You know her when you see her… the ultimate confident woman. She may be leading a board meeting or wrangling preschoolers, but either way she just always seems so cool. Collected. Sure of herself. Happy.
Watching her may make you wonder, “what does she have that I don’t?” A perfectly organized linen closet? Flat abs? Or is it something that’s coming from the inside? Has this woman mastered her own mind?
First of all, it goes without saying that seeing another person from the outside is nothing like experiencing yourself on the inside.
We do tend to think that outward realities (what car we drive, home we own, or partner we live with, even our health) determine how good we feel, but happiness researchers and movie producers have proven again and again that this isn’t true. Even those who suffer a horrible tragic event, or win the lottery, tend to go back to their original level of happiness within a short period of time.
In my study of the Enneagram, an ancient personality tool, I’m struck by how behavior can look exactly the same from person to person on the surface, but the inward thought process can be absolutely different. I believe it’s these inward processes that determine our happiness, which means, no matter the circumstance, you DO have a choice when it comes to how confident and happy you will ultimately be.
The basic tenant of the Enneagram is that each of us corresponds to one of nine basic personality types, each sharing a set of habits, fears, and needs. It’s almost like we are pre-loaded with an operating system, or a default.
So, it helps to first recognize what that default is. But who wants to live with the default? Knowing your type allows you to recognize what’s normal (what would normally happen inside of you when you face conflict, fear, or anxiety) and THEN to transform that and choose another path that provides a greater taste of freedom. I believe in the deep potential in all of us. We all get to choose different modes of operation that HELP us rather than HURT us.
Here’s a quick life coaching hack: understanding your inward thought is just as important, if not more so, than managing any outward behavior. In other words, it may not always work to “fake it until you feel it.”
When we are functioning at a high level, our inner lives can be rich with meaning and depth rather than rumination and anxiety. This is what we mean by mindset mastery.
Here are a few practices you can incorporate into your life to start mastering your own mind now:
1. GET IN TOUCH WITH (YOUR) REALITY, and KNOW (YOUR) BUSINESS.
Recognize your own habits, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
A tool like the Enneagram, or another personality profile you prefer, can be a great entry into noticing what’s true about you. This doesn’t mean it won’t feel a bit uncomfortable at first. No one wants to be put into a box!
It’s not easy to admit that we exhibit a higher level of volatility, a more fearful mind, or a stronger need for control than our loved ones.
But when we embrace our whole selves, including our foibles, we have a starting point for identifying our richest areas for growth.
In my coaching practice, I like to talk about the three kinds of business, a concept borrowed from Byron Katie. Any concern we have falls into one of the three pots: my business, your business, or the universe’s (or God’s) business.
When you have a troubling thought, ask yourself whose business you are in, and if it’s not yours, well, get out!
2. STOP ROCKING
We all have well-worn grooves in our minds, like rivers, that determine how we feel when something goes wrong or when a situation upsets us or launches us into judgment.
The revolutionary idea I want to propose here is this: You can change these! You can add new tributaries to that inner mind-river. How do you do this? It’s simpler than it sounds: practice.
Well-respected researcher Daniel Amen did a study of female and male brains, and found that females show 30% more activity on average than men. The extra activity is primarily in the frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for collaboration, empathy, holding grudges, and you may have guessed it – worry. Amen also notes, “When the prefrontal cortex works too hard, it is as if the boss is micromanaging everyone.”
How do you begin to stand up to this micromanagement? Become familiar with the river of your mind. Draw a picture of it, and when you go there (that familiar place) stop for a moment. Then, imagine a new way of thinking and behaving that will actually get you to a new destination.
This takes practice, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it right away. I work on it for months, even years, with some of my clients.
For more great ideas related to a healthy inner life, including letting go of a perfectionist mindset (my favorite) see Kristina Larson’s brilliant post Six Ways to Succeed When You Feel Like Giving Up.
3. CHOOSE A BETTER FEELING THOUGHT
When you have a difficult thought, you may experience it like the weather: you believe it’s true and experience the feeling that comes from it as inevitable. I’m here to tell you that your thoughts are not like the weather. You choose them!
Let me give you an example. One of my clients once said to me, “I’ll never be as successful as my brother.” When I asked her, “How does that belief make you feel?”, she answered, “like I’m underwater with a weight tied around my neck.” Whoa.
Your mind acts quickly: circumstances create thoughts and your thoughts create feelings. And they can be intense! I asked my client to notice every time that thought came into her mind. Could she separate herself from it a bit? Could she see it as only one of many possible truths?
Once we discussed it in depth, she could—and she found some freedom from a thought that had been polluting her inner life as well as her ability to present herself positively on the outside.
She chose a thought that felt a lot better to her: “I can learn and be inspired by my brother’s success.” With that thought, the weight was unlatched, her neck was freed – and it all happened inside her own mind!
4. SLOW DOWN
Things move fast these days, and when you’re wearing a lot of hats it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I recommend 10 to 15 minutes of nothingness for my clients, which means slowing down, sitting down, and letting your thoughts pass by rather than attaching to them.
Meditation? Yes, maybe. A very loose version! The goal is to stay until your body feels different. My clients usually report a sense of calm, connection, and clarity.
I’ve found that meditation and mindfulness can help me focus on what matters in my business and my life. It can also help me move through my painful, limiting thoughts a bit more quickly.
I actually get more done and have better results when I spend less time chained to my desk and more time enjoying life. In fact, I am adopting a Five Hour Workday as often as I can during the summer months this year in order to enjoy life more and be with my family. I’m also taking a solid two weeks off. It’s all part of achieving mindset mastery.
Will you join me?