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.

Leaders are Everyday Heroes Who Inspire

The world is looking for leaders that bring hope and inspire us to do better, be better, and make the world a better place. These kinds of leaders are more likely to achieve their goals or vision because they are able to bring others along on their journey. Are you the leader who inspires others?

2020 is definitely a year to remember. While there have been several events that have played a big role in shaping the year, the most memorable is COVID. As COVID wears on, and COVID fatigue sets in, I am, and I dare say that we all are looking for inspiration and hope. We are looking for leaders to bring that hope, to inspire us to do better, to be better and to to make the world a better place.

But guess what? You can be the inspiration, you can be the hope. You don’t need to wait for someone else to inspire you, do it for yourself. Dig deep inside of you and find that something that lights up your world – and pursue it with passion. In the pursuit of your inspiration, it will change your life, it will open up possibilities and it will change the lives of others as well.

While COVID has its downside, some people have taken this imposed incubation period to do something they have always wanted to do, or have found new ways to deliver their services or their message. They have become the everyday heroes that inspire others, because they have used a mess to create a new message.

Example Entertainment Industry:

The entertainment industry has suffered tremendous financial losses that have affected those working in the industry. Leaders acted quickly to the new normal to bring entertainment in new forms. For example, there are on – line board games you can play, drive through or walk through (by appointment) cultural events like a Van Gogh exhibit being hosted in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The entertainment industry is only one example of businesses that have acted quickly to survive in the new normal – there are many others. Other businesses have offered all kinds of free learning events, masterminds, even advice from experts on starting new businesses. These come from a survival mentality and from wanting to serve others in a different way.

Leaders who inspire others are more likely to achieve goals or a vision because they are able to bring people along on their vision journey. These leaders convey their feelings and goals in a way that has been described as charismatic, magnetic or contagious.  

Inspiration is the ingredient that changes the way we see and create our own possibilities.  This all happens without any shift in ability or skill.

Studies found that inspired people:

  • are open to new experiences,
  • believe in their own abilities,
  • have higher self-esteem,
  • have higher levels of optimism,
  • experience more purpose in life, and
  • experience more gratitude.

These are the same things that make great leaders – coincidence? I think not!

It’s not easy being a leader. Leaders are ordinary people, who for the most part, are living extraordinary lives. They carry a heavy burden. There is an unspoken rule that they are often required to meet a higher standard than others because of the responsibility, risk and reward of their position – they are more visible and therefore their success, failures and character are also more visible.  They may even have to inspire others when they do not feel inspired themselves.

Simon Sinek, a speaker and author has made it his mission to help others take action. His book “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” followed by his equally famous TED talk on the same subject, was based on his observations of leaders who motivated followers to action. The leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way; these leaders realized that people need to know the WHY behind a product, service, movement, or idea before they will buy into it. These leaders explained the WHY behind what they were doing.

Simon went on to talk about valuing people. He reminds leaders to take care of people and pay attention to them first in order to be successful, because without people you can’t achieve your goals.

My Heroes

For me, there are many who inspire me for different reasons, but I narrowed my list to these four for now. All of them embody those qualities mentioned in the study above and they seem genuinely humble, plus, they all want to serve and help others by sharing what they have learned from their own experiences.

Brené Brown: She is a professor, author and speaker. Her research has focused on being brave and vulnerable.  She inspires me because she is brave, curious, listens, and has a way of making me want to do better.

Verla Fortier: Verla is good friend of mine. She is an author, speaker, blogger and pod caster. She has a number of chronic conditions. In an effort to find ways to improve her outlook and quality of life, she started a journey that led to writing a book, starting a podcast and speaking about how to improve life while living with chronic disease. She has turned her mess into a message of hope and inspiration for others with chronic illness. She is definitely an everyday heroine of inspiration.

Bethany Hamilton:  Is a champion surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack. She didn’t let this stop her from surfing competitively. She has gone on to become a successful motivational speaker and author. She inspires me because of her courage and persistence at overcoming her adversity. Her message is:

I’m here to encourage you and show you how to be unstoppable.

I don’t need easy, just possible.”

Oprah Winfrey: Is a television personality. What appeals to me about her is that she is always interested in learning new things and using what she learns to better herself and the world around her. She conveys grace and dignity, and gives back to the world, and in doing so, inspires many others.

Takeaways

Who inspires you?

Those who inspire you will likely have messages or qualities that resonate with you and your personal values.

What is it about them that inspired you?

What is it that draws you to learn more about them?

How do they inspire your leadership and your thinking?

or …

Are you that leader who inspires?