The three-pound mass lodged between your ears is an engine both mighty and fearsome. Comprised of over one-hundred billion neurons and one-hundred trillion synapses, the brain has been called the most complex mechanism thus far discovered in the known universe. Although it weighs only a fraction of overall bodyweight, it uses 25% of our energy. It’s the sole culprit responsible for our dominance over the rest the globe. To say it’s powerful is a gross understatement.
At birth, we are endowed with the most magnificent problem solving tool ever devised, yet, in the irony of ironies, we aren’t provided with an owner’s manual – sort of like giving a space shuttle to a group of baboons and expecting them to reach Mars. It ain’t going to happen, at least not without centuries of trail and error.
Well as a matter of fact, our brethren have painstakingly tinkered over the eons and have made many helpful discoveries. First – and unsurprisingly to anyone who’s pondered the nature of thought – they have found that our minds are much like an unruly child or a mischievous monkey, and that if we don’t learn to control it, it controls us – causing untold misery in the process.
Fortunately, through this collective exploration into the nature of consciousness, considerable advancements have been made toward breaking the stallion. Not only that, our forbearers have also gracefully left behind instructions.
According to the lore – and in simplistic terms – there are two chief avenues toward taming the lion: sedation or focus. Sedation involves practices for calming the mind, such as meditation, however, in this post, the focus will be on, well, focus.
Feed the Beast
Your brain is constantly hungry, and without nourishment, it bucks. The results are well known to us all: anxiety, boredom, stress, problem-finding, to name only a few. And even worse, when hungry, your brain is an unsympathetic annoying little bitch. Aside from some sort of focused meditation, have you ever tried to just sit there and do nothing at all? It’s a nightmare!
On this avenue toward taming the brain, we require stimulation, and more often than not we come to rely on external sources for it. TV, web-surfing, video games, social media, and other similar vehicle’s we commonly resort to are poor substitutes relative to what we’re capable of. Still worse, we’ve grown dependent on these substitutes. Well, in the legendary words of Rage Against the Machine, it’s time to take the power back.
Meaning Challenge is the Way Forward
Emancipate yourself from the tyranny of mindless entertainment – which only offers short-term symptom relief from the far greater ailment of aimlessness – by choosing to be an active participant in your leisure time. Couch sessions aren’t completely forbidden, but they shouldn’t be the default and they shouldn’t be used for lack of a better idea.
Doing something active, mentally or physically, is a good first step – even better, challenge yourself. As mentioned, your brain craves something to seek its formidable teeth into, and you’re the one who gets to decide it’s diet.
Given our learned reliance on passive entertainment, it can take some time to the develop the habit of being proactive, yet this is an imperative step toward improving experience – so be patient with yourself, don’t expect to find the holy grail over night.
Here’s some ideas on where to get started:
Confront Your Problems – What obstacles are you currently faced with? Relationship issues? Something you’ve been putting off for far too long? Is your vacuum broken? Is your job slowly but surely sucking the very essence from your soul? Have you plateaued at the gym? Are you lonely? Is your home overflowing with useless junk amassed over the years?
Problems, both big and small, provide an opportunity to take control of your experience and develop yourself in a positive direction. Ironically, being stuck in the mud offers excellent fodder for the ravenous mind. So, identify problems, plan, and go for it. As a bonus, when the process is complete, you will have moved passed that which once held you down.
Explore a New Venture – Don’t you admire the people who have developed a skill for the sheer joy of the skill itself – musicians, rock climbers, yogis, artists, to name a few. These people have, knowingly or not, uncovered a major secret to living well: they’ve learned to focus their attention long enough on a task until the task itself starts to provide immense enjoyment.
Certainly, the guitar player has suffered significant frustrations; the yogi has endured pain and sacrifice; the rock climber has experienced risk and injury; yet, they’ve persevered, and consequently, they’ve lived more interesting, more fulfilling lives.
No one is exempt from personal triumph, yet to experience these heights you must be willing to occasionally sacrifice comfort.
Quoting the Koran: “Do you think that you shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials that came to those who passed away before you?” In other words, the best things in life come at a cost – yet the alternative is far worse: a life of monotony, regret, and reliance on mind-numbing, pointless entertainment.
Motivate Yourself Further – Build the energy and inner pressure and tension that it might take to push yourself out of the comfort zone and into the world. Read books on development, write down your vision, read biographies of the admirable.
Get pumped up – this is your life.
A couple suggestions for books that’ll surely put some wind in your sails:
- Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Design Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life – Bill Burnett and Dave Evans