Saturday, July 14, 2012

Organize your mind to organize your life!

There is a wide spread misconception that self-help books, articles, and audios are for the weak hearted. But in reality they help in changing your way of thinking which further translates into greater peace of mind, success, and happiness, provided you align and customize these ideas with your personal settings.

I have written in the past about habits that can make or break a person. Good things about habits are that they can be modified, reversed or sustained based on your needs.  Today, I want to share an interesting study conducted by a leading Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Paul Hammerness and leading wellness coach Margaret Moore (aka Coach Meg) on organizing your mind. In their famous book, “organize your mind to organize your life” shares the key insight; an organized mind enables full engagement in a health-giving style of life. According to these authors:
1. The connection between disorganized minds and unhealthy habits is compelling
2. Before you can focus your attention, you must tame negative emotions
3. Exercise, deep breathing or meditation, and a good night's sleep all help mentally
While you may not think anything extra-ordinary about these findings, learning about your own strengths and weaknesses and developing positive habits based on these findings may bring in extra-ordinary results.  When we think about organizing what immediately come to our mind are arranging our work place or home or removing physical clutters and using to-do lists and organizers to better control the work flow or activities. However, Dr. Hammerness and Coach Meg are moving further ahead and are sharing the views on mind's ability to attain a higher order of order -- a calm, wise, positive, strategic perspective -- and the skills it takes to get there in small or large domains of life, including health and well-being. These are based on clinical and wellness coaching experiences after working with several thousand people.

Neuroscientists are opening a window into the disorganized minds of those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD,) providing insights into how to train our brains to become more organized. We need to understand this is not only an issue with ADHD patients; people in all walks of life would face these challenges while trying to multi-task on variety of activities in their lives.

The connection between disorganized minds and unhealthy habits is compelling. The National Institute of Aging concluded from a recent study, as reported by CNN, that symptoms of a disorganized mind, namely impulsivity, chronic negativity, high stress and multitasking, all correlate with higher weight. For example, adults in the top 10% rating for impulsivity (most impulsive) weighed an average of 24 pounds more than those in the bottom 10% rating for impulsivity.

Organized mind depends on your ability to “drive” your attention and keep them focused.  Good thing is that our brain has these powers and our job is to leverage them.  Dr. Hammerness and Coach Meg recommend the following six steps in organizing your mind.

Rule No. 1: Tame your frenzy

Before you can focus your attention, you need to take charge of your negative emotional frenzy (worry, anger, sadness, irritation). This frenzy impairs and overwhelms your prefrontal cortex, the brain's CEO or executive function region, so that you can't "think straight." Too much negative stress damages your ability to focus and harms your health. The great news is that the same things that improve your health can improve your mind's ability to manage negative frenzy. Sleep well, exercise, do a mindfulness practice or choose the slow lane from time to time, even for a few minutes. Find your unique formula to tame your frenzy so that you drive your attention to its best possible focus.

Rule No. 2: Sustain your focus

Now that your mind is calm, identify one task and one task only. The brain was not designed to focus on more than one thing at a time. Tell your brain what the intention or goal is for your focused session. Turn off your phone and e-mail, shut the door and set the timer for 20 to 30 minutes as a first step.

Rule No. 3: Apply the brakes

Your focused brain also needs to be able to stop, just as surely as a good pair of brakes brings your car to a halt at a red light. Your brain's radar regions are always scanning your internal and external environment, even when you are focused. Distractions are inevitable if you are human. Rather than mindlessly succumb to a distraction while in the midst of an important task (including health-giving activities such as exercising, cooking a healthy meal or relaxing), stop, breathe and consider whether the distraction is urgent enough to trump the current priority. If not, bring your attention back to the important task until it is time to take a brain break to recharge your brain's batteries, or move to a new task.

Rule No. 4: Access your working memory

Your brain is designed to store a basket of bits of information in short term memory (aka "working memory"). Accessing your short-term memory, turning over various elements in your mind, helps you problem-solve, generate new ideas and insights, and see the new patterns that lead you to a strategic perspective. More great news: The same strategies that allow you to tame frenzy enable you to better access your working memory -- exercise, deep breathing or meditation, and a good night's sleep.

Rule No. 5: Shift sets

Now it's time to move your focus to a new task. Move all of your attention fully to the next task and give it your undivided attention. This brain skill, called "set-shifting," allows you to leave behind one task and leap to a new one with a fresh and productive focus. Set-shifting is also described as cognitive agility or flexibility. Often our most creative ideas come, seemingly out of the blue, when we're taking a brain break or focusing completely on something else. How interesting it is that having a fit and flexible mind is just as valuable to a life you love as a fit and flexible body.

Rule No. 6: Connect the dots

You've learned how to tame your frenzy and focus your attention on one thing at a time. You can handle distractions. Your working memory is ready for action when you need it. You are nimble, able to shift deftly from one task to the next. You take breaks, move your body and shift your focus to invite new ideas, insights and connections.

Together, these "rules of order" will help you change not only your habits of attention, but the way you look at your life. Instead of being stressed, you'll be calmly in control. You'll be more productive and therefore have more time to do things that are healthy for your body and mind. You'll feel good about yourself, and positive emotions are health promoting. And you'll be able to use your organized mind to set health and fitness goals and focus well on achieving them.

I wish you good luck and see you next week!


Saju Skaria


Thinaa said...

Hai Saju, Fantastic Rules...I liked it and preach too....It works....but i didn't try switching off Cell phone....i could tolerate the calls and work....Good going..

Saju Skaria said...

Thanks for the feedback. To me, we are all part of our habits which makes us or break us. We can certainly make a difference with our right attitude.. Good luck on all your efforts..Saju Skaria

Albin James said...

These are very excellent guide lines, very practical and useful =)