A Quiet Mind
A few weeks back I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were interviewing a professional golfer. During the course of the interview they asked him, “What part of your game do you work on the most?” His response: “A quiet mind.”
I’ve been giving that answer a lot of thought.
Not long ago I caught myself having a “noisy mind.” A noisy mind doesn’t mean we’re mentally yelling or screaming. A noisy mind is an overactive one due to stress. Whether the source of our stress comes from work or home the fact remains its residual effects wipe away our energy, holding our minds hostage to the noise it creates. Oft times however, we negate or don’t recognize the fact we’re under chronic stress until we suddenly find ourselves in situations where our health begins to decline. All of a sudden we find ourselves waking multiple times per night; or perhaps we develop digestive issues; and of course there’s the overall lack of energy and vitality that can accompany a noisy mind as well.
The creation of noisy minds
How did we get to this point? How did we cultivate an environment that created a noisy, stress filled mind?
Every new problem or issue that causes any level of stress creates a figurative “noise” in our minds. Stressful events can come from something as small as getting your shirt dirty to losing one of your largest clients. While each event carries varying levels of stress, the body’s stress mechanism activates in each situation. During this time it’s as if the body feels it is in legitimate danger. The physiological changes that take place when we’re under stress are always the same– whether we’re being chased by a bear or annoyed by the traffic on the way to work.
From a neurological perspective stress puts specialized brain cells known as neurons on alert. These neurons remain active until the stressful event has been properly reconciled in our minds. In other words, unless we understand how to manage stress, neurons stay active even after the stressful event has passed, creating noisier minds with each day.
Unfortunately nobody teaches us how to manage stress. Instead we look for coping mechanisms to avoid our problems or try to hide/forget them. If we’re experiencing marital or familial problems we may overwork ourselves to “escape.” Some depend on alcohol to forget issues in the workplace, only to walk right back into them the following morning. In extreme cases, people turn to extramarital affairs or drugs. Whatever the case may be, we seek for ways to cover the mental noise without realizing that our coping mechanism may in fact be separating ourselves farther from the ultimate goal – the happiness and serenity that comes from a quiet mind.
Converting a noisy mind to a quiet one
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert in keeping my mind quiet. I’m human and like all of us I’m learning as I live. Below, however, are some thoughts I’ve found to be true in converting noisy minds to quiet ones.
The root word for integrity is integer, which means to be whole or complete. In math class we all learned that an integer refers to a whole number. A fraction however, is not an integer because it is not whole. Similarly, we can’t expect to have a quiet mind if we fraction off our behavior and then seek to justify our actions through telling ourselves stories/lies. That’s a very tiring way to live, and as you can imagine creates stress and noise. Guilt, even hidden guilt we’ve sought to cover up, always stresses out the mind.
In the workplace I believe personal integrity means taking care of your responsibilities, and being okay with accountability. By no means does that mean that you’ll be perfect (nobody is), but it does mean you can give a perfect effort in all you do. That includes steering clear of office gossip or avoiding speaking negatively about others – even if you feel the criticism is justified. Nothing we encounter in the workplace or home is so bad that complaining about it won’t make it worse.
This goes hand in hand with the previous tip on personal integrity. The fact remains that as humans we’re prone to make mistakes. Sometimes we cave in to pressures or fears and make dishonest decisions. Sometimes we make bad decisions due to a lack of experience. Whatever the case may be, my advice is to recognize that one of our best traits as humans is the ability to learn, grow and change. Part of that process of changing is to let go of prior mistakes – whether those mistakes have been made by us or other people. Don’t beat yourself (or others) up for poor decision making in the past. This will only create more noise that will continue to fester in your mind.
The same also is true for others and their choices. Whether that be a colleague who threw you under the bus, or your board of directors with whom you disagree with from a business perspective. You must allow others the same opportunity that you want afforded to yourself. Specifically – the opportunity to learn, grow and change.
We can’t control everything
I know this is a difficult concept to accept. We often tell it to others when troubling times arise, but have a hard time digesting it when it applies to us. No matter how much we want a desired outcome, there’s always only so much we can do. Embrace that there are things out of your control and detach yourself from outcomes. That doesn’t mean you don’t care or won’t work hard to achieve your goals, but it does provide perspective and reality to situations. Additionally, when you detach yourself, you’re able to avoid the tunnel vision that accompanies us when we’re hyper fixated on a particular outcome.
Along those same lines, learn to trust and delegate work when needed. You’d be surprised how reliable people can be when they feel trusted. If we micro manage or have perfectionist tendencies I know this can be difficult, but I also know we can learn, change and grow. We can learn to balance out structure and organizations with empathy
The ability to attain and retain a quiet mind is to cultivate a greater level of compassion and empathy. The ability to project both compassion and empathy is genetic and integrated in the brain’s structure due to areas of the brain such as the hippocampus – which is filled with archives and files that make up the biography of our lives. This includes positive emotions and experiences, as well as our own mistakes. Every portion of our lives is registered within the hippocampus.
That said – the ability to remember is crucial in avoiding criticism, condemnation or complaining about others. These bad habits are the result of high levels of cortisol in our brain that occur as a result of constant stress. It is the reason why we completely forgot about our own mistakes, yet mentally crucify another for their errors or weaknesses.
My hope is that each of us can cultivate a quiet mind, through tapping into our individual experiences. Only then can we build the compassion and empathy required to be at peace with ourselves and others.