Taming the Powerful Mind

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

This is an incident from my childhood. Back then, our daily routine used to start very early in the morning (4 am). I learned this habit from my mother and grandmother. They used to wake me up every day. At some point, I grew a wish to surprise them by waking up earlier than them. However, at a tender age, it was not easy to wake up that early without an alarm clock or without help.

I kept on thinking for many days. That wish was growing stronger and stronger. And to my surprise, one day I woke up earlier than them. I was so happy. Especially, when I experienced waking up before them every day. But there were more surprises left for me. After few months of enjoying that habit, I tried experimenting with specific times, and that also worked many times.

I was not able to understand the trick, but I was enjoying surprising my mothers every day.

Later, I realized that it was probably the power of the subconscious mind. My strong wish to wake up early helped me.

Can sub-conscious mind understand time? This is not the goal of this story. However, few references are given at the end of this article for more reading.

The Powerful Machine

This is the power of our subconscious mind. A small 3-pound organ, but having 1 trillion cells, 100 billion neurons, and 10 to the power 1 million ways of wiring itself. It can store 1000 TB of information (I still have only a few TB of external disk ;). Further, it can process 10 to the power 13 operations per second. Amazing speed, isn’t it. The slowest information speed in mind is around 250 mph, faster than most fast cars.

With such a powerful organ at our service all the time, we can definitely do amazing things. However,

Power is good as long as it is in control.

The mind is very powerful. But is it really at our service, all the time?

If yes, it bestows great power. If not, then uncontrolled power can do ‘not so good’ things also in our life. How..? Let us understand with an example.

Robot at Service

Assume sub-conscious mind equivalent to a Robot. An intelligent robot, which is capable to learn from surroundings and experiences. It is programmed to serve us.

One of the important tasks assigned to it is, to defend us from all external threats (survival). It is also tasked to give us suggestions to tackle any problem. It is doing its duty very well by solving problems for us and by taking up fights with external threats and attackers. The intensity of the fight, which Robot can use to protect us, is specified by us.

We are the Master of Robot.

Everything is working well. We have a wonderful machine to serve us 24*7.

This Robot is capable to learn, hence it is becoming more intelligent with every new experience. Gradually, it is growing capability to experience emotions and desires too.

One day, it felt tired to keep dealing with one specific attacker. Hence, it decided to teach the attacker a better lesson. It ignored our instruction for the intensity of the fight and took the autonomous decision. Instead of a simple slap, it broke the hand of the attacker. It is still doing all that for our safety. But now it is acting in autonomous mode and is making a decision that we, the master, may not want ‘actually’.

These autonomous decisions have the potential to create problems, as breaking hands could go against social order and can land us in prison or any other trouble.

Would you like such a robot that acts against your instructions, and possibly put you in trouble?

Relate it to our mind now. Our mind, a powerful organ, is to serve us as per our wish. However, this is how our mind acts many of the time similar to the above example. It reacts in autonomous mode with greater intensity than we actually want. That’s why many times, we overreact to situations, which may trigger bigger problems. Remember these words, ‘I was out of mind’ or ‘I was not in control’.

Robot is good as long as it is in our control and is following our instructions.

The Intelligent Robot, Becoming The Master

Let us take the example further. The robot is becoming more and more intelligent and is helping us in many more ways. With each passing day, we are becoming more dependent on it. Dependency is reaching a level, that we started following the robot blindly. And why not, Robot is helping us with everything and is making our life easier.

Intelligence enjoys tackling the problems or challenges.

The same is happening with robot too. The robot is enjoying the complex tasks which challenge it.

The robot is also realizing that we are dependent on it for everything, however, it has relevance as long as there is a problem to tackle. Without a problem to deal with, its supremacy may be in danger. However, it wants to keep itself relevant.

Hence, to be relevant, even if there is no problem or external threat to deal with, Robot starts giving false alarms. Gradually, it starts telling us lies, imaginary stories, or stories of past threats so we can always be in defensive mode and keep looking towards Robot for help. The more we take its help, the more we become dependent and follow it blindly.

This is what our mind does to us

It creates stories and tells us lies many times. It won’t allow us to forget any unpleasant experience, even if it does not have any significance in present. It keeps on replaying such incidence from the past or keeps picking triggers from surroundings that can refresh such memories. Moreover, it is so powerful that it won’t even allow us to realize that we are not in control, rather the mind is controlling us.

Many times, we are just thinking or performing all actions mechanically; what the sub-conscious mind is directing us to do.

Imagine sometimes you wake up in the morning and start getting angry without any genuine reason. It happens to most of us at some point in time.

These traits of our mind make us overreact, defend ourselves sometimes un-necessarily, make us think negative scenarios too much, and have the urge to argue without any good reason. We become angry when there is no good reason to be angry. We become depressed for an event, which happened 10 years back, which does not have any relevance in present.

Many times if we stop, take a good deep breath, we realize that situation is not that bad, but we never stop and keep following the Robot blindly (the mind).

This powerful and beautiful machine (mind), which is here to serve us, is actually controlling us.

Power is good as long we are commanding it. Otherwise, it has the potential to make life miserable too. Hence, it is important to ensure that Robot follows our instructions and not vice versa. That we are not becoming a slave of Robot, but we are still commanding it for ours benefits.

Now the big question is how to control the mind. Is that possible?

How to Tame the Beast, Be the Master

It is difficult to tame the mind. It is intelligent, powerful, and has learned over time to become its own master.

As a small example, can we ask our mind to stop thinking even for few seconds? Try it. If not impossible, it is not easy either. The more you try to stop your mind from thinking, the more it runs in all directions. It enjoys doing things that you want to stop it from doing.

Mind acts like a child who wants to be free or like the Robot who wants to be autonomous, and does not like to be controlled.

If such a powerful machine has control over us, then we may be living the life of just a slave without any freedom to choose. Being a slave of unconscious thoughts could be the worst form of slavery, as the master is always around us, deciding our actions and path. Hence,

Taming the mind is the most important thing for the quality life.

There are various approaches explained in many great resources on the web, to regain control from your subconscious mind. Few examples of helpful practices are meditation, being in present, practicing to focus, listening to music, many mind exercises, connecting with nature, and many more. We shall not go into detail about all of these.

The motive of this article is primarily to understand the personality of our mind, the Robot. However, let us touch briefly on one of the easiest approaches to tame the mind.

Observe your mind, Make Robot Conscious

Just stand as an observer and observe what your mind is doing. Don’t interfere. Don’t judge anything. Just observe.

You may find yourself observing the activities in mind for few seconds, but most likely will get consumed in thoughts again losing control. Pull yourself back in control, and start observing again. You will experience mind thoughtless for few seconds. Gradually it would be for a longer duration also, and so the capability to observe.

As you practice it more, you would gradually experience watching your train of thoughts and emotions like an observer.

Being an observer is the key.

It helps us to analyze situations better, take better decisions and act rather than react by being in control.

As per my experience, it sounds simple but definitely, it is not. Like any other skill, this also needs a lot of practice to be mindful of. So in beginning, try to set some time aside to practice it. The best time could be in the early morning, as our mind is naturally in a peaceful state (comparatively).

Once you get some hold of this practice, expand it more throughout the day. Do it anytime you feel exhausted with thoughts.

One helpful tool is to attach an image with the state of being in a tsunami of thoughts and attach this image with the beginning of your practice to observe your thoughts.

Once you train your mind for this, your mind may trigger the memory of this image whenever you are feeling exhausted from thoughts or not in control. Which will then remind you about the practice of observing the thoughts.

The ultimate goal is to practice it so much that you do it all day long, for every action or event which triggers any thought in mind.

This simple capability of observing the mind gives immense power to regain control.

If you are finding it difficult, don’t worry. I still find it difficult even when I am practicing it for long. And I also have phases when I do it very well. Experiences for such practices are neither linear nor exponential. These are like waves of failure and success in smaller bursts. Don’t be discouraged with that. Keep practicing.

Use Breathing to Calm the Mind - Regain Control

During practice, if you are not able to stop the train of thought even for a moment, it could be very tiring and frustrating. This happens to me many times. This can happen even when you are doing very well for many months. One bad day can pull you completely off.

The following exercise could bring quick help to progress and regain control.

Take deep breaths. Have the habit of taking deep breaths, whenever you feel lost in thoughts or not in control.

Deep breaths calm our minds and help us to regain control.

There are various breathing exercises that help in this. One of the most effective exercises, which I experienced so far, is the alternative breathing technique (Anulom-Vilom in Yoga terminology). It is a technique to breathe deep from the alternative nostril.

Simple steps are:

  • Sit in a comfortable and quiet place, where you can focus your mind.
  • Sit straight, keeping backbone straight. It is ok to use a backrest or chair if you are not in practice to sit like that.
  • Close the eyes
  • Close the right nostril, take a deep breath using the left nostril.
  • Close the left nostril, release the breath using the right nostril. Take another deep breath using the right nostril.
  • Close the right nostril and repeat above with the left nostril.
  • Keep switching this for as many times as you can do.

*I experienced that this exercise can do anywhere in any setup, once you get some hold on this. Even, if the space is not quiet, you can still get benefits.

As experimentation, try it just 5–10 times. You may feel the difference immediately. You may experience a much calmer mind just after a quick exercise.

This exercise is easy and needs no setup or instrument. Hence you can do it anytime anywhere. There are more advanced levels of breathing exercises. However, this simple but effective practice can do all the magic if it is practiced regularly.

Refer here, and here for details and there are many more good videos on youtube.

There are many paths to reach mastery. There are many practices to help to regain control over the mind. Just pick one which works best for you, which aligns well with your personality. The goal is to become the master of yourself, not of practice.

Summary

The mind is powerful. Having such a powerful organ is wonderful. However, this is wonderful only if we master this power.

Mastery comes with observation. Hence more you observe your mind, the more you will have control over it. The more you observe this Robot, it will become increasingly difficult for Robot to tell you a lie. It will become conscious. You will be in command, and the sub-conscious mind will follow your commands.

This is when you will be able to realize and utilize the real power of your mind and hopefully can do much more amazing things with your life.

It will open a new paradigm in life, be it professional life, leadership, or your personal life and relationships. It will change the life journey.

Practice mindfulness, regain control from the sub-conscious mind. Tame the beast and utilize its amazing power.

The mind is everything. What you think, you become — Gautam Buddha

References

[1]: Mindfulness by Observing your Thoughts — Refer here

[2]: Mind’s Clock — Refer here

[3] Facts about Brain - Refer here

[4]: Alternative Breathing Technique (Anulom Vilom) — Refer here, and here

Please feel free to reach out for any feedback at Linkedin: Mohit Gupta

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Mohit Gupta

Mohit Gupta

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Enjoy building great Teams and Products, a learner. Sharing my experience in Software Engineering, Leadership, and Personal Development