This week sees children returning to school to start a new academic year. Their teachers will be planning and setting them goals for the coming year in order to cover the requirements of the curriculum.
Why not make September a natural marker for yourself? Pause for a moment and ask yourself what it is that you wish to achieve in the coming months? It can be very helpful to break down your goals, both personal and professional, into more achievable bite-size pieces, similar to the way a teacher breaks down the academic year into monthly, weekly and daily goals. If our goals seem to be overwhelming we will often put them off. Look at whatever it is that you want to achieve and plan out your own “curriculum” with targets and realistic timelines.
Why think in a positive way? Simply put, thinking negatively makes you behave in a stupid way.
Cast your mind back to a time when your negative emotions were high and you had to focus on work, give a presentation or even have a simple conversation. It probably wasn’t easy to focus and to deliver the best results. The reason for this is that when the mind is flooded with stressful emotions the rest of its thinking capacity is shut down. The body goes into attack mode as the cortisol rushes through you and as a result, you can’t think clearly, you can’t focus and you won’t make good decisions. Many of us have experienced the pressure of trying to focus under these circumstances where our minds work ten times as hard to deliver a simple sentence and when we have no idea of what the other person or people have just said. These kind of experiences slowly erode our confidence and our ability to deliver well. Your subconscious records the event and will send out early warning signals when it feels any similar emotions arising. The mind and body shut down to protect you; they have gone into survival mode and they are saving your resources so that you can either fight or run. Think of how impractical either of these reactions are in a meeting or when you are about to give a speech or having a difficult conversation with your boss or even a family member.
The converse is the case when we have a positive and open mindset; we can think very clearly and easily. Creativity flows and our capacity to make connections quicker is much greater. The result is that we make better decisions.
This week, notice what triggers you to think in a negative way. The process of being aware of these triggers is the first step to cutting out the negative effects on your ability to think clearly.
We humans are unique in our ability to imagine. When we close our eyes and imagine something our body will respond as if the event is really happening. Numerous experiments have shown that people can increase their physical skills by imagining themselves practising the skill. For example, in one experiment, two groups of people were taught a series of notes on the piano. Neither group had ever played before. One group practised playing the notes for five days, two hours per day. The second group simply imagined playing the notes for the same amount of time. At the end of the experiment, the “imagining” group had improved almost as much as the “practising” group. In fact, they had completely caught up after two hours of hands-on practice. Further, their brains showed objective changes in the neurons that control the skills.
This can be used to our advantage – we can start to create our lives in the way that we wish them to be by using the power of imagination. There are no limits to the power of imagination.
In a plug there are both positive and negative fuses. Humans are wired in much the same way. According to the positive psychology movement, a strain of psychology founded by American psychologist Martin Seligman in 1998, the basic premise of positive psychology is about reaching beyond a normal state where we feel adequate or just ok, to reach a state of “flow”. In this state of “flow” we can achieve remarkable feats and create beautiful art. We can be fully present in the moment and reach our full potential.
This week, consider how you can tap into this state of “flow” – what it is that you do that fully absorbs your attention in an active way and when you are unaware of time passing. It could be playing a sport such as tennis or golf, or it could be painting a picture or dancing to your favourite music. This week, identify the activities that allow you to reach this state of “flow” and start to incorporate them more fully into your daily life.
It is easy to forget the importance of maintaining mental well-being and how it needs consistent TLC. Think of mental health in a similar way to physical health and you begin to get the idea; we don’t generally go to the gym, go running, do bikram yoga, get really fit and then sit back on our sofas eating fast food and expect to maintain a fit and healthy body. Once we have reached our optimum level of fitness we need to maintain it. It is useful to think of your mind as a muscle; once it has reached a level of health and fitness it needs consistent maintenance. Your mind is like the motor of a Ferrari – full of incredible power when it is looked after properly, but left uncared for, it becomes rusty and eventually stops working.
This week, pause for a moment and consider what you do to maintain your mental well-being. A five minute meditation, a walk in the park, a good chat with a friend are all simple yet very effective ways of looking after your mental well-being and creating a positive and optimistic mindset.