MIND Mastery and COVID19
by Michael Mantell, Ph.D
In this time of uncertainty about our health, our finances, our freedom, our future, many are filled with emotional turmoil, angst, worry, fear and some level of anxiety. Clients say, “I’m losing my mind,” “I feel like my mind is spinning,” “My mind has lost control.”
The global virus is everywhere. We can’t be vigilant enough. It’s just what we’re being asked to deal with now in our lives…for a good, albeit, hidden reason.
My mindset takes me to the following beliefs:
**We’ll get through this. Fight is in our DNA and we just don’t lose. We always learn.
**When we get through this, we’ll be stronger than ever. Wiser too.
**We are finding common ground with each other that we haven’t had before. What a wonderful side-effect of CV19.
**We are getting closer to our humanity and to our respective faith, reflecting, examining more, and will emerge more faithful.
Mindset perspective is such an enlightening experience. When processed properly, the current seeming decline we are living through may not be a setback at all, but rather just the lens, the momentum, we need to better understand our falls, bring us into more fruitful encounters with each other, and help refine the nature of our collective humanity. This takes mental mastery. After all, master your mind and you are in charge of your life.
Mental mastery, whether it’s for the current coronapocalypse, a business meeting, a physical workout, academic success or mindful meditation, requires that you fully engage your mind. Our brains are capable of continued growth throughout life, especially when we are engaged in frequent intellectual stimulation. With the right nourishment, engagement, social connections and physical activity, the right dietary nourishment, we do quite well in maintaining brain health. These are anchored in lifestyle choices we make daily.
Many are writing now about the need for all sorts of ways to gain mental mastery to calm down, “fight stress,” and emerge through the COVID19 scare, emotionally unscathed. Unless your mind is right, you won’t be able to do any of these things. Never tell someone who’s anxious to relax. It doesn’t work. Until s/he tells himself that, and understands how to calm his/her own mind, nothing will work. Think well to live well. How?
Catch your thoughts that aren’t leading you to living more calmly. What are you getting out of holding on to a thought that the world will end? Only the end of the world is the end of the world. Then dispute, challenge and question them. Once you identify how you disturb yourself with irrational, erroneous beliefs, thoughts that have no evidence behind them, you’re in a good spot to change your thinking to more evidence-based, rational, and quite likely positive ones. Clearly, eliminating rigid, extreme beliefs and predictions of horror, are essential to moving forward through this COVID19 time of life.
I believe that, just like a rigorous physical exercise plan, upper body one day, lower body the next, push exercises, pull exercises, cardio routines, body weight programs, the brain similarly requires a “workout” to reach calm.
I call this the M.I.N.D. workout, and this includes Motivational goal setting, Imagery, Natural relaxation and Directed concentration.
I’ll break down these four ingredients as follows:
Motivational goal setting
Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” So it is with goal setting, the first set in the mental workout. Rule #1 is to be sure you set process or performance, “how I will perform along the way” goals, not outcome or “win or lose” goals. Calm is not an end goal. It’s a step by step process. Set goals that are SMARTER than the next guy and you’ll likely come with the gold. These goals are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, time-focused, and finish with goals that enthusiastically set and revisable when necessary (since nobody is perfect).
These process goals are the ones you control. You can’t control outcome goals, only the process and your performance along the way. Process is primary. Outcome goals will keep you focused on the wrong things. Ask yourself, “What are you doing really well?” “What can you get better at?” “What changes should you make to become your best?” Additionally, ask yourself, “What fires you up?” “What do you truly value in your life?” and “What’s the one thing you’re here to do?” Use these goals to move you to a more assured, confident, accepting lifestyle.
Imagery is more than visualization in the way I coach my clients. It involves all of the senses, not just “seeing” a specific performance. Walt Disney called it “Imagineering.” It involves sensory rich seeing ourselves doing the things we want to do. Take a few minutes before speaking with your children, going for a walk, getting on a work related call, and sit quietly with your eyes closed, doing “imbalanced breathing” in to a count of, let’s say 5 and out to a count of 10. If you breath in to the count of 4, breath out to the count of 8. That’s imbalanced. Begin imagining you’re calm very specifically as you’d like to it to be, only see it not as a future event but rather as an event that has already happened. See yourself already in the position you’d like to be in, controlling your emotions —but in the past tense, not in the future. “I’ve already accomplished a feeling of calm.”
Imagine having been distracted in an event and that you handled it easily by refocusing. When it happens in reality, you’ve already been there and handled it. Heidi Grant Halvorson tells us: “Don’t visualize success. Instead, visualize the steps you will take in order to succeed. Just picturing yourself crossing the finish line doesn’t actually help you get there— but visualizing how you run the race (the strategies you will use, the choices you will make, the obstacles you will face) not only will give you greater confidence, but also leave you better prepared for the task ahead. And that is definitely realistic optimism.”
Anxiety management is the key to performing well under the self-created pressure many are living with. Self-control of emotion, not labeling or thinking about outside events in a way that adds invented pressures, such as “I MUST get through this with no anxiety or I’ll just die!”) is essential. Techniques such as meditation, breathing techniques, and relaxation training are all excellent additions to the mental workout. “Box breathing” is another super breathing concentration technique that involves inhaling to the count of 4, holding it for 4, exhaling to 4, holding it for 4 and repeating it.
Relaxation training involves a simple method of tensing a group of muscles and then relaxing them, breathing in calming thoughts and letting go of worrisome, anxious thoughts, while tensing and relaxing. Can you focus your attention on one thing, and only one thing? The hallmark of winners is the ability to have unbroken concentration, deep, long and inspired focus. That’s where meditation comes in. Staying present, accepting, aware, not judging…feel the relaxation already?
Those of us who do mental performance coaching, teach concentration that is based on width and direction. Both broad and narrow concentration, and external and internal concentration, play a role in your performance and in a calmer approach to any challenge. Think of it as, “rehearsal.” Direct your thinking to concentrating only on what you want to happen, not on what you don’t want to happen. Concentrate on being the kind of person who makes happen what you want to happen. Use your “Imagineering” to help fuel your focused concentration and vice versa. See yourself calm and tell yourself, “That’s like me.”
And it will be you…calmer, more accepting, less expecting, more flexible, less rigid. And that’s a key road to immunity and wellbeing.
Dr. Mantell, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and is a sought-after speaker on behavior science. He can be contacted at [email protected] His website is https://drmichaelmantell.com/ This article is reprinted from San Diego Jewish World which, along with The Moderate Voice, is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.