What does it mean to master your mind? What is the full extent to which you can consciously influence the development and expression of your mind? If there was a universal benchmark for mental mastery, what would it be?
I believe there are 4 primary mental domains, or 8 mental practices, with which humans can consciously or directly influence the full expression and development of the mind. A universal “mental mastery” benchmark that would include:
- Right View: daily awareness expansion of the world, culture, self, and vocation
- Presence: the ability to appropriately use memory, presence, and imagination
- Focus: the capacity to maintain single pointed attention for accelerated creation
- Fortitude: the mental strength or will to push pass mental thresholds daily
1: Beliefs (Right View)
Exercice #1: Expand Your Awareness of World, Culture, Self, and Vocation
Right view refers to cultivating an accurate view or perception of the world at large (global beliefs), people in general (cultural beliefs), of yourself (identity beliefs), or of a specific topic or process (weight-loss beliefs, marketing beliefs, electricity beliefs, etc.).
Simply put, right view leads to right action leads to skilful means. That means you’re able to see things as they really are and to act accordingly relative to your outcomes.
That is, the more accurate your view (beliefs, knowledge, or experience) is of something the more accurate (or effective) your actions become in the pursuit of your outcomes.
For example, if you believe you need to exercise more and eat less to lose weight (wrong view of the weight loss process) you will do exactly that, exercise more and eat less (wrong action), until you realise it simply doesn’t work.
Eventually you realise weight-loss/gain is caused by prolonged exposure to excessive levels of insulin (right view) and that by restricting your carbohydrate intake significantly (right action) allows for effortless weight-loss (skilful means).
Exercise #2: Reflect On the Past, Be Present, and Create the Future
To consciously enter the present moment (and to stay there at will) and to reflect on the past or imagine the future only when it serves you best is the single greatest mental skill one can possess.
Because most people are constantly (and helplessly) consumed by stories of their past or imaginations of the future, they’re incapable of directly experiencing the only thing that is real: this moment. The only domain in which your distortions, illusions, expectations, or assumptions have no power over you.
Master this mental skill, and you master your capacity to get the most out of life. To become a conscious player in the game of life. To embrace and accelerate your rate of development through non-attachment.
Exercise #3: Meditate
Meditation is hands down the most effective and efficient practice to help you become more present (during meditation and long after) in your day to day living.
And apart from its many benefits—increased focus and creativity, decreased levels of stress, and deeper sleep—meditation is the one of the only conscious activities to have empirically demonstrated to accelerate the cognitive, moral, and emotional development of humans.
Exercise #4: Produce/Create
To focus the mind with single pointed attention for an extended period of time (intervals of 45 – 90min concentrated work) to produce something novel or recreate something familiar is the domain of human production. The space where things get done.
Anything valuable, useful, inspiring, or entertaining created by someone was the result of hard, smart, and honest work. Someone, somewhere took the time to sit down, cut through the distraction, pull their thoughts together, and (get to) work.
I’m not talking about one’s daily grind (mindless assembly-line like production), I’m talking about the few minutes (1 – 2 hours if you’re lucky) of pure, single pointed focus that becomes the creative conduit (writing, strategising, organising, and formulating) for effortless compounding and innovation.
What or how you produce isn’t nearly as important as producing every day. The habit of training your mind to endure longer and longer periods of sustained single pointed creative output will put you squarely among the world’s top 1% of super-achievers.
Exercise #5: Learn
Whenever we’re learning something new—and by learning I mean skill acquisition (driving, cooking, making sales, pull-ups, etc), not simply expanding your awareness (reading a book, attending a seminar, understanding a new idea, etc.)—our conscious minds are fully engaged, fully focused.
In fact, without conscious focus, we won’t be able to create, steer, or reinforce the sensory motor skills or neural pathways necessary to permanently acquire the skill. Learning one new skill at least once a week is a great way to develop the “focus” domain of the mind.
Exercise #6: Visualise
Visualisation can be thought of as meditation with form. That is to say, you’re meditating on a specific object or (moving) image representing a specific desired life situation or outcome.
Staying focused for a pre-determined time on one single object or (moving) image is very challenging, and thus the perfect mental exercise for sharpening and developing your focus. Not to mention the accelerating of results on whatever that which you’re constantly focusing on.
Exericse #7: Memorise
There are 2 primary ways in which we remember things. Through conscious effort (consciously committing something from short term memory to long term memory) or effortless repetition (continuous conscious exposure to the same thing).
Example: you come across a new word you’ve never seen before and decide to look it up and commit it to long term memory (which may take 2 – 3min) or you simply skip over it and assume you know what it means in the context it was presented (which may take you several books before you really understand it).
Most people rely on the latter while people with a well-trained memory use both. The ability to consciously memorise names, numbers, words, expressions, and directions permanently on the spot is perhaps one of the greatest skills available to humans.
The act of memorisation is like high-intensity training for the body but for the mind and is therefore an integral part of mastering one’s mind. Do this everyday by training your memorisation capacity whenever you come across important new words, numbers, etc.
Exercise #8: Mentally Endure
Cultivating fortitude, or strength of mind, is really what this post is all about. Transcending your boundaries, mental or physical, requires that you mentally endure a specific activity (production, strength training, learning, etc.) past your current perceived threshold or previous best performance.
For instance, if you’re able to stay focused with single pointed attention on a task for only 45min at a time, try to push past that to 50min, then 55min, and so on. This holds true especially for physical exercise.
If your perceived exertion for your chest press was 7 out of 10 (1 being very easy and 10 as your absolute max) at 50kg for 7 reps, try to either go up in weight and/or push yourself at 8 or 9 out of 10 of your perceived max exertion.
Any activity that requires a certain degree of focus (visualisation, memory training, physical exercise, production/work, meditation, and learning) can be extended in time or intensified in one way or another.
This pushing past your current mental (and thus physical) threshold on a daily basis is how you, in the most practical sense, become the next best effective, productive, and efficient version of who you really are.