The mind is like a puppy; it likes to wander. And when it’s allowed to wander, it gets into lots of trouble. If you don’t train a puppy to follow your command, he’ll do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. Your mind will too. If you aren’t in control of your mind, you’re mind is in control of you…and this is a very. bad. thing.
When the mind is left to it’s own devices, without our true selves being in charge, it will automatically gravitate toward the negative, ruminate on the past, obsess over the future, and tell irrational stories disguised as the truth. The mind is a brilliant tool and can do incredible things when we use it as such. We can use the mind to problem solve, analyze complex situations, make important decisions, and create cutting edge innovations. But we must know when to calm our minds down and put them to rest. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Say you want to hang a picture on the wall. You grab a hammer from your tool box and use it to drive the nails into the wall. Then you put the hammer away. The mind should be used in this way too; it should be used as a tool and then set down when the job is completed. However, we often don’t use our minds like this. We allow our minds to be engaged ALL THE TIME! It’s like carrying around that hammer and randomly hitting walls with it, even after we’ve hung the picture. It’s completely useless and sometimes destructive. If we don’t “put our minds back in the tool box”, we can experience that same type of destruction in our own lives. The mind can work against us if we let it. And if our mind isn’t “trained”, it will get into just as much trouble as that untrained puppy.
FEAR. WORRY. ANXIETY. DEPRESSION. ANGER. OVERANALYZING. RUMINATING. REGRET. SADNESS. LONELINESS. FRUSTRATION. SHAME. GUILT.
These are all emotions we commonly feel and none of them are all that pleasant. Our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings influence our behavior. If you want to change the way you FEEL and BEHAVE, you absolutely have to change the way you THINK. You have to take control of your mind so it doesn’t take control of you….and make you feel like crap. But before you can change the way you think, you have to figure out HOW you’re thinking NOW.
What thoughts enter your mind on a regularly basis? Are they mostly positive or negative? Are they mostly about the past, present, or future? What’s the tone and feel of your self talk? Are you typically kind, supportive, and encouraging with yourself or are you skeptical, harsh, and judgmental? We can’t control the thoughts that enter our minds-those are automatic. But we can CHOOSE WHICH THOUGHTS TO PAY ATTENTION TO. (This is part of “training your brain”.)
A thought is just a thought unless you feed it with your ATTENTION and ACTION. If you don’t feed the thought, it will die. It will cease to exist and simply fade away. If you feed the thought, it comes alive, it takes form, it grows. Therefore, you want to be very careful about which thoughts you choose to feed. Once you master the ability to choose which thoughts you pay attention to, you free yourself of needless suffering because you refuse to feed the negative thoughts that enter your mind. As a result, all negativity dies and your life is one of positivity, hope, and joy. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE YOUR THOUGHTS….claim that power and put your mind in it’s place.
The best way to “train your brain” is through MINDFULNESS PRACTICE. Mindfulness is “informal meditation” and is simply the act of noticing and observing without attaching judgement. Take a few moments to practice tapping into your senses. In this very moment, what are you hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, or smelling? Bring your focus of attention to the present moment and observe your surroundings without labeling them as good, bad, happy, or sad. Just notice. As you do this, your mind might try to wander (after all, it’s like a puppy and that’s just what it’s inclined to do). That’s ok. Expect that to happen. When it does, lovingly and gently guide your mind back to what you were focusing on. We don’t whip and punish the puppy when it wanders off….we kindly guide it back. Do the same with your mind.
By practicing mindfulness in this way (there’s about a million different ways to be mindful and this is just one example) you’re actively training your mind to work for you as a tool. You’re actively taking control over your mind so it doesn’t have power over you anymore. You’re developing the ability to choose your thoughts, and thus choose your feelings and your behaviors. You’re gaining a deep sense of control over yourself, and with practice and time, you’ll eventually be able to feel and behave however you want at any given moment. Once you achieve this ability, you will reach your full potential and you’ll experience ultimate freedom from suffering. (Kinda sounds worth the effort, doesn’t it?)
PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS (notice I didn’t say “practice makes perfect”). When it comes to training your mind with mindfulness, consistency is key. You have to practice…everyday. Mindfulness practice is convenient though because you can do it anytime, anywhere, and no one even has to know you’re doing it. You can practice mindfulness for just a couple minutes, a few times throughout during a day. The results are worth it. Practicing mindfulness will bring you into the present moment, which is the best place to live. Here’s a saying I’m in love with because of it’s supreme truth:
“If you’re living in the past, you’re depressed. If you’re living in the future, you’re anxious. If you’re living in the present, you’re content.”
Put you’re mind in it’s place by not “feeding the thoughts” that focus on the past or the future. Exercise your power and only feed the thoughts of the present, the here and now. If you do choose to think about the past or future, choose your thoughts carefully and use you’re mind as a tool. Once you’re done, put the mind “back it it’s toolbox” by quieting it down with some mindfulness practice that will reposition you in the present.
Much of my clinical practice centers around training the mind and using meditation and mindfulness practice to help you reach your full potential and live a happy life. If you’d like to know more about these areas of my work, I’d love to talk with you more. Send me a message on our contact page or write a comment beside our blog.
Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life’s work is to help women overcome life’s many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She currently serves as the Founder and Executive Clinician at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA.