February 5, 2018

How well do you know your mind?

Minds are tricky. End of. But if you are going to get the best out of your mind, then you need to know a little bit more about that thing sitting between your ears. It’s the most powerful computer in the world, yet we really don’t understand how to manage it. Someone needs to hand out instruction manuals at birth.

​You​r cavewoman​ mind

Cast your mind back over 100,000 years. Imagine you are a cavewoman sitting outside your cave, enjoying a beautiful sunset, with a gentle smile on your face. Now imagine being torn to shreds by the bear hiding in the trees by your cave. Because that’s what happened to people who sat around chilling out. They got mauled by bears. Or lions. Or whatever roamed about looking for human snacks.

Our ancestors survived, and passed on their genes by being super-duper hypervigilant and looking out for danger everywhere. They were a nervy bunch. But it made sense, if you think about the very real threats to survival back then. Better to be safe than sorry and all that.

No matter that a lot of the time you didn’t really see a snake in the corner of your cave, just your handbag strap (they had bags right?), it still paid off to be very, very cautious and so your brain evolved into a highly alert ‘don’t get killed’ machine. That’s it’s job, and it’s why your ancestors survived and why you are here. So thanks for that, ancestors.

The other crucial concern for our great, great, great etc grandmothers was not to get shunned by the group. We simply wouldn’t have survived in those conditions on our own – who would kill something for us to eat if we were alone and poorly. A bit like getting someone to nip out to the supermarket for you when you’re hungover.

​Cavewomen minds and modern women’s lives

​​So, we’ve evolved to look out for fear all the time and to fit in with the group. So far so good, yes?

But. And it’s a big but. Our minds are still geared up in the same way as they were back then. Only there’s no sabre-tooth tigers or lions or snakes. There’s something worse. The modern world.

To our minds, the modern world feels very threatening. And we respond in similar ways which aren’t always that helpful. A cavewoman looks out for life-threatening danger, our modern minds do the same by asking ‘What if I fail? Is it worth the risk? Does anyone care about me?’

Our modern minds tell us not to risk something unless we can be sure of the outcome. A cavewoman thinks ‘I am not foraging there. It went horribly wrong last time. I lost a leg.’ Our modern minds say ‘Who do you think you are to do this? Once a failure always a failure!’ Add in a sprinkling of compare and despair on social media, and your mind will go into threat overdrive.

And what does society tell us to do with these thoughts? Talk yourself out of it! Think positively! Get a grip! All of which might work occasionally, but they won’t work all the time because your mind isn’t like that. It doesn’t stop churning out stuff because we just tell it to stop.

​Become a mind wrangler

So your mind isn’t trying to screw you and your life plan up, it’s trying to save you from pain, because that’s what it’s evolved to do, but it’s making a bit of a hash of it. You just need to wrangle your mind a little better.

Instead of fighting with your mind, change your relationship to it. Learn to notice what it’s telling you and then choose whether to buy into it’s message.

Try these 3 quick ​tips for managing your tricky mind:

  • Notice what it’s doing. When was the last time you noticed what your mind said without judgement
  • Name it. Name what your mind is doing and get some distance from it. ‘There my anxious mind goes, telling me I can’t do this.”
  • Let it be. Don’t get caught up in it. Notice and name it, then take a deep breath and get back to doing what matters. Arguing with the random contents of a tricky mind is not what will get you where you want to be.