This time of year, we often contemplate New Year's resolutions. What's at the top of the list for many people? Exercising and getting your body in shape. A noble thought, to be sure, but I have an even better idea. How about exercising your mind so you can get the most out of it?
Resolve to try something new to keep your brain challenged. Just as doing the same physical exercises over and over again works only a specific part of the body, doing the same mental work repeatedly tends to narrow your focus and limit your potential.
Clearing the clutter and cobwebs out of your mind is not complicated, but it does require some practice for those who are constantly on overdrive. And you all know who you are!
One of my favorite books, "Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice" by Napoleon Hill and Dennis Kimbro, offers wonderfully well-defined advice about caring for your mind:
"Assume for a moment that you have in your possession a million dollars in gold. Would you protect it? Would you safeguard this treasure? Would you respect its value? Of course you would. You might even hire bodyguards or install security devices to ensure its safety.
"In comparison, your mind and self-image are worth far more than one million dollars. They're priceless! Your mind is the exclusive source of all you will create spiritually, financially or materially in your life. Your level of joy, happiness and peace of mind originates from one place -- your mind. Now ask yourself, do you protect your mind as carefully as you protect your physical assets?"
Beyond the oft-repeated advice to read a novel, take a walk, learn a new language and so on, there are plenty of other options that address long-term mind exercises.
A growing trend among business professionals is meditation. Meditation clears and relaxes your mind, which can have a significant impact on your physical health. And meditation doesn't require any special equipment or clothing, just an open mind and a quiet environment free of distractions.
Get comfortable and clear your mind. Be conscious of only your breathing. Don't direct your thoughts in any particular direction; let them drift freely. How long you meditate is up to you.
This is a simplified description, and there are many different meditation practices. Check online for coaching in a technique that will help you.
Back at work, learning and remembering new information can grow more difficult with every passing year. Here are some tips to help you stay on top of the knowledge game:
-- Focus on concentrating. Distractions are the bane of any learning attempt. If you're attending a seminar or training session, sit near the instructor and maintain eye contact. Let your focused attention do the job.
-- Say it out loud. Read aloud the material you're trying to learn and repeat out loud the facts you want to retain. This way, both your eyes and your ears are delivering information to your brain.
-- Tame frustration. If you're getting frustrated over material you're trying to learn, remind yourself that getting emotional will only hamper your ability to retain information. Step back and take a break.
There was once a man who wanted to gain power over his mind. He heard there was a monk in Tibet who could make this come true for him, so the man traveled through the Himalayas. When the man finally met the monk, the monk replied casually, "Yes, my friend, attaining supernatural powers is simple. For this you merely need a mantra. Just say, 'Buddham Sharanam Gachchami, Dhammam Sharanam Gachchami, Sangham Sharanam Gachchami' three times -- and whatever you do, do not think of monkeys."
This was going to be a cinch, the man thought. He wondered at the direction to not think of monkeys, asking himself, "Why would I think of monkeys?"
Then he sat down to try this new practice. But as he chanted the first words of the mantra, the first thought that came to his mind was "monkeys!" He tried chanting louder and imposing a more powerful order to not think of monkeys. Still, all he could think of was monkeys. In fact, he found that monkeys now roamed about his consciousness everywhere.
The monk, seeing the struggle taking place, smiled and said, "Whenever you try to force your mind to go in one direction, you can be very sure it will always go the other way."
Mackay's Moral: Nurturing and mastering your mind is anything but monkey business.