The mind is an amazing and complex thing. It can solve incredible problems, make connections faster than computers, sense danger from the merest environmental clue, all the while regulating our bodies—the pumping of your heart, blood pressure and artery constriction, circulation, oxygen intake, food absorption and body temperature.
When it comes to emotions and thought, our minds can get away from us. When we’re stressed, anxious or otherwise overwhelmed, we can get stuck in a rut of negative thinking. Our daily thoughts and actions can begin to run on automatic pilot in ways similar to how our brain automatically monitors our bodies.
Taking control of your own attention is a skill that can be learned and practiced. The tradition of Mindfulness is based on the skill of harnessing your attention and thoughts. Whether you want to consider yourself “mindful” or simply want to gain control over your own thinking, there are some simple steps you can take that will increase your ability to control your attention.
- Practice bringing your thoughts and attention to your body and physical actions. If you are walking, be conscious that you are walking. If you are sitting, be conscious that you are sitting. Be aware of the positions of your body.
- Stop throughout the day and become conscious of your breathing. Breathing is a natural tool that can prevent scattered thinking and connect your mind to your body.
- Observe and recognize the feelings and thoughts that arise in you. You don’t need to sit and meditate in order to do this. In fact, it’s helpful to notice your feelings and thoughts during your day-to-day life. During the day, when a feeling or thought arises, notice it. Don’t try to get rid of it and don’t engage with it. Acknowledge and recognize it and notice it as it passes in and out of your mind.
A Zen master once wrote “If the practitioner knows his own mind clearly he will obtain results with little effort. But if he does not know anything about his own mind, all of his effort will be wasted.” It is not necessary to be a monk to practice Zen or any other religion or to meditate to begin to connect to the power of your own mind. Simply increasing your awareness of your own mind and body throughout your daily life will begin to improve your control over your thinking.