Photo Credit: Kirit Chaudhary
Our minds can sometimes have control over us. The mind is capable of telling us that we can indeed do something or that we can’t. I remember for several years I had low confidence about my ability to write, learn object oriented programming, and learn languages and other things as well. I had convinced myself that I was not capable of being very physically active or talked myself out of the possibility of doing multi-day hikes. I allowed my mind to convince me that I was limited before even trying.
I did try to do all these things at some point. For instance, one of my degrees is in Information Technology. Part of the degree prerequisites was learning programming languages. I was surrounded by people who were very quick, intelligent and could pick up the languages quickly. At the time I was dating a guy who seemed like a programming genius and seemed like he could do just about anything. Learning the language was difficult for me and I kept comparing my abilities to others. I had days where I felt stupid and like I couldn’t accomplish anything. At times I wanted to completely give up and I felt like a failure. The career I wanted was right in front of me, but my mind was telling me that I just wasn’t cut out for it.
I allowed my mind to convince me to not write. I’d read back at things I wrote in the past, unfinished, and feel like I would just have to live my dream of writing through the lives of other people. Many of us can relate to this phenomena. Our dreams consist of something that seems greater than ourselves. However, the belief that we are incapable of achieving our dreams due to our personal limitations is all in our head. Below are some ways to take control of your mind before your mind takes control of you.
1. Your thoughts are capable of changing. One of the things that allowed me to realize that I was giving too much power to my mind, was realizing that thoughts can change. I can be angry and emotional over a situation with a loved one, but the next couple of days my feelings and thoughts might change. A horrible grade during a Math class might make me want to give up, quit my major and stop attending classes. However, my thoughts may change as I give myself more time to come to terms with what happened. Your thoughts may not completely change, but the intensity of the thoughts may diminish. For instance, I know that I have a more challenging time learning object oriented programming. That thought is unlikely to change, but the intensity has diminished. In other words I know that I can learn programming and even be good at it, but I also realize that it will remain a challenge. Thoughts can also completely change. I thought for so long that I was incapable of being a good writer and I gave up on trying to write. One day I decided to write every day, experiment with different forms of writing such as short stories and poetry and my confidence increased. My thoughts have completely changed since now I know that I am a good writer. Remember that thoughts are capable of changing. Giving your mind too much power over you prevents you from understanding that you might feel or think differently later.
2. The mind is capable of generalizing. Everybody has a tendency to generalize to better understand themselves and the world. The problem with generalization is the mind often has a way of making us over focus on the negative. You might be wonderful at your job but one critical remark from your boss may make you doubt if you are a good employer. Your cooking skills might be superb but one comment about how the meat was undercooked might make you doubt if you are good enough to be a chef. To prevent this generalizing from happening you need to push yourself to focus on the positives and the reality of the situation. For instance, let’s say that you decide to learn a new language. The first few weeks are really overwhelming and tough. You feel like you aren’t progressing well and you start to believe that you can’t learn the language. However, when you focus your mind on the positives and the reality you might notice the things that you aren’t focusing on. For instance, you might remember that you have learned a second language successfully so you are capable of learning a third. You might go back over the course notes over the first several weeks and realize that you have successfully learned a great deal. Sure you aren’t at the level you had hoped you would be at by now, but you are learning and getting a grasp of the language. You are progressing. I challenge you to force yourself to focus on the positives. I realize that can be difficult but if you want to be realistic, you have to focus on both the negatives and the positives and treat both as equal experiences.
3. Open yourself to a new reality. The reality that you have is based completely on your own mind and thoughts. For instance, if you think all potential partners are jerks and that you’ll never find love, then that is a reality you have created in your mind. Your beliefs don’t actually reflect reality, but is the reality you create for yourself. Believing that you aren’t good enough is the reality you have granted yourself. Change your reality by being open to new possibilities. This change in thoughts doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen if you focus on changing your thoughts to a positive reality. You might change your thoughts to believing that you can and will find love one day, even if the timeline doesn’t match what you want. Or you might realize that you have had a bad pattern of dating jerks and you might focus on the fact that your last boyfriend was great or that you have wonderful and kind male friends. Challenge your reality and open yourself to something new and exciting. Changing your thoughts to a new reality might involve focusing on different things outside a pattern, obtaining further knowledge about a situation, re-examining the truth or not letting the past control your current thoughts. The world is constantly changing and your thoughts can change too.
4. Limit time spent on social media or places that keep your mind actively distracted. I use social media and although I’m not giving it up, I do have a limit on my usage of social media. For instance, I try to not check social media during the mornings, before bedtime, on holidays or at work. I also try to not post things regularly. All of us have a desire to be approved and accepted. The issue with social media is that many people can become obsessed with how many likes, shares and comments that are given to their pictures or something they post. You are also bombarded with the best aspects of people’s lives, skewing your reality of the world. As a result, your mind has more areas to control you. You might become envious of the lifestyle of others or become paranoid that people dislike you because you didn’t get enough likes. Find areas where you tend to give your mind too much control and limit your usage. You don’t have to give up that thing completely but be aware of the negative consequences of using things that keep your mind distracted and out of your control. Outside of social media, some areas that tend to be overly distracting are gossip, being surrounded by people that are too negative, your smartphone, email, unnecessary drama and so on.
5. Practice meditation. Meditating helps you train and control your thoughts. Thoughts can be deceiving, negative and if we don’t have control over those thoughts, then you’ll find yourself being controlled by those thoughts unnecessarily. Unfortunately not many of us already have the skill to effectively control our thoughts. Meditation and learning how to clear your mind can help give you power over your thoughts. If you are the type who feels that meditation isn’t for you or feels like meditation can seem overwhelming then that’s okay too. Again, these are your thoughts taking control. I used to believe that I was unable to meditate but now I realize that I do have control over my thoughts and that my thoughts were preventing me from giving meditation a chance. For me, the realization that I could meditate happened through improvisational comedy. To successfully get out of your head and improvise, you have to have a clear mind and meditate in a way. If meditation seems a bit scary, try other ways to clear your mind and get out of your head. Focus on the times that you were able to keep a clear mind and then try doing meditation to help get you in the space to better control your thoughts. Taking control of your mind will prevent you from assuming the worst and stopping yourself from doing something amazing before you even begin.
6. Live in the present. To control your own thoughts, you have to stop judging yourself based on what people think about you. You also have to stop letting your past define you. All of us have made mistakes, failed and every one of us has someone that doesn’t like us or disapproves of our values and lifestyle. There are things that you simply cannot avoid such as some people not liking you or making mistakes. However, the past doesn’t have to define you. Try to not let the regrets of the past or the worries of the future get in the way of you enjoying your life right this very moment.
All of us are capable of having our thoughts take us down a path that is ruled by fear, paranoia, distrust, anger and negativity. Your mind is capable of feeding you false and negative thoughts about yourself and making you feel like you are inadequate. Acquire self-discipline so you can control your mind and embrace a hap