In today’s instant, on-demand society, we want and indeed expect everything immediately.
Look around and you will see people who are often distracted and very often deluded. You may even be one of them.
On the surface, this instant access to information is viewed as a convenience and a necessary cost of operating in today’s world. On a deeper level, it serves as a distraction from our core values and in a sense weakens us by putting up barriers blocking us from the truest, strongest version of ourselves.
Building a stronger mind is the key to mental toughness and resilience which is the cornerstone of all great martial artists and athletes.
The practices that encompass the building of a strong mind are an integral part of most traditional martial arts. However, in today’s society, this aspect of one’s training has been relegated to the background if even considered at all.
Here then are a few tips, tactics and insights to help you build a stronger mind:
Why Build A Stronger Mind?
Developing one’s mind has many benefits. Some may not be immediately apparent, but they will develop over time.
Here are some that address issues that most martial artists and athletes face:
- Toughness, resilience, and endurance
- Better stress management
- Great Sleep
- Greater discipline
- Faster healing
- Strengthen immunity
- Better breathing
- Pain relief
Digital Detox – A lot of time gets wasted on social media. There’s a sense that you need to check your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You’ll get that instant gratification in the form of dopamine which your brain craves. As it stands, however, this fix is only temporary and we can find ourselves wasting hours mindlessly surfing.
There are two very specific reasons for this in my view: 1) we are avoiding the stuff we know we should be doing out of fear of failure or 2) we seek the approval of others. Perhaps these underlying issues need to be resolved before eliminating our electronic addictions, but here are some techniques you can use.
Kill The Distractions – If you are tied to a desk for most of the day, or even if you aren’t, you owe it to yourself to get rid of a lot of the time wasters you likely have on your phone, computer or any devices. This will free up your mind to focus instead of being pulled in a thousand different directions. The following few items will also help harden your mind by strengthening your resolve and your discipline.
Install Social Media Blockers – Maybe for the work you do, you have to spend some time on social media. If you use Google Chrome, install Kill News Feed to deal with Facebook. You can also install StayFocusd to restrict your activity on distracting websites.
Deactivate all unnecessary notifications – take some time to really scrutinize and customize all your notifications. Do you need them all? I doubt it.
Unsubscribe to the junk mailing lists you’re on – Enough said.
Establish a basic schedule – aim for scheduling around 40% of your time. Why 40%. That’s the number that was prescribed in The Freaks Shall Inherit The Earth by Chris Brogan. It’s been working for me. Set a specific date and time when you do this. Maybe 2 hours early Saturday morning. Once you have a schedule for the next week, stick to it.
Scheduled Shutdown – Studies have been done that show how that the blue glow from our devices reduces our melatonin (the chemical that regulates our sleep) by as much as 50%. This article describes the problem in more depth. setting an alarm to remind you to turn off your devices at a set time each day.
Set an alarm to remind you to turn off your devices at a set time each day.
Keep electronics at least 10 feet away from your bed.
Go Off The Grid – Well, sort of. Take some time to examine how often you really need to use the computer. Technology is a great way of accomplishing many complex tasks more efficiently or conveniently. But, no technology comes close to human creativity and ingenuity.
Go Analog – Joy McCarthy of Joyous Health suggests “Switch to good old-fashioned pen and paper for tasks like copyediting (I find that I catch more typos when I’m working on paper anyway) and taking notes”.
Use A Pen & Paper – Nobody writes letters anymore.
Read Books and Magazines – Be selective about what you take into your mind; aim for stuff in your field or group of interests.
No News Is Good News – We’ve been sold this bill of goods that says that people who watch or read the news are more informed. That isn’t the case. Especially in today’s world, a lot of the trusted systems we rely on are now controlled by multi-national corporations. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Train Your Breathing – I was working with a boxer just the other day who was having a tough time keeping up. I noted that breathing is the first thing we learn as babies, yet when we workout specifically, it’s the first thing we forget. Breathing will help keep you calm and relaxed. If your calm, your heart rate slows down, allow you to have a clear head and make better decisions. Breathing is a basic, involuntary function. If we’re not breathing effectively, red lights start to go off in our nervous system, causing us stress and panic at the extreme.
Practice Breathing – you can do this for a few minutes each day while you meditate. When you workout (notice how I didn’t say ‘if’?), practice your breathing. Take every opportunity. You can do this on the bus, in an elevator, maybe even during a job interview.
Learn New Things – I recently read Soft-Wired by Dr. Michael Merzenich. He’s one of the pioneers of the field of neuroplasticity. He recommends several tactics for maintaining an active mind well into your old age. One of these is to learn a new skill. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn, go ahead and take some lessons or read some books. They key is to constantly challenge yourself. He suggests training a new skill every 4-6 weeks. A musical instrument or martial arts are good choices, but really anything will do as long as you keep consciously upgrading your skillset. Do not rest on your laurels.
Mindful Meditation – Aim for 10 to 15 minutes every morning. More is always good. The benefits of mindful meditation are extensive well-documented, so I won’t do into too much detail. Click here to learn all about mindful meditation from the brains at UCLA.
Get Your Exercise – Exercise has numerous benefits for your mind, not just your body. It reduces stress and anxiety. It will increase your energy level, sharpen your mind and memory. It can even repair depression, ADHD, PTSD and trauma.
Eat For Your Brain – It’s really quite simple. Eat natural, whole foods. Avoid processed food like the plague and be skeptical of packaged/prepared foods. If you can get your food from a farmer’s market or from the actual farm, that’s great. If you can grow it yourself, you’re a champ. Bottom line is, be wary of foods you can buy at the grocery store. As per The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls (meant to treat those with mild-severe chronic illnesses), the longer the time from harvest time to the time of consumption, the worse off you are.
Read The Label – The word ‘natural’ is defined very vaguely by the government (in both the US and Canada).
Substitute Good Fats For Best Ones – use MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) like coconut, olive oil and avocado. Skip the canola/vegetable oil. Click here to read a recent post all about healthy fats.
Eat Fish – Salmon is the best thing for your brain. Fresh salmon with the skin is preferred. Fish Oil supplements are a good option.
There are lots of ways for you to strengthen your mind. This is just a quick run-down of the basics. Thanks for reading!
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