We can train our minds, but we realize it’s a lifetime process. Here are some tools we have developed as executive coaches to help us stop the runaway brain.
Living in a safe environment in my physical world is hugely important. I so value being able to walk out the door every day and be reasonably certain that I won’t be assaulted by a band of thugs who’ll rip off my pants and steal my wallet.
That’s why when I see a cop and grudgingly think of the last traffic ticket I got, I remember that these police officers keep me safe—at one time our South Austin neighborhood was, in fact, a dangerous gangland warzone.
The 24/7 Brain War
But what about a safe mental environment? How is your brain treating you? How important is that? I think it’s amazing that many of us live in a warzone in our heads 24/7—our brains seem totally and constantly able to dredge up scenarios of disaster that work against rational thought.
It’s amazing that the same brain that helps me make great decisions and navigate life serves me unexpectedly up bizarre scenarios like these:
“My organization is in a cost-cutting mode and my team isn’t moving on our project very fast and they’re going to cut us all.”
“My leg has been throbbing and I recently heard about a person who started like this and they ended up cutting off his leg.”
“I don’t know why my 5th grade teacher didn’t like my essay. It still hurts my when I think about that.”
“Why I said what I said back in 1985. It was so insensitive. Why did I do that?”
And the list goes on and on. There are millions of scenarios that the 7.6 billion people on Planet Earth think up every day. There are some people who are oblivious to these types of thoughts, but the internal battle of the mind drives 25 million people in the US to take antidepressants and disables us on many levels
Managing the Mind—Personal Effectives Vs Internal Conflict
The thing we most need to understand is that although our minds are amazing in their ability to think, evaluate, and to create a plan forward, we have limited bandwidth. When we fill our minds with false and overblown scenarios, we’ll never be able to achieve what we are capable of achieving. Without the ability to manage our minds, our thoughts are like a runaway train, roaring down the track with nothing to stop it.
How to Stop a Runaway Brain
The human brain is an amazing universe inside of a 2 lb. organ. The different and often contradictory reactions we experience every day in our thought process reflect different agendas that different parts of our brain have.
There is the rational straightforward part of our brain and then there are the reactive parts of our brain that warn us of danger in extremely over reactive ways, shaming us for past and present mistakes so we don’t make them again. There are also all the automatic loops of our minds that play old tapes over and over again of things that happened long ago that are now outmoded data that have no application at all in our lives today.
Retraining our Runaway Minds
We can train our minds, but we realize it’s a lifetime process. It’s like a game of golf where we improve our swing and score, but there will never be a time when the golf ball that is our mind doesn’t go into the water or into the sand trap. In order to learn how to play the game, we have to play from the rough and get back on the fairway. You have to play the holes one by one.
Here are some tools we have developed as executive coaches to help us stop the runaway brain:
1. Intervene. Step into the bedroom of your mind to your inner child with the kind of rationality that a parent uses when his/her child is having a nightmare. Address the scenario of the upcoming event going south by asking yourself parent like questions, “Have you covered all the bases? Are you prepared? Do you have a plan B?”
2. Disrupt. Understand that the mind is an overreactive organism. If there is a danger on the horizon, the brain usually overestimates the danger. Talk yourself through what is the real danger, and turn worrying into a plan to forgive and forget the past and move on.
3. Distract. Move forward to doing the next important thing. What can I do right now to move into the future? What can I do that is so important in this moment that it will make the past recede and bring the future into focus?
The Buddhist concept of mindfulness can be key. Stay in touch with your mind and when you feel anxiety, stop yourself and ask why you’re feeling the way you feel and what you can do to focus on a positive mental focus.
Commit yourself to really liking yourself and embracing health and happiness. Most people don’t realize it, but negative thinking is a drug we get hooked on. You can become so used to negative thoughts that feeling happy, healthy, and content come to seem unnatural.
Carefully be the doorkeeper to people who are negative and lock them out. People around me just love to embrace their problems and woes and love to share them with each other. They are shocked when things are great. Chart your own course and embrace health, happiness, and a positive way forward. Love yourself and be your own best friend.