ONE MORNING, HANNA was criticized by her
boss. She spent the next hour thinking about it, defending herself
in her head, and feeling upset. Her mind wasn't fully on her
work, which made her less effective. Hanna's experience demonstrates
that a lack of mental discipline can interfere with your work
and make you feel unnecessarily bad.
After five minutes of fuming, Hanna could
have said to herself, "All this stewing is getting me nowhere.
Why don't I make a little note to remind me to think about this
when I get home? After thinking about it, I'll decide whether
there is something I ought to do about it. In the meantime, what
is my purpose here at work? What should I be accomplishing? How
can I maximize my output?" Hanna could direct her thoughts
deliberately. But that kind of mental control is relatively rare,
and she didn't have it. And she paid the price of her lack of
discipline: Unnecessary suffering and ineffectiveness.
The degree of discipline you have over
your own thoughts will determine how successful and happy you
are. Controlling your own mind is somewhat like disciplining
a child. You don't need to use excessive force. You only have
to lead firmly, and you'll get cooperation.
You formed many of your mental habits while
you were quite young, and some of these ways of thinking are
counter-productive and self-defeating. But you aren't stuck with
them. With a modest amount of effort, you can form new habits.
The good news is that even during the effort, your mood will
change for the better. Your ability to control your environment
will also improve right away as soon as you change the
direction of your thinking.
When you find yourself experiencing negative
feelings or acting against your own best interest, stop and take
notice of your thinking. You will usually find you're thinking
childishly, and that your thinking is somewhat compulsive and
automatic. At that point, deliberately talk sense to yourself
and direct your attention to a saner, more productive line of
You don't have to be a victim of your own
mind. You don't have to be a victim of your past habits of thinking.
You can take control and deliberately direct your thoughts. This
will changing your feelings, which will change your effectiveness
in the world.
Many people don't control their own minds
because the possibility of doing so has simply never occurred
to them. Others have tried and failed and given up. But it's
like any other skill: It takes work. When you learn to play the
piano, the first few times you sit down to play, you will "fail."
It doesn't really matter in the long run. Just keep at it.
Keep making the effort and you'll gain
more control over your thoughts. Each time you try, you'll gain
a little more mental discipline. It may prove to be the best
investment of effort you've ever made.
Don't try to control your mind all the
time. Only do it when you don't like the way you feel. First,
notice what you're thinking, and then direct your thoughts in
a different direction (or argue forcefully with the thoughts
that are bringing you down). When you're feeling fine, there's
no point in controlling your mind. When a child is playing happily
or otherwise engaged in constructive action, it is usually counter-productive
to interfere or overtake control. Let it be. A lot of creativity
happens when the mind is left on its own. However, when unhappiness
hits, grab the steering wheel.
You can control and direct your
own thinking, and you will be happier and more successful if