Gaining the Mental Edge

posted in: Wellness | 0

Russell Wilson

If your mind is constantly running, worrying, tired, or excitable, then keep reading.

How many of you spend hours on the computer, phone, social media, watching TV, talking on the phone. How often do you do this in well lit rooms, working on less than 8 hours of sleep? Have you ever tried to clear your head of thoughts? Were you successful?

Most of us are over-stimulated in many ways. We find ourselves under-rested (consistently less than 8 hours a night), full of empty calories, over-caffeinated, multi-tasking, exposed to bright lights (as opposed to natural light) all day, and sedentary. This puts us in a consistent low-level “fight or flight” mode, confusing our nervous system’s efforts to up-regulate or down-regulate. While not quite like running from a bear, your ambient stress is akin to having a large hairy insect crawling on the ceiling right above your head. Do you want to spend all day wondering if that dang bug is going to drop down the back of your shirt? Probably not. But how many of us live our lives states otherwise. Our anxiety rises, our skin looks worn, our emotions are up and down, our mind won’t stop running. You can even be on vacation and feel this way. How can you give your brain (and thus your body) a break?

In Tibet, Buddhist monks believe that our thoughts, i.e. our conceptual mind, are a 6th sense. Their thinking is that we have the power to turn the mind off; however we need to practice it. Our “Monkey Mind,” needs taming, says Jim Cahill, a Mindfulness Basis Biofeedback Therapy practitioner. If you believe that you can shortcut this because you can compartmentalize thoughts and multi-task, you’re probably wrong. NY Times best-selling author Susan Caine writes in her book Quiet, “Scientists know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multi-tasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes up to 50 percent.”

An excellent article by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert from Harvard University concluded that “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” They found that 1) peoples minds wander frequently, regardless of what they are doing. 2) People were less happy when their minds wandered than when they were not, and this was true during all activities including the least enjoyable. 3) What people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness that was what they were doing.

sunsetWhy am I telling you this? For the first time in my life, I have been exposed to a skill that has helped me better take care of myself. It has helped me stay in the precious present with my tasks at hand, and helped me wade through all the daily noise to get to know my true self. In short, I am learning to control my thoughts and thus my reaction to stimuli.

So here is how you can calm your Monkey Mind on a daily basis: Mindfulness Based Meditation Practice.

Squat CleanIt ain’t easy. The near universal experience of beginner meditators is the realization of just how unmanageable one’s attention can be. Distractions are normal and expected and come from the five physical senses as well as that Buddhist 6th sense – the conceptual mind made up of our thoughts, feelings, memories, and fantasies.

Through mindfulness based meditation you can learn to calm your mind by grounding in the moment with any physical sense for a few moments, center your mind on the object or activity (ie breath) and hold it there for a set time each day. Your job is to center yourself, understanding distractions come into your mind and heart, but you can easily let them go without judgement and re-direct your attention to the object or breath. Mark Divine, CEO of SealFit and author of Unbeatable Mind, uses counting as a way to center his mind. His object is his breaths and he uses numbers as a way to stay focused.

For me, this practice is unlike anything else I have tried before and is helping me get to better know my soul and how to care for me. Having been through my fare share of love, uncertainty, trauma, sadness, happiness, the grind of school, an eating disorder, and the self-perfection of a profressional athlete and a Marine Corps officer, I have seen many psychologists and have talked a lot.

For me, the quiet and discipline of meditation has proven to be my key for finding calm and clarity in the midst of utter chaos and every day life.

For more on Gaining the Mental Edge, please come to our upcoming event at San Diego Athletics on Thursday Feb 12, 2015.
References
10 Reasons Why Every Athlete in the World Should Meditate
Mindfulness-Based Biofeedback Therapy™