Have you ever taken a course on how to manage your mind? Have you ever read a book on how to think? Probably not.
Most of us believe we’ve learned how to think by going to school and learning what is taught to us. But most schooling teaches you only one way of thinking and that is – figuring out the right answer. Once you’ve done that, many believe that there’s no need to reflect on the ideas you have or the beliefs you maintain.
But here’s the problem with this approach. In real life, we have to deal with challenges that don’t have one right answer, problems that have no clear solutions, ambiguities that muddle our brain, behavior (our own as well as others) that perplexes us.
Healthy ways to maintain your body is part of our culture. Every magazine trumpets the latest discoveries about how to be more physically fit. But enhancing your thinking skills? Enriching your mind management skills? Not many articles about that.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not so much what you say but how you say it that matters.” This axiom helps us become more aware of our language and its effect on others. But have you ever heard the axiom, “It’s not what you think but how you think it?” Probably not. And yet, how you think has a huge effect on how you relate to the world and how happy you are.
So, allow me to offer you a few quick tips on good thinking that can help you meet new challenges without undue anxiety. In this stressful time of Covid and political unrest, it is most important,
- Differentiate thinking from obsessing. Thinking is using your mind in a creative, effective manner. It includes reasoning, reflecting, pondering, judging, analyzing and evaluating an idea or decision. It is often productive, goal-oriented, action-oriented. Obsessing, in contrast, is when your mind is excessively focused on an emotion or event. It hinders your ability to relax, let go or move forward. This is not merely an unproductive process, it’s counterproductive. If you notice you’re obsessing about what to do, take a deep breath. Then, another one. Then see if you can make one small decision about your dilemma. It doesn’t have to resolve the whole problem, just take you to the next step. For example, if you’re obsessing about whether to visit a loved one during a pandemic, you might simply first decide to call her and see how she’s doing.
- Free yourself from the outcome. In previous generations, people assumed that they couldn’t control the outcome of many of life’s events. Events occurred, you didn’t make them happen. Children “arrived,” they weren’t planned. You “fell in love” or entered an arranged marriage, you didn’t search for the perfect mate. You “found a job,” you didn’t agonize over the ideal career. Nowadays, however, because we really do have more control over our lives, we feel anguished when we can’t control everything. Free yourself from expecting that the outcome must always be in your favor and you’ll make better decisions. Do you want to ask someone out on a date but you focus on how you might be rejected? Do you wish to move to a different part of the country but fear that things won’t work out as expected? Reflect on your choice. Research your move. Plan your actions. Do what you can do to maximize your success. But don’t paralyze yourself from taking action because you can’t guarantee success.
- Cultivate a relaxed mind. It’s easy to say, “just relax” but for many that’s a really tough thing to do. If you can attain a relaxed state of mind, however, it’ll help you avoid obsessive thought patterns. You’ll be able to think more clearly and deal more thoughtfully with making choices and decisions. A few tips on how to do this. Listen to music that soothes your soul. Take a warm bath. Sit by a fireplace and let yourself be hypnotized by the flames. Be silly. Imagine funny things. Create a place in your mind where you can go to feel safe, warm, cozy and comfy. Imagine staying there until your mind is quiet, your body relaxed. A relaxed body is a wonderful home for a relaxed mind.
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