How to Achieve Mastery over Your Mind

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I love that we can change our mindset to change our lives. Because we can choose how to think and react, we can have so much control over how we want our lives to look like.  

For the longest time my mind was a hot mess!  I used to have a lot of anxious and fearful thoughts at one point in my life. I would fret about my health, my kids, my job, my husband’s job, our finances, friends, death, etc.  I would feel dread come over me for no reason at all. Sometimes the thoughts would come one at a time, and at other times they came all smushed together and I felt helpless against them.

It was a relief to discover that I could control my thinking, rewire my brain and remain in peace-game changer!  Once I got a hold of how, I got rid of the mess in my head. I also learned that mastery in this one area, could lead to mastery in other areas of my life. With the mess gone, I could focus more clearly, I could lead my life instead of being led by my thoughts and emotions. I love the fact that we can have so much power over our brain.

Mastery over your mind: Here’s how it works

Neuroplasticity

We can deliberately rewire our brains because of Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the mind-body connection which allows for us to change our thoughts and behaviours.

Our brain works mostly on autopilot by creating highways (neural pathways) in our brains. When we focus on something with our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours we create these highways. Once the highway becomes well used it begins to function on autopilot. Autopilot allows us to conserve our mental energy and respond quickly to life experiences.

When we want to change something in our life, the superhighway we built in our brain may no longer serve us. We will need to build a new highway (new neural pathways) to serve our new beliefs and mindset.  

Example: Let’s say you want to be happier. You will have to create a new highway (neural pathway). It starts with a belief. You believe that its OK to be happy. You say to yourself that its OK to be happy. You start to feel the emotions of happiness, you start to act happy, you continue to experience happiness emotions and so on. You are happy.  What happened? This new way of thinking and being has made it easier to produce feelings of happiness. And you have built a new highway (neural pathway).

The more positive emotions you have, the more neurons you use to build your new highway. Emotions and feelings are very important in this process because they act as the glue to bind you to your experiences. This emotional energy is the fuel, behind your thoughts that give power to your memories, goals, hopes, and dreams. What you focus on grows. So, if you focus on happiness it grows. If you focus on stress it grows. If you focus on anger it grows. Every thought you think and feeling you feel, strengthens the circuitry in your brain (your neural pathways).   

These amazing abilities of our brain have so much potential and hope for dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, for changing unhealthy habits, and for physical health.

Are you excited yet? Read these stories!

Case studies

Coaching for Success

Many sports figures have coaches to help their clients become successful at their sport. Golfers like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and others mentally prepare for their competitions by practicing their skills in their minds first. Not only do they visualize their success, but they engage all their senses to experience the competition.

Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist was accused of spying for the U.S. and spent nine years in a USSR prison.   While in prison he played against himself in mental chess. He would say “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!” Remarkably, in 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!

Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, was involved in a study that compared results of those who did physical exercises to the results of those who carried out virtual workouts in their heads. In the physical exercise group, finger abduction strength increased by 53%. In the group that did “mental contractions”, their finger abduction strength increased by 35% and increased to (40%) 4 weeks after the training ended.

What do these stories have in common?

These stories show the importance of the mind-body connection by linking our thoughts and emotions to actions and behaviours. Our brains are powerful tools that produce the same mental instructions as physical actions. 

What the case studies above have in common is engaging as many of the five senses as possible in the visualization process. By doing this, the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization and building new neural pathways. Mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence, improve motor performance, and prime your brain for success. This practice is available to everyone, not just those in competitive fields.

These studies show that we can control what we put into our minds, and we do not have to think automatically, we can choose what we want to think about.

Takeaways

Rewire your brain

How do you shift your thinking? Notice-Shift-Rewire, Recognize, Refute and Rewire, or pick your own. What is important is to notice or recognize when you are beating up on yourself and stop it. Refute it or shift your thinking to something more positive. Then put in place your new message. It is simple, but not easy. It requires you to pay attention to the messages you are giving yourself and practice in rewiring your mind to the new more positive messages. It takes time and patience to build a new superhighway. Check out this video.

Practice visualization for success

Coaches encourage you to engage as many of the five senses as you can in the visualization of your goal. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment?

Sit with a straight spine when you do this. Practice at night or in the morning (just before/after sleep). Eliminate any doubts, if they come to you. Repeat this practice often. Combine with meditation or an affirmation (e.g. “I am courageous; I am strong,” or to borrow from Ali, “I am the greatest!”).

Visualization is as powerful as the real thing since you are giving brain a new reality, and it is unable to tell the difference between something real or imagined.

Meditate

Meditation is a great stress reliever, and as noted above if the brain and body is stressed, new neural pathways can’t be formed.  It is known to reduce stress and cortisol and boost the immune system. Taking time to pause helps our brain to grow, improve our creativity, improve our mental flexibility and make neural pathway changes.

The Self-Confident Leader

What is it about self-confidence that is so appealing?  

  • We are drawn to people who believe in themselves.
  • Confident people are simply happy with where they are in life and believe they are capable of reaching their goals.
  • Confident people seem to know what they want, and are not afraid to ask for it, or go after it.
  • They’re typically comfortable in their own skin and well-adjusted.
  • They have a sense of ease which is appealing.
  • They are not afraid to express themselves.
  • Confident people transform the energy in the room.
  • They are authentic, they do not try to be something or someone else.

Think about someone you know who is confident. What is it about that person that says confidence? Then think about someone you know who lacks confidence. What is it different about the two?

The person who comes to my mind that exudes confidence is my husband. Why? 

  • He is confident about his abilities and is comfortable with who he is.
  • He is decisive, takes action, and follows through.
  • He is a positive person and tries to find the positive in all situations.
  • He values integrity and honesty above all things.
  • He isn’t afraid to try new things. He sees it as a challenge and is willing to work to master it.
  • He doesn’t worry about what others think about him.
  • He has a positive energy that transforms the room.

How did he get this way? Part of it is personality,part is hard work and taking calculated risks, facing his fears and building upon his successes.

Self-confidence is:

  • an individual’s level of certainty about their ability to handle things.  
  • essential for the leader to influence collaborators, or followers.
  • the leadership trait that was most often identified in a 2002 study.
  • developed at an early age and is influenced by others, experience, our successes and failures, and how they are interpreted in our minds.
  • the level of general self-confidence that we each acquire in childhood remains fairly stable over our lifetime.
  • formed through our successes and failures, how others react to us and what we expect of our future performances. 

Axelrod in her chapter on leadership and self-confidence, discusses the idea of self-leadership to build self-confidence.  Self-leadership involves changing our way of thinking to believe in what we want.  She states:

“…after we fail at a task, most of us automatically berate ourselves, but if we practice self-leadership, we can observe that we failed only because it was a learning experience and assure ourselves that we will succeed next time…positive expectation helps guide our thoughts in a constructive direction and manage our emotions, so it helps builds task-specific self-confidence, which can enhance performance because people who believe they can perform well tend to do better than those who expect to fail…self-leadership may be the leader’s single most important skill, …to shape our internal life story to foster success…”

Leaders

Take Risks: Leaders who are confident tend to have positive expectations and are willing to take risks. The willingness to take risks, along with believing in their own competence helps build success.

Our level of self-confidence also affects our willingness to complete a task when we fear failure. Those with a high level of confidence will adjust their goals to be more manageable and achievable.

Manage their emotions:  A leader who remains emotionally stable, manages his/her anxiety and anger during difficult confrontations, and focuses on constructive language will be more successful. This self-control will put the leader in a positive light. On the other hand, lack of self control can damage trust, commitment, and the leader’s reputation.

Are Authentic: When leaders reach a level of success and seniority, they may have to take a stand about their personal values, beliefs and principles. This may attract criticism and polarize people. When faced with harsh critics, the best advice is to ignore them if your decisions are ethical, and principle based. Don’t let them get in your head, if they do, banish them like you banish your inner critic. 

Takeaways to Build your Self-Confidence

Imaging/rehearsal: Picture the activity in your mind and what a successful outcome looks like. Rehearse what might happen, what might be said and how you might to respond to the scenarios your mind generates. This acts as a rehearsal for the real thing and prepares us for what might happen. Athletes and many who have life coaches or mentors, are coached to use this method to visualize success.

Constructive self-talk: Catch your inner self-talk to identify destructive patterns. Confront and silence the inner critic, boost your confidence, and reduce anxiety. Speak to your inner critic and tell it that it is wrong, it is a liar, you are going to send it for a time out, it is going to a parking lot, etc. A tip someone shared with me was to wear a rubber band on my wrist and snap it every time the inner critic started. Then call out the critic and re frame the thought to a more positive message. Catch it before it changes the message in your head.

Competence: Focus on what you do well; your competence and abilities. Avoid comparing yourself with others. Be proud of what you do well.

Eliminate triggers: Avoid negative thinking or spending time around things or people that can make you feel bad about yourself-anything that leaves you thinking you’re not good enough. Re-frame your thinking-change your mindset.

Bounce back from your mistakes: No one is perfect. Even the most confident people have insecurities, and there’s no one alive who hasn’t made a mistake. Don’t let one wrong turn, or even a few of them, make you think you don’t have what it takes to achieve your goals and reach your success.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you: Nothing is as powerful as people who think you’re great, who believe you can do the impossible, and who have all the confidence in the world in you. Surround yourself with those people and be intentional about maintaining those connections. Stick with the people who lift your perspective and avoid (or at least tune out) those who make you feel bad or doubt yourself.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Jim Rohn

Take pride in yourselfSome people think that taking pride in yourself means that you can’t be humble. You can recognize and appreciate who you are and what you’ve accomplished without being arrogant. Sometimes it’s the motivation we need when things get tough.

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