For an Excellent Life, Train Your Mind

“Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it.” Sam Harris, author of Waking Up

I just spent the past six weeks training law students to train their minds.

Wait, isn’t that what law school already does?

Nope. Law school focuses on a singular type of thinking: analytical reasoning. Lawyers may focus on facts, identify issues, apply laws and rules and arrive at conclusions when managing matters. But what about all of the other thinking that we do? Much of it happens beneath the radar, draining our energy and impacting performance. In an untrained mind, even our own thinking is often not in our best interests.

And since there is no cognition without emotion, what about the feelings generated by those thoughts?

Let’s take a step back.

We experience the world through our senses. An array of visual, spatial, auditory, gustatory and aromatic data are relayed to the brain and translated into an internal experience of thoughts and feelings, and sometimes somatic responses. Thinking is thus very much a sensory experience. (Remove all sensory information and we’re left with little.)

Say you printed a brief that you need to read. Though not consciously aware of it, your mind is taking in its words, the color, texture and even the smell of the paper. As you’re preparing to read the brief, you have feelings about it, anything from anticipation and curiosity to dread or boredom. Whether or not these feelings register on your radar, they’re present, and they influence your experience.

Most lawyers are high-achievers and high-achievers are often looking for ways to optimize their thinking, optimize productivity and performance, optimize stress and resilience, or optimize sleep. To do this, we need to heighten our awareness of this invisible dance of data-inducing thoughts and feelings, then train our minds to learn the steps.

In other words, to optimize our life experience, we have to optimize our inner experience. We do this by training our minds, which also increases our happiness, wellbeing, and our ability to cultivate joy in difficult times (like the year we’ve just experienced).

Sound complicated? Not really.

It begins with awareness. When we develop awareness of our thoughts and feelings, and what gave rise to them, we’re then able to understand and manipulate them to optimize our experience.

“Don’t believe everything you think” is an old adage by now, and happily, a growing number of lawyers are beginning to challenge their thinking.

Over the next several days, notice your thoughts. Are they negative? Are they repetitive? Don’t be surprised if that’s the case. Studies show that we have thousands of automatic negative, repetitive thoughts (see why we need training?)

Just notice and get a sense of how those thoughts are coloring your day and your internal experience. After a few days of observation, when you notice an unwanted or unuseful thought arise, challenge it or play with reframing it in a more useful way. Then notice if there’s a shift in your experience.

If you want to take this exercise a step further, notice your associated emotional experience.

This may not seem like much, and there are many more strategies and methods, like meditation, for taking our experience to the next level,  but once we realize how much of our energy is devoted to unuseful thinking and the impact that those subtle thoughts have on our energy, mood and experience throughout the day, training our minds becomes a no-brainer.

Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.” Marcus Aurelius

 Ready to optimize your life? Train your mind.

Keep thriving,