Don’t let your thoughts rule you -- learn to rule your thoughts. A restless mind has many effects that can include trouble sleeping, poor decision-making, anxiety and even depression when left to run amuck. The Buddhist term “Monkey Mind” stems from the observation that left untamed, our minds' natural state can tend toward being unsettled, restless, indecisive and uncontrollable. Sometimes called the “racing mind”.
Here are Four ways to work at calming your “racing mind”
1. Intentional Training of your Mind sometimes called “Mindfulness training”
What is mindfulness? It’s the practice of consciously observing yourself and your thoughts in relation to every present moment with your surroundings. It’s being aware. It sounds simple, but it’s profoundly effective for many people in reducing stress and fostering more control over the mind monkeys.
The mindfulness movement says that most of our stress comes from your thoughts contrasting with your surroundings and that incongruity causes stress. Mindfulness training facilitates the awareness of these thoughts, so you realize when you’re having them. From there it’s a mental training of trying not to judge these thoughts as “good” or “bad” (which could ultimately compound your stress more!) but just to notice you’re having them and start to ask more about what is triggering what you feel.
What’s causing the thoughts? Are they really helping? Awareness is the essence of mindfulness training and it’s meant to help you start to pinpoint and question your stressful thoughts. Since we know now with medicine and scientific studies that stress has a profoundly negative and damaging effect on your health, it’s easy to see that practicing mindfulness could help you not only have a calmer mind, bit it could also greatly contribute to your health.
2. Intentional Thinking
In John Maxwell’s 2003 book, “Thinking for a Change”, the author explores how skilled thinking can increase both personal and professional success. Maxwell notes, "Those who embrace good thinking as a lifestyle understand the relationship between their level of thinking and their level of progress.”
“You can literally move a mountain with your efforts, but if your mind still can't find peace or happiness when you sit down to rest then it is all wasted effort. If you can tap into the power of intentional thinking you start living your life instead of life living you. This is because how you think about your life creates how you feel, and how you feel creates like-minded actions, and those actions create a reality that ALWAYS mirrors your original thoughts.” (Heather Beardsley). Thinking intentionally is Mind Control.
I opened a new office space and did not want to wonder if the bathroom lights were turned off. So, we put motion sensors lights in both bathrooms. I don’t have to give them another thought, because I know that they will turn themselves off.
Think of your brain like a wild horse. If you don’t “corral your horse”, it will run wild, going where ever it wants to wander. Intentional thinking “corrals your thoughts”, giving them direction and purpose. Sometimes you may need to put it in a stall, to properly, feed and care for your “horse”. This allows you to be in control of what your brain thinks and what pathway you want it to go down.
3. Intentional Breathing
Taking a deep breath or two to relax in and of itself isn’t new. Many people take a few deep breaths when they’ve feeling overcome by stress, and the adage, “just breathe” appears on everything from billboards to t-shirts.
Breathing is natural and a necessity of life and living. You don’t have to consciously think about it. You sleep and breathing is controlled by the subconscious system in your brain. When you are stressed, you naturally begin to breath more shallowly. Those are the times when you may need to consciously pay attention to your breathing and breathe deeply.
I remember when I was taking a voice lesson class in High School. We had to practice deep breathing exercises to be able to maintain breath control while singing. Putting a stack of books on your stomach, taking a deep breath and then singing a note and seeing how long you could maintain that note before you had to breathe again. You had to not only pay attention to the tone, the note you were singing, but breathe control and the use of your diaphragm and core stomach muscles, to maintain a constant smooth sounding note.
Work at practicing deep breathing exercises daily.
4. Intentional Movement
I don’t know about you, but I dislike exercise! I like doing activities that get me moving. I like bike riding, swimming (floating in the water), playing golf, mowing my lawn, weight lifting…things like that. I used to run while playing basketball, playing tennis, racquet ball… things that my body won’t let me do anymore.
Deciding to be active in your life is not about exercise. It can be something that you choose to do on a regular basis but is not really about a regimen of exercising. It is about Kinesiology or the study of human movement. Katy Bowman says, “We don’t understand the difference between exercise and movement.” “Instead of imagining you need to stop everything and step out of your life to exercise more, Bowman says there are simple ways to “engage in low-grade, constant movement” throughout your day, utilizing natural movement patterns like walking and squatting.
Intentional movement can be about growing as a person. Moving away from old habits to new better ones. One of the principals I share with my clients is “a want is a wish without intentional action.”
When you are intentionally focused on something, you functionally “corral” your thoughts. Whatever you do, be intentional!