How to Take Back Control of Your Own Mind
Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains the importance of taking greater control of your mind to help silence your inner critic
In addition, I am confident that the vast majority of people live each day with approximately 50,000 thoughts churning in their brain, with most a repeat of yesterday, and over 80 percent of them negative. That translates into 40,000 negative thoughts a day that need managing and filtering.
I would also confidently suggest that the vast majority of people live with an inner critic in their head, and whenever they feel lacking in confidence, make a mistake or remember a time where they felt shame or embarrassment, that inner critic voices doubts about their abilities, or is constantly telling them they are useless or will fail.
These three scenarios may differ slightly for some people, but the point is still the same. And that point is: does life just happen to you? Do you live your life on automatic pilot for the most part or do you consciously choose your thoughts and your mindset?
What I find scary in my research is that 96 percent of people I ask admit to making most decisions on autopilot. I often hear comments along the lines of ‘it feels like someone else is driving my brain’.
Many of us know about our wandering mind and yet do little to curtail it. What we fail to grasp is that our brains are making decisions for us and our reactions and initial responses have already been formed before we have chance to have a considered thought.
When we dare to take control of our brain our inner critic is quick to tell us why we should be afraid, why we shouldn’t take a risk, why we will fail, how we will be embarrassed, why we are not good enough, or that it’s too hard, too much work, should leave it till later and so on.
That inner critic is a master storyteller who influences our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Our critic may deter us from pursuing goals by telling us you are not good enough, or who do you think you are to achieve that goal?
You may also avoid taking action for fear of failing and facing your critic’s harsh disapproval. But a day thinking about what could happen, should happen, or what might have happened is a day wasted. If you don’t consciously create your desired outcome for a prosperous, successful, and happy life, then you are not living up to your true potential.
So, are any of these true about you?
• Do you dread the day ahead?
• Is your daily routine predictable?
• Do you do things without thinking?
• Is putting your phone down a challenge?
• Do you feel time flies?
• Do you believe you are missing out?
• Do you have a difficult time remembering?
• Have you a problem letting go?
• Do you feel you’re not making meaningful progress?
• Do you say ‘yes’ more than you say ‘no’?
• Do you know there’s a better life to be lived?
If some, or all of these are true for you. then you might be living your life on autopilot and that’s okay if that’s where you want to be.
Yet when I ask those who say life is knocking them down and giving them a tough time, I find they are usually the first to beat themselves up or have switched on their autopilot existence.
If you want to take back control and be on your own side, think about the following:
1. ‘Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.’ Anon
2. Remember you alone have total power over your mind, not outside events or people. Realise this and you will find strength and resilience.
3. Increase awareness of your behaviour. Are you living on autopilot because you want to, or because it just happens? How does it affect your decisions? Write a journal or take notes to increase awareness and challenge your behaviour. Be patient. It takes time to recover control of your life.
4. Set your GPS. Choose something worth dying for and live for it. Your life’s purpose should guide and inspire your actions.
5. Bring meaning to your routines. Don’t let your routines dictate how you live; bring more mindfulness to everyday chores.
6. Stop and reflect. When you press the brakes, the autopilot turns off. A pause is more than slowing down, it’s creating space to start paying attention. As Viktor Frankl said: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ We are prisoners of our busy minds; pausing sets yourself free.
7. Go beyond your comfort zone. When we live on autopilot, we stop challenging ourselves and we end up bored and repeating ourselves. Discomfort is a doorway to personal discovery and growth. Learning happens when you stretch beyond your comfort zone. Test your limits. Try new things. Develop the practice of bringing new experiences to your life – you don’t need to skydive to feel alive.
Remember you are not your mind. You are the person who can control what the mind thinks. One thought, one decision, one action at a time, allows you to take responsibility for your thoughts and then take responsibility for the life you want to create.