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TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR MIND
Core Skills to Enhance Your Performance, Well-Being, and Integrity at Work
By Paul Hannam, John Selby
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Paul Hannam and John Selby
All rights reserved.
Dilemma at Work – Larry
Thoughts Determine Everything
Choose Your State of Mind
Wake Up Strategy
Wake Up Process – Four Steps
The First Method: Waking Up at Work - Complete Wake Up
DILEMMA AT WORK
Larry is vice president of business development for a successful manufacturing company in New England. At first glance, he's perfectly qualified for his job. He is smart and has an MBA from a leading business school. But he faces a major challenge: He is regularly sabotaging his own performance through his inability to control his mind and stay focused. All too often, when he needs to focus tightly on what he's doing in the present moment, his attention shifts to remembering something that happened the night before, or ahead to imagining something in the future. He's plagued with the universal habit of attention loss – and his career is suffering as a result as he drifts from one uncompleted project to another.
The solution to Larry's problem at work is for him to learn how to take charge of his own mind – and regularly shift his attention back to the present moment where all the interaction at work actually takes place. He needs to master the Wake Up method for regaining the present moment, so that every time he begins to lose focus on the task at hand, he can instantly shift his attention to be fully alert and engaged in his work.
At the core of Larry's consciousness, and everybody else's, there's a primary act that we are doing all the time, that determines absolutely everything else that happens in our life. Where we focus our attention is where our creative energy and our power to take action naturally flow.
Therefore absolutely everything in our life depends on where we choose to focus our almighty power of attention, moment to moment. This choice is your real power.
Most people most of the time aren't assuming conscious responsibility for where they are aiming their mind's attention. Instead, they're letting ingrained habits or outside influences determine where they consume their precious resource. Taking charge of your mind means waking up to the present moment, becoming aware of where you're directing your power of attention, and then making new choices regarding where to direct that inner power.
You possess an amazing power – and where you focus that power ultimately determines what you achieve. To see this clearly and act on it is probably the greatest step forward you can take in your life.
Right now, notice what you are choosing to focus on – for instance, what sensory inputs are you tuned into? You are, of course, aware of the words you're reading right now on this page, and perhaps the weight of this book. Perhaps you're also aware of sounds around you, and vaguely the space of the room you're in. And you're somewhat aware of your own body ...
You're also probably aware that there's an underlying thought in your mind that is maintaining your focus on this book by saying to you, "Let's continue reading this book because it's interesting and might prove useful." If another thought came through your mind related to an interest in another direction, your focus of attention would probably follow that thought, and you'd shift your focus elsewhere, right?
THOUGHTS DETERMINE EVERYTHING
Research in cognitive psychology has shown that our thoughts determine the quality of our emotions, moods, actions, and life-experience. So nothing is more urgent or more important than learning how to take charge of our thinking. If you observe your own mind, you'll find that it's true. Except in the case of totally reflexive actions, before you do anything, there will appear a thought in your mind that provokes that action.
These thoughts are mostly subliminal, an ingrained habit – but if you watch yourself moment to moment, you'll find that the scientists are right: Your thoughts ultimately do direct your action. They are also what stimulates most of your emotions.
Even though it's now proven that our behavior is a result of our thoughts and ingrained habits, most of the time most people have no control over the thoughts that run through their minds and provoke their moods and activities. That's why most people feel like victims of their mood swings and negative mind states.
It is almost impossible to stop thoughts from arising – the key is to take charge of them. What we're exploring here is your power to shift away from all your negative thought-flows and consciously begin to hold thoughts in your mind that refocus your attention in productive and enjoyable ways. Taking charge of your own thoughts is so important – and yet it's quite easy to do once you see the psychological logic and take the time to learn our set of cognitive-shifting tools (Focus Phrases) that help redirect your power of attention where you want it to go.
CHOOSE YOUR STATE OF MIND
As you know from your own inner experience, you are always in one mind state or another. You are busily focusing on certain thoughts, memories, imaginations, or external events – and your emotions and physical condition are being affected by whatever you're focusing on.
You, of course, have a wide variety of possible states of mind, each one involving a particular combination of thoughts, perceptions, memories, and imaginings. For example, your angry mind states are probably generated when you fixate on a present conflict or dwell on an unresolved past conflict. Your hostile thoughts and memories, in turn, make your body respond with aggressive tensions as your heartbeat increases and your breathing tightens – you know this pattern?
If you want to shift out of this angry mood, what can you do? Well – if your anger is being stimulated by a present-moment threat, obviously you need to deal with that threat. But otherwise, you must take charge of your thoughts, shift away from the memories and associations that are provoking the angry emotion, and turn your attention in more productive, positive directions. Otherwise, especially at work, staying stuck in such a negative mood is going to damage your success as well as your health.
The following is a short list of mind states that we all experience in our workdays. The fine art of cognitive shifting involves learning how to shift your mind's attention rapidly from the negative states toward more positive ones you want to highlight at work:
Being able to shift from negative to positive mind states might, at first, seem very difficult – and until recently, this was true. But recent breakthroughs in our understanding of the cognitive-shifting process have generated shortcuts in the shifting process, so that you can readily master new mental tools that enable you to take charge of your mind without any training in psychology.
You don't need to grasp the internal operations of your car's engine in order to jump in and roar down the road, and you don't have to grasp fully the scientific explanations of how your mind works in order to shift into more fulfilling states of mind.
WAKE UP STRATEGY
Whatever your particular type of work, you've been hired with the clear understanding that you will stay focused on the present moment, so that you maintain a consistently high level of alertness and concentration on the job. Successful organizations need their employees to remain focused on the work at hand, rather than drifting off and away.
Communication, by its very nature, happens right here and now. The people who best hold their full attention in the here and now tend to be the best listeners and the best communicators on the team. And when you're alone, the more often you return your attention to the present moment and wake up to your senses, the better you'll do at work. Not only will you be a better communicator – you'll also be more efficient at gathering new relevant information because, by its very nature, new information always emerges into view in the present moment.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, at work, you often need to shift your mind's attention away from the present moment, into cognitive thinking and problem-solving. To be temporarily lost in thought is essential for reflecting on past experience and planning for future action. But you can't be entirely lost in thought and at the same time be aware of what's happening in the present moment. It's a choice you're always making – to be lost in thought, or open to new information and experience.
That's why, in mind management, the term "cognitive shifting" is so important – because over and over during a hectic workday, you need to shift quickly and smoothly from intense problem-solving and reflective thought, back into present-moment engagement with other people and your work environment. How exactly is this mental shifting accomplished?
THE WAKE UP PROCESS
Imagine that you're at work, and realize that you've let yourself become caught up in a less-than-optimum mood and mind state. Your mental clarity is low, you feel distracted – you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you're worrying about one thing after another even while trying to get your job done. Maybe your boss hollered at you for no reason at all – and regardless of the cause, you're off-center.
Having realized the relatively low place you're in, you now need to do something specific that will shift your inner experience away from the thoughts, memories, and imaginings that are provoking your low state of mind, and take charge of your situation by reestablishing a cool, calm composure in the present moment. You need, in a word, to regain your senses.
WAKE UP Step One: We've found that the most powerful action you can take to instantly shift your focus of attention into the present moment is to say to yourself, " I feel the air flowing in and out of my nose," and allow these words to turn your attention to exactly what you've pointed toward – the actual sensation happening as you breathe ... the feel of the air flowing in and the air flowing out of your nose.
The immediate physical sensation of the air flowing in and out of your nose, like a jolt from another dimension, instantly shifts your awareness away from past-future fixations and emotions, toward the powerful wake up impact of your own vital presence here and now.
Especially on your inhalations, you'll feel the sensation of the air flowing through your nose, and this core perception will override your thoughts about the past and the future as you choose to shift into your experience in the present moment.
The beauty of our method is that you can change your awareness of your breath easily and instantly and, when you do, this triggers positive changes in your thinking and then in your mood. Breathing is the key that unlocks the door to improved states of consciousness and performance.
We'll spend considerable time throughout this training program making sure you master this quite remarkable focus of attention. The only tool you need to memorize to shift your focus of attention to this first Wake Up step is to say to yourself, "I feel the air flowing in and out of my nose," and let the words activate this experience.
WAKE UP Step Two: The second step expands your awareness in the present moment into full three-dimensional alertness by including not only your nose and head, but also your chest and belly in your awareness of your breathing experience.
Just say, "I'm also aware of the movements in my chest and belly," and your awareness will expand to include the volume and movement of your body as you breathe.
As we'll explore in depth later, this seemingly simple act of expanding your awareness to include the immediate sensory experience of your nose, your head, and also your chest and belly has the psychological power to quiet all thoughts instantly – providing instant relief from the two-dimensional world of distracting thoughts as you pop back into the three-dimensional world of sensory experience. In other words you stop being "in your head," lost in conceptual thought, and move out to being in your body as a whole – fully aware and responsive in the present moment.
This shift in mental focus dissolves worried and angry thoughts because, as cognitive science has demonstrated, we can't focus on thoughts about the past and the future and at the same time experience two or more sensations in the body in the present moment.
Learning this cognitive shift will only require a few weeks of practice, and you will quickly notice how much better you feel!
There are strong lifelong habits to overcome here, and the only way to establish new habits is to discipline yourself and move through the process enough times so that the power of the procedure begins to have effect.
For the first ten to 20 times of walking yourself through the process, you're still in beginner's/learning mode, and you'll need to be a little patient – until suddenly you reach that promised point where it happens, you pop fully into the present moment and come alive in the here and now.
WAKE UP Step Three: The first two steps of the Wake Up process shift your attention to the present-moment happening of your own breathing. You can move quite quickly through these first two steps, in just two to four breaths. If your organization has offered generic meditation training for reducing stress and improving energy and well-being, you might have learned a similar breath meditation.
But what we've found in our Wake Up research is that most people, when told to focus just on their breathing, quickly slip back into thinking – and end up feeling rather frustrated. The solution is to expand your awareness fairly quickly to include another vital dimension of your ongoing present moment – the emotional feelings in your heart.
While continuing to stay aware of your breathing experience, say to yourself the clear statement of intent that will wake you up to the world of emotions and compassion: "I'm also aware of the feelings in my heart."
The feelings you are holding in your heart at any given moment represent the core emotional mood dominating your personal presence at work. If you want to shift from being neutral or moody, detached, and bored at work to radiating empathy and good feelings, this third step of consciously focusing your mind's attention toward the feelings in your heart will prove not only powerful, but absolutely essential to do – and do often.
Most people find that when they first tune in to the feelings in their hearts, there's not much feeling there at all. It's important to note that often at work, you're mostly numb in your heart feeling hardly anything at all. And the feelings you do sometimes encounter in your heart at work tend to be those of anger, frustration, apprehension, and so forth, not good feelings.
This is clearly counterproductive because your emotions impact those around you. If you are not acting from your heart, you run the risk of appearing cold, distant, and unfeeling. Your success at work depends on generating the opposite feelings. It depends on acting from your heart to radiate warmth, openness, and sincerity.
So it's definitely wise to deal with whatever numb or negative feelings you find when you say, "I'm aware of the feelings in my heart." Cognitive studies have documented that just through the act of regularly pausing and turning your mind's attention to your heart, you stimulate a sense of relaxation, expansion, warmth, and the inflow of good feelings into your heart.
NOTE: When your heart feels temporarily overwhelmed with angry, cold, or fearful emotions, you can actively encourage the inflow of positive feelings into your heart by recalling the love you feel for someone in your life – perhaps a spouse or other family member, a lover or close friend – or a favorite song, landscape, and so on. As you feel warmth, acceptance, and love in your heart for that person, place, or whatever, you'll find that your breathing deepens and you come more alive and human in the present moment.
WAKE UP Step Four: In less than one minute, once you master this primary cognitive-shifting process, you'll be able to accomplish a great deal – you'll wake up to your physical presence, quiet distracting thoughts and worries, relax and deepen your breathing - and become grounded in good feelings in your heart. At this point, you're just one step away from totally regaining your sense of well-being and empowerment in the present moment.
You now need to say to yourself the fourth and final step in the Wake Up process, which takes you into total full-body awareness and empowerment: "I'm aware of my whole body at once, here in this present moment."
This shift into whole-body awareness is something you naturally experience many times a day. When you pause and enjoy a moment of peace and beauty on the way to work or a moment in a delicious meal, when you go jogging, play golf, or watch a beautiful sunset these are moments when you are totally focused in the here and now. Many movements and perceptions naturally snap your awareness into "the zone" so that you experience the whole at once.
Excerpted from TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR MIND by Paul Hannam, John Selby. Copyright © 2006 Paul Hannam and John Selby. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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