Thursday, 19 June 2008

Mind Matters

Confucious observed that, "When nature exceeds training, you have the rustic. When training exceeds nature, you have the clerk. it is only when nature and training are proportionately blended that you have the higher type of man."

Confucious draws our attention to both physical and cerebral pursuits. As armchair-atheletes many of us will have read up on approaches to training. Others will have delved in to the science of nutrition and so forth. Such material offers suitable intellectual challenges.

There are other sides to this the mental aspect of training. Just as it is important to follow a hard day of physical training with a day of easy training or rest, so it is that I commit myself to periods of mental rest.

All to often, simple physical rest is construed as mental rest, but how often do you consciously try to clear you mind? Often we have issues buried away in the back of our mind that stop us from truly relaxing on a mental basis.

I like to take 'time out' to reflect. Sometimes I employ diaphragmatic breathing exercises - attempting to slow and control my breathing, enlarging my abdomen with each breath rather than my chest. When done in peaceful environment it really can allow me to 'recharge'. The resultant feeling is one of mental refreshment.

There are times in my life when I find it hard to relax, particularly if I am working on something complex at work. In these cases I will review those things in my life that cause me stress or anxiety and seek to mentally address and manage them. Often I find the size of a problem is largely governed by how big I allow it to become on a personal level, rather than of a dimension determined by it's importance.

Exercise is a great way of mentally relaxing. The natural endorphin release after a physically exhausting workout is a fantastic relaxant. This also offers a perfect time to focus on finding inner tranquility.

So that is how I approach a mental rest. What of a 'hard' mental workout? Mentally taxing challenges are a feature of life. Most of life involves problem solving at some level. This might be fixing a computer or balancing household expenditure.

I enjoy throwing in some other challenges to my mind particularly those that involve mental creativity. Learning new pieces of music on the guitar is one approach. This can be a rather therapeutic pursuit but also devilishly challenging - especially if the piece is complicated.

I have other pursuits that are purely mental (and delightfully pointless). It also makes me stretch my mind in a visual capacity; remembering a pack of 52 shuffled playing cards. It takes me about 10 minutes to remember the pack, but I have performed the trick with no mistakes several times now. I only try it once or twice a week - and with more regular practice, reckon I could halve this time. The secret to this trick is rather simple and will form the basis of a later post.

Like the rest of your body, there is a 'use it or lose it' contraint on your brain. As an infant, your world is constantly stimulating - a place of wonder. And with your "beginner's mind" the opportunities to learn are numerous and the inclination to learn, to understand what is around you is inate. With time come familiarity and an attendant fall in stimulation. Seek out new challenges and with each success your self esteem and confidence will soar.

Whilst watching the Discovery channel will be informative, it is not participatory. You are going along for a ride with little control over the pace and content (even with Sky+ !). TV has its place but a more appropriate stimulation may come from reading a book, a musical pursuit or learning a skill (physical or mental) or a new language.

The goal is to pitch yourself against a range of challenges that vary in difficulty. And make sure you throw in the odd period of mental rest. Train yourself to relax mentally.

Force your brain to find new gears.

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