The master of the mind

Mind Management masters are in charge of their minds: They moderate their mood and stress levels; they maximise their available energy; they deliberately generate a joyful state of being and focus on living powerful lives;  They have authentic relationships with themselves, with others and their environment;  They practice freedom from attachment and have the courage to express their abilities.  

You can be a powerful and happy person and your life can make a significant difference to our world.  Your first step is to take charge of your mind.

The human brain includes parts that make us emotionally reactive and parts that allow us to take charge of the process.

We can readily lead  lives that are ruled by our emotions.  Our brains are wired to respond to fear before we consciously even feel the fear.  And because the brain has a way of perpetuating the fear response, we can spend our lives struggling to cope with the various problems and stressors in our lives, getting through as best as we can without a sense of being in charge of the way our lives are unfolding.  It can be said for all of us, that we are more than who we have become.

The amygdala is the emotional core of the brain. Its primary role is to trigger the fear response. All our sensory information goes to the amygdala. When this information is associated with a threat in the amygdala, it is processed to trigger a fear response. This happens before you consciously feel the fear. The adrenal glands pump out high levels of the stress hormone, coritsol. It becomes hard to think clearly, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, the lungs hyperventilate and we sweat more. Adrenaline floods to our muscles preparing us for fight or flight.

Only after all of this has happened does the conscious mind kick in. We only become aware a couple of seconds after we have become anxious (or angry, or afraid) that we are anxious (or angry, or afraid).  We do not choose to respond in this way, we suddenly find that we are experiencing one of these emotions.  We can later figure out what triggered the emotion but we cannot stop ourselves from experiencing the emotion.

That is not to say that all of our responses to fear are unconscious.  We may identify a threat with our conscious brain and then have the fear reaction in the amygdala, for example, I see a snake, identify it and then have a fear response, but for the most part, our days are made up of unconscious reactions to sensory information.

The fear response is a useful survival response.  However, the brain is not good at distinguishing between fear and perceived fear.  Anxiety is a fear of something that cannot be located in space and time. Anxiety is associated with what might happen.  Humans have the ability to remember what happened and we can predict what might happen.  This is a function of intelligence.  Because we know what might happen, we necessarily become anxious.

What tends to happen with anxiety is that the sensory information triggers go to the amygdala as usual but in this case, a memory is triggered in our hippocampus which is associated with fear and that memory then triggers the fear response in the amygdala.   Then the bed nucleus of the stria terminals (BNST) perpetuates that fear response, causing the longer term feeling of unease that is typical of anxiety. Effectively we use our imagination or memory to trigger a fear response.   We become frightened of what might happen and we become anxious.

This anxiety then triggers a fight or flight response and we have a number of neurochemical reactions with the production of adrenaline and cortisol as well as rising and falling dopamine and serotonin levels which impact on our moods. We can readily live our lives hyper-stressed, hyper-vigilant and hyper-aroused.

Stress is part of the fight response as we try to conquer our fears and control our environments.  When we are depressed, on the other hand, our energy levels and our motivation drops.  We give up the fight and become passive, sometimes despairing our ability to make even basic changes to our lives.   We can envisage stress and depression as opposite ends of a continuum, synonymous with our physiological fight or flight responses and that both are motivated by anxiety.

Fortunately, we have the ability to deliberately use our pre-frontal cortex (PFC), to turn off inappropriate anxiety responses once a threat has passed.  The pre-frontal cortex is located in the front of the brain in the cerebral cortex.    It mediates those parts of our cognition that are uniquely human such as symbolic thought, conceptualising, planning, making rules, creating abstractions, controlling our physiological drives,   creating meaning,  allowing us to conceive of a past and a future and to seeing ourselves and others as independent individuals.  The PFC is the centre of our ability to impose reason over emotion.

Mind Management Mastery seeks first and foremost to engage the PFC in our lives so that we can live our lives according to our potential and not as a reaction to our fears.  The notion of training our brain has become popular in recent years because we are learning that we can deliberately establish pathways in the brain that are more helpful to us and help us increase both our success and our happiness.

Cognitive Control is therefore a necessary first step in mind mastery.  However, Mind management Mastery also extends beyond cognitive control.  We can use the PFC to an extreme where we become robotic,  ruled by reason and logic.  Apart from the fact that this in turn would create unrealistic expectations on ourselves and therefore render us liable to becoming stressed and reactive again, it would also mean that we become isolated from our experience of ourselves and isolated from others.   Mind Mastery therefore involves integration of the mind and emotions, connecting with our emotions but not being ruled by them.  We want to be able to use the PFC to manage our emotions but want to integrate the two,  allowing us to experience the joy of life, using our minds to generate our own happiness while at the same time being in charge of those emotions so that we can live according to our potential.

Part of our mind management involves being able to relate to others and to our environment.   We need to be able to have authentic relationships with ourselves, with others and with our environment.  We want to be able to connect with ourselves and with our environment but essentially from a place of disinterest.  Disinterested engagement is the functional unit of mindfulness.  Being disinterested is different to being uninterested.  Mind Management Mastery involves resisting attachments to ideas or things.  A mind management master is able to enjoy life and deal with life’s problems from a perspective of disinterested engagement so that neither pleasure nor pain is able to direct who we are and what we do with our lives.

The final aspect of Mind Management Mastery is about expressing who we are.  By expressing ourselves we extend and challenge our thoughts and ideas and we unfold our potential as we are dynamically involved in the expression of ourselves.

Mind Management Mastery allows us to have both successful and happy lives.

Want to find out more about mind management mastery?  Read the book