"When your mind is fit, you get more out of life, more out of work, more out of relationships, more out of everything."
Can workouts for the mind sharpen our thinking, develop a positive mindset and help us “become the best version of ourselves?” In Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, Sebastian Bailey and Octavius Black certainly think so and offer several practical methods of accomplishing it.
The book is based on programs used by Mind Gym Inc., a performance enhancement company founded by Bailey and Black and used by more than half of the S&P 100 companies. Mind Gym operates in forty countries around the world, helping people live up to their potential by maximizing their mental performance. For those who can’t attend one of these seminars, this book is for them. Using the latest psychological insights, the book highlights specific mental workouts to improve performance ranging from adopting a positive mindset to boosting creativity.
Change begins with getting off autopilot and becoming aware of the opportunities passing us by as a result of being stuck in unhealthy thought patterns.
Reduce autopilot and get in the driver’s seat
"The truth is, you have control of your thoughts, reactions, and responses. And once you understand how powerful that choice can be, you’ll be able to change more aspects of your life than you can imagine."
We often go about our daily activities without stopping to question what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. The authors refer to this as “autopilot—a state of going through the motions of your life without really paying attention to choice.” Much of this is due to habits, which we develop to minimize our mental energy when doing routine tasks. But being on autopilot is counterproductive when trying to solve a new problem or attempting to do something new.
If we’re stuck on autopilot, getting unstuck is not easy. One solution is to increase reflection time. Scheduling thinking time into your day’s activities can enhance engagement. Following a task, reflect or contemplate on what went well, what could have gone better and what you could have done differently.
Looking for something new can reduce autopilot or automatic thinking. Asking yourself “what has changed since the last time I walked down this street” or “what’s different about my friend today”? This kind of questioning helps you to “focus on the present—to become aware of your surroundings and not slip back into autopilot.”
Once you’ve focused on the present, the next step is to ask yourself how you explain away experiences in your life.
How we explain events in our lives is the key to optimism
"Challenging the way you look at a situation is probably the single most powerful thing you can do when it comes to altering your beliefs and trying to change from a pessimistic to an optimistic viewpoint."
The authors believe we all have an “explanatory style—a pattern of communication that reveals whether we perceive a particular event as either positive or negative.” The key difference is how these two types of individuals explain away positive and negative events in their lives.
An optimist sees a recent positive event in his life as widespread and permanent. A pessimist on the other hand, would consider that as being lucky or temporary. The opposite is true with negative events. The pessimists view the negative event as universal and permanent while the optimists think it is just a temporary setback.
The true benefit of an optimist lies in his reaction to a negative event. Not willing to give up so easily, the optimist still finds a way to focus on the upside. For example, if both an optimist and pessimist are rejected for a loan, the pessimist accepts it and moves on. An optimist, would ask themselves what they would need to do to increase their chances of getting a loan the next time.
So how do you increase optimistic thinking in your life? Learn to spot optimistic and pessimistic thinking in your everyday interactions with friends, coworkers and family. How do they explain away the positive and negative events—universal and permanent or circumstantial and temporary?
The authors also suggest a method borrowed from psychologist Martin Seligman. He recommends writing down three good things that happened during the day as well as what caused them. Following each positive item, write what it means to you. Do that for a month to increase happiness and awareness of connecting positive events to your actions.
Question your assumptions to boost your creativity
"As our world becomes more systemized, hyper fast, and process driven, the ability to think creatively becomes a premium skill—a valuable asset in the workplace and in your personal life."
When faced with a new problem or challenge, do we approach it in the same way we’ve always approached new dilemmas? Becoming aware of these filters and then removing them can help us come up with different solutions. Filters are just “mental shortcuts” that we use to help us do everyday tasks faster.
Bailey and Black propose we rephrase the problem and ask ourselves “What assumptions am I making?” We should review the solutions that don’t work and ask ourselves “Why don’t they work?” This line of questioning can lead to a new way of thinking.
Sometimes letting a new problem or idea incubate and not feeling rushed to come up with a solution is helpful. The authors assert that “you need to leave a thought in your mind and trust that a creative idea will emerge without trying to force it.” They remind us that Einstein had his best ideas while taking a shower. You just never know when or where that burst of creativity will hit.
If you want to expand your mental toolkit and improve your thinking, do the exercises in this valuable book. Flex your mental muscle for optimal performance. What problem will you solve with your newfound creativity?