Managing Your Mind
by George Pitagorsky
"By your own efforts
Waken yourself, watch yourself.
And live joyfully.
You are the master."
~ Gautama Buddha
Watch the transitions from thoughts and sensations to behavior. Observe sensing, associating, wanting, fantasizing, doing.
How much of it is volitional? Are you consciously choosing what you think or do or is it just happening?
There is a process that takes place when one thought leads to another, then another and another in a relatively meaningless stream of consciousness. Do you experience that often?
This phenomenon is not limited to the internal workings of one person's mind. How often in conversations do you move from topic to topic, choosing the next topic based on the attractiveness of a thought that has come up in relationship to the last interesting topic. Maybe you are discussing a work related topic or politics or some movie you just saw and you latch onto a thought and say "Oh that reminds me of the last time I went fishing." Everyone shifts gears and now the subject is fishing. That is until the conversation turns to the quality of the food in the local seafood restaurant or to water pollution or to the need for regulatory constraints on industries that pollute, and so on.
If the conversation is for entertainment; no problem. But, when the purpose is to solve a problem, make a decision or get something accomplished you are wasting time and energy.
How does it effect performance? Clearly, wasting time and effort by letting oneself or one's group be lost in distracted thought or conversation is not productive. Whether you are an actor on stage, a programmer, sales person or artist, you are far better off when you can choose not to be distracted by random thoughts and occurrences.
What can You Do?
When a conversation takes a random course, some people may want to stick to the subject but don't have the skills to get everyone else on track. Others are simply following the train of thought, unconscious of the transitions. Still others are conscious of what is going on but just let it happen. Sometimes they are frustrated; sometimes amused.
The ability to focus and stay focused on a subject begins with being mindfully aware of the distractions that lead away from that focus. Then it requires the power to let go of the distracting thoughts and return to the chosen subject.
Mindfulness meditation cultivates these abilities. In a comfortable yet erect posture pay attention to the breath, noting inhalation and exhalation. As thoughts arise note them and bring attention back to the breath. It's that simple.
In the midst of your daily activities you can set a signal that reminds you to take a moment of being consciously aware of your breath or body before you go back to your activity. The signal can be the beep of a timer on your watch or the first ring of a phone call or the ping of an email or text message.
In the course of conversation or when doing a task of any kind, when you realize you have become distracted, come back to the breath and then redirect your mind to the task at hand.
Alternatively, instead of coming back to the breath, when you are aware of distracting thoughts come back directly to the subject of your task.
Train Your Mind
It is all about training your mind so that you are able to choose what you think about and what you do. As the mind begins to be tamed, you observe what is happening in your mind, in your body and around you from a calm aware space that is behind the flow of your thoughts.
Observing in this way doesn't mean that you are detached and disinterested. In fact the ability to be interested and fully engaged is enhanced by being able to observe and be present in this calm awareness.
The ability to be responsive rather than reactive is a foundation for optimal performance. Take a moment to be aware of your body and breath and then engage. Train your mind so that you are in charge of your thoughts, then whether you are doing individual work or working with others you will be able to direct what is going on to achieve optimal performance.
© 2011 Pitagorsky Consulting