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A prescription for a busy mind

In my upcoming book ‘Do Happy – How to take full ownership of your mental health’, I write about 3 levels of meditation. 

Level 1 – Meditation for focus and stress relief.
Level 2 – Meditation for awareness.
Level 3 – Meditation for wisdom. 
The following is an excerpt about Level 1 – Meditation for focus and stress relief. 
Kung-Fu Panda is the story of Po, a large, lazy and clumsy panda who dreams of being a great martial artist. Po starts his training with Master Shifu and the Furious Five. He quickly appears to be untrainable. Po meets with Master Oogway. He tells the master how much he sucks and how the others don’t think that he belongs. All Po wants to do is quit.

Master Oogway, like any wise guru, calmly tells him that he is too concerned about the past and the future. He then delivers one of my favourite quotes that any cartoon turtle has ever said, 

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present.” 

Check it out here

Master Oogway’s sentiments are evidence based. They are also plagiarised. It turns out that cartoon turtles are actually not that wise. This quote belongs to the former first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt.  

It is still evidence based. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert developed an app that contacted 2250 volunteers at random intervals during the day to ask them,

  1. How they are feeling.
  2. What they were doing.
  3. Whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else. 

They gathered 250,000 data points and found that “47% of waking hours is spent thinking about what isn’t going on”. Our ability to think is what separates us from the animal kingdom. It also comes at a cost. 

“The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”- Killingsworth and Gilbert

Humans have the unique ability to contemplate the events of the past and consider what may or may not happen in the future. The research suggests that ‘how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of happiness than the activities in which we are engaged’. 

A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. 

Often we blame our busy lives for our unhappiness. A busy life is obvious. A busy mind is insidious. If you are unhappy, perhaps it’s not what you are doing but rather the wandering nature of your mind and where it wanders that needs to be addressed. This aligns with philosophical and religious traditions that have been around for thousands of years emphasising the importance of being in the present moment. 

How do you train a wandering mind?

Meditation. It can help train your mind to focus on one thing. It’s a lot like going to the gym. When you go to the gym, you lift weights and build your muscles. Meditation is like the gym for the mind. You go to the ‘gym’ to develop the muscle of noticing when your mind wanders and then gently bringing it back to whatever you decide to focus on (e.g. the breath). 

Let’s say that you regularly go to the gym and lift weights. Your friend calls you one day and asks you to help him move houses. You can help them because you have the strength to do so. In life we all experience difficult times. These are like mental weights. If you have been to the gym (i.e. meditation), you will be better prepared to ‘lift’ this mental load. 

If you found this article useful, SHARE it with someone you care about. 

Something I have been pondering 

Reactions are driven by feelings.
Responses are driven by thoughts.
Discipline is driven by the decisions that we made yesterday.
Wisdom is driven by the contents of any empty mind.

The last line could be the topic of a future book but for now, it is well above my pay grade!

Much love to you and of course myself,

Dr G

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