always charting your course in the proverbial map’s white and grey areas and foraying into the unknown they represent. And explorers cannot be bothered with mental gossip; their ceaseless alertness naturally prevents them from such slothful activities.
Just a brief, final and important disclaimer on this point: you should obviously refrain from equating practice with a consequence-free activity. On the contrary, the volume of obligations and degree of graveness and responsibility is always higher for practitioners. Look no further than the three examples I mentioned in this section: doctor, lawyer, explorer…
4. Realize That The Most Efficient Multi-Tasking Is Sequential And Focused Single-Tasking (And Apply It)
While these days almost everyone seems to praise the ability to effectively multitask, and virtually all major corporations rank this as a “must-have” skill for their employees, science indicates otherwise. You can, for instance, check this very informative and comprehensive article.
In effect, “multitasking” is nothing more than jumping frantically from task to task. It’s a clear recipe for physical, mental and emotional burnout and breakdown.
Among its many detrimental benefits, it hampers the effectiveness and speed of our task delivery, reduces our attention span, forces us to make a lot of mistakes, increases stress, distorts our memory, slumps our creativity, makes our eating habits more unhealthy, hurts our relationships and it can even be life-threatening (think of the phenomenon of texting and driving; need I say more…?).
So, what’s the solution?
It’s, of course, the opposite of multitasking: sequential and concentrated single-tasking.
In particular, my recommendation is that you start by picking a day where you’ll be focusing on one, and only one, task at a time, for as long as you can. However, in the beginning, the time you devote to each task should not be less than 15-20 minutes (we’re talking of course about tasks of a certain complexity). Eventually, you can raise this up to 1 hour or even more.
Now, I know that you can find a million excuses to NEVER follow this recommendation or to do it in a half-hearted way, which would eventually justify you slipping away from it.
Therefore, I would strongly urge you to remove all possible distractions when you first give it a go. You need to admit it: no matter how busy you (think you) are, you definitely have the possibility to experiment with this approach.
If you properly apply it, you’ll start seeing what disservice you’ve been doing to yourself all along, and you are likely to become a champion of single-tasking.
5. Don’t Mind The Gap, Embrace It
If you’re observant and alert enough, you’re certain to find out that your mind hates gaps. I specifically refer to gaps of thought and / or action.
Your mind feels extremely uncomfortable with such situations. When they occur (rarely in the beginning), it rushes to bombard you with all kinds of thoughts and calls to action. Actually, in the latter case, these are, rather, calls for you to resume engaging with its proliferating mental noise.
The reason that your mind detests these gaps so profoundly is because they pose a serious threat to it. This is due to the fact that the breathing room you gain for as long as they last gives you a golden chance to step back from complete identification with your manic companion inside your head.
And – remember what we touched upon a bit earlier? – this deidentification is EXACTLY the goal here.
So, next time you find yourself in such a gap, neither listen to your mind accusing you of being lazy nor react to it pushing you to think of or do something quickly. Just take a moment, ideally accompanied by three to five deep breaths, and consider this:
“If I’m aware of myself and my environment even when my mind temporarily pauses being the chatterbox it usually is, surely I must be something more, bigger and deeper, than what it is”.
See where that reflection can take you, if you further follow it…
6. Act From A Place Of Empathy And Detachment
In whatever situation you engage with, especially when other people are involved (and usually they are), don’t rush to act before you seriously try to consider all possible points of view and / or get in the other people’s shoes.
Even (ESPECIALLY) when your minds tells you it’s difficult to resonate with them for the one or the other, true or (usually) fantastic, reason.
To make it clearer, I’m talking here about a two-step filtering approach prior to taking any action:
- First, analyze the situation as objectively and as detachedly as you can. Like you were but a mere observer of it. Don’t jump into mentally reflexive or pre-conditioned conclusions. Also avoid being quick and charging ahead like a bull in a china shop. If you eventually act, do it fully and wholeheartedly, but, at the same time, without investing your whole being in your action and – most importantly – its eventual result.
- Then, try to empathize as much as you can with everyone involved. Be as selfless as you can. Get in the other people’s shoes and try to see through their eyes. In doing so, you are very likely to realize that building bridges and empathizing with other human beings is not only a much more humane, but also a much more effective and efficient approach than clash and conflict are.
The latter, of course, does not mean that you always have to bend over and succumb to irrational, unconscious and one-sided actions others initiate, and which can be really harmful for you. However, even in such difficult cases, your (probably, rightful and required) reaction is more effective when your mind’s chatter does not pollute it.
On this, see also the following point.
7. Let Go Of Whatever Doesn’t Serve You Without Holding A Grudge Against It
I know what you may say: “I have a million things that don’t serve me, but I can’t let them go for all kinds of reasons”. Fine. I understand you. To a point.
But is it really true that you cannot let go of even few of these million things? And that you cannot do so immediately?
Sure, I realize you may not be able to resign from your job – the one you claim you hate – from one day to the next, just like that. But, please, don’t tell me you cannot, without any delay, dramatically cut down on the idle, soul-numbing, unproductive time you spend daily on social media. Or that you cannot start, today, to walk 30-45 minutes per day to enhance your body’s mobility.
I chose two characteristic examples that typically many people resonate with. But, let’s face it: there are scores of such things that don’t serve you, yet you keep on investing time and energy in them, out of habit, inertia or fear. While you could get rid of them with a snap of your fingers.
Do so. Start now, today. No need to wait.
Clean up some of the unnecessary luggage (actually, garbage) you have carried with you for so long and get an instant boost to your morale and outlook for the future. Then, stay alert to see what the ensuing gap (remember? Gap is good for you!) has in store for you.
One more thing: to fully relinquish something that holds you back and doesn’t serve you also means you shouldn’t thereafter look back at it scornfully.
Instead you acknowledge it for what it brought to your life. Chances are you’ve learned a valuable lesson and grown because of it. Choose to see its impact on your life in this way, rather than ruminating and “feeling sorry” for the time you lost.
Remember, you can’t turn back the hands of time. So, you may as well opt to feel proud of yourself for growing out of what didn’t serve you as well as because of growing out of it.
Ideally, you’ll reach the point of feeling GRATEFUL about it.
Know that this is a great sign.
8. Resist Any Temptation To Compare Yourself Against Another Human Being
The healthier way to see yourself is as a unique and complete manifestation of the Universe. Again, when you manage to step aside from your mental echo chamber for a moment, you can sense this fundamental and important truth.
From there, it’s rather easy to understand that any comparison of yourself against any other human being doesn’t make any sense and cannot bring any added value to your life – quite the contrary, in fact.
Once you enter the, predominantly imaginary, game of comparisons you can only end up as perceiving yourself to be the loser. It’s easy to see that there will always be someone “better” than you, in whichever field or feature you pick.
And even if we assume that there is one area in which you are the “champion of the world”, there are undoubtedly hundreds of others where your “score” won’t be as impressive. Whichever is the case, all the better for enhancing your boastful or bitter (but always mind-made) ego.
By the way, you should also extend your “comparison moratorium” to your own self, to the extent that such comparisons lead you into labeling yourself as “inadequate” or “unjustly treated”. The latter can only entangle you in more exhausting and counter-productive mental whirlwinds.
Comparisons are only helpful for you in cases where you can objectively measure results against expectations, so as to be pointed towards the optimal way forward. Period.
9. Start Keeping A Daily Journal
Keeping a journal will help you organize your thoughts as well as render them more tangible, and for that reason somewhat more manageable and actionable than having them bounce around your head. In short, a journal helps you get out of your mind and into the present moment of your life.
Moreover, when you revisit your journal entries (and you’re encouraged to do so frequently, especially after some time has gone by), you’re likely to observe – often to your surprise – how things that once seemed grave and grim now appear (and are) completely irrelevant.
This will probably make you wonder: how many of the issues that I’m classifying as “my problems” at this very moment deserve to be named as such?
Turning something abstract and generic into something concrete and specific is a powerful method of neutralizing your inner mental pollution. And journal-keeping is a prime application of this method.
Now, I understand you may not enjoy writing that much. Even if this is the case, the good thing is that today’s technology allows you to keep a journal in formats different than the traditional pen and paper (or the less traditional keyboard and word processing software) one. For instance, you can record a video of yourself on daily basis, sharing your thoughts and emotions.
A last piece of advice from personal experience: it’s probably for the better if you keep your journal recordings for yourself. Exceptions are possible in cases where you know this sharing can clearly be of benefit to you or to another human being.
10. Forget About Seeking What You Want, Focus On Attracting It Instead
Arguably, the major source of stress in your life is your heap of unmet expectations and desires. Where you (think you) are versus where you (think you) could be.
You’re then usually driven to take action to bridge this theoretical gap (once again, we meet our friend, the gap). This typically consists of you striving to accumulate material and non-material possessions, or accolades and accomplishments. In other words, you’re seeking to get things outside of you that would supposedly enhance and complete your sense of who you are.
There is a double illusion at play here: A) that you are currently incomplete; and B) that getting something you don’t have would make you complete.
Does that mean, then, that you should force yourself to be satisfied with where you presently are at your life and with what you have? Should you not strive to evolve, get better, grow and, yes, achieve and gather this or the other accomplishment, or thing you may want, in the process?
By all means, you should! However, the invitation here is for you to initiate a paradigm shift on how you view yourself and your life.
Specifically, I would encourage you to consider that you’re already, and in fact you’ve always been, complete. That you’re, essentially, a unique manifestation of All That Is.
The problem is you don’t recognise that because you’ve been carrying with you a very distorted mental image of who you truly are. But, please, bear with me and try to accept this as a possibility.
Besides, chances are that deep inside of you, you occasionally hear a little voice verifying this very truth: you’re special, because you’re a genuine, unsurpassed and unrepeatable way of the Universe becoming conscious.
Even if you consider this claim a fairytale, I invite you to at least toy with it for a while.
So, if you’re already complete in who you are, your focus is naturally shifted onto you experiencing in your lifetime all that’s good and true for you to experience. But if instead of that you’re striving to get things that are irrelevant and a wrong match for you, you’re (in fact, have already been for a while now) in for some serious suffering.
Haven’t you suffered enough already?
The trick here is to get yourself (that is your mind-made, fictitious story of who you supposedly are) out of the way of the Real You. Consequently, you stop seeking and striving for things. You’re now only to attract what is truly meaningful for you.
And you attract by acting from a place that resonates with what you know and feel is appropriate for you.
Step by step, day by day, you notice then that your life begins to change in miraculous ways.
Things begin to flow much more smoothly and effortlessly, there’s very low resistance, you accept and meet challenges with increasingly more serenity and with a smile on your face.
Wouldn’t you agree that this is precisely what and how your life’s supposed to be?
The True Power Of All The Above Lies In Its Immediate Usefulness
Each and every of these 10 tips are directly applicable, requiring no precondition to be fulfilled other than your explicit consent and willingness to put them in practice.
They neither require from you to have anything you don’t already have (with the exception of the daily journal, where some kind of recording device is a must, you need nothing else), nor do they demand from you to meet some “eligibility” criteria beforehand.
It’s in YOUR hand, and in your hand alone.
And if you choose to act upon even one of these tips, and you do so consistently for a few days or weeks, you are guaranteed to observe your life changing for the better.
You will observe that what you previously used to perceive as frustrating limitations or hurdles now turn into exciting challenges to be overcome. Soon, you will also start getting amazed by all the favorable and helpful occurrences and synchronicities, paving and demonstrating your way ahead ever more clearly to you.
Should you further persist down this road (doing so will, by that point, seem like a no-brainer to you), you’re also to find out that success on any level, personal or professional, is within your reach. Not just any success, though. It has to be the one that resonates with your life’s unique journey, the one that’s reserved just for you.
A frequent paradox here is that the moment in which you start feeling genuinely OK with not getting this success is very likely to be the moment when it will be offered to you in a silver plate.
Nothing more to add on my side, other than repeating: