The Importance Of The Mind
A lot of people focus on how they look and what their bodies can do, but less actually consider how they think and how it affects everything else. The old saying “mind over matter” can come across as a tired platitude about the power of positive thinking, but it turns out that there’s actually a fair amount of truth to it.
How to Get a Better Mindset
The first thing that a truly successful person understands about the mind is the role that the ego plays in it. This is, essentially, your perception of yourself and how you use that perception to interact with the environment – including how you see your own skills and abilities. Obviously, this is rather important for training in martial arts classes! Your ego, for example, plays a huge part in how you defend yourself: if your hands are down because you’re overconfident that you can react in time, you could be a multi-degree black belt and still get hit in the face by someone new.
But there’s a flip side to the ego, if used in proper moderation and that is self-confidence. If you’ve got your hands up in defense, and you’re sure you have trained enough and that your muscle memory is in place, you could be a yellow belt and walk away without a scratch.
There’s a fine balancing act with ego – you don’t want to get too cocky, but you don’t want to be negative and overcritical of yourself, either. You have to find a middle ground, and be confident that you are getting better as you practice, all the time. This doesn’t just apply to martial arts, either – it’s good advice for everything you want in life! Learning to control your ego, even when you get really good at something you’ve practiced at, is a skill that will allow you to unlock the true mastery of what your mind can do with it.
The Effect of Your Mind on Your Body
Your mind, at a macro level, controls your body – what time you get up or go to bed, what you eat, what you do from one moment to the next. All of those are decisions made, at some level of consciousness. Further down, on a more personal level, it controls the fine movements that you do in any sport, martial art, action, etc. and so a fine-tuned mind/body connection is crucial to success. The most successful people are those who make both sides of this coin work for the benefit of the whole! The strongest man on earth likely can’t hold his arms straight out for more than a minute or two, but there are martial arts masters who do it for longer as a warm-up, without hesitation.
That’s the power of the mind, and of proper ego training. It’s the power inside all of us to achieve better, if we believe that we always can. If we consciously choose to train our mind – just as we would choose to train our muscles, our lungs, our cravings, our sleep patterns, and so on – we gain greater control in the end. We bridge the subconscious interface of the body with the conscious methodology of the mind.
But what are some ways that we can change our thinking, reduce our negative egos, and alter our habits for the better?
How to Strengthen Your Focus
Let’s start with how we train our minds – our conscious choices to align our thoughts to certain ways of thinking, and to focus on where we want to be with our mindsets. Just like any other skill, it takes practice and commitment and dedication, but eventually it leads to high mental endurance, which is something that greatly benefits us throughout our lives (just like control of our muscles, our breathing, our emotions, etc.). The more you do it, the better at it you’ll become. And what’s one of the best ways to practice these methods? Martial arts! Kung fu helps focus your attention and avoid distractions, cultivating a higher threshold of mental ability. This means better control over every situation and a refreshingly calm approach to any of the many encounters – both positive and negative – that you may have on any day. This kind of control is why it’s often said that the greatest martial artists learn the discipline so that they don’t have to use it. The focus on mental strength is so high that physical violence is a last resort.
So is it possible to “pre-program” your mind for dealing with stressful situations? And how does that lead to physical results?
Learning From Our Mistakes
Think of it this way: no matter what people who are always trying to be constantly positive say, adversity is unavoidable in life. There are instances when you’ll have to deal with not being the winner, and not getting everything that you want. But rather than disheartening you, that should simply allow you to tell yourself that it’s okay! This is how we grow. Nobody is perfect 100% of the time. And furthermore, not doing 100% of something all at once doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It means that you’re learning – that you’re training. Allowing this, and embracing it, is where the true strength of your mind lies.
Use this strength to develop a proper mindset in training. Off the bat, know that you can do anything you’re determined to – if, and only if, you’re willing to work to get a little closer to it every day. It’s not all-or-nothing; and just because you didn’t become a kung fu master overnight doesn’t mean you should spend the next week on the couch watching TV. Every big success is rooted in many more small ones, and those are the victories that you should aim for and celebrate. Each one sharpens your skills and gives you a little more control over your mind and body.
Start with small things. Whether it’s doing ten push-ups a day, or not checking Facebook while you’re at work, or committing to eating less fast food, everything big is manageable by breaking it down into smaller pieces. The details don’t matter as much as the fact that you make a goal and stick to it. When you reach those goals, the next ones – the slightly bigger ones every time – don’t seem so bad, and before you know it you’ve done something you never thought you could.
Mind Exercises You Can Do at Home
When it comes to getting your mind and your body trained to perfection, it’s all about discipline and consistency. Intermittent fasting is something people build up in this way; some people do this with TV and purposely cut themselves off after an hour or two so that they can focus on their bigger goals. You can even start with just 15 minutes of reading, training, practice, or meditation a day, because it’s not about going from 0 to 100% all at once. It’s about the habit and the constant improvement. Build up in small steps, and you’ll be flexing your mind power and your willpower. A goal that starts with “No more junk food or TV ever again, with 4 hours of exercise a day!” is bound to fail because the ego has taken over. And one that doesn’t even bother trying has no ego at all. The key is finding the sweet spot in the middle.
One of the things that can break people in the early stages of training is stress, and therefore it’s important for you to have a plan to deal with it. Physiological stresses in the body can be relieved by simple stretches, a walk around the block, or even a good belly laugh at a good sitcom joke. Bad stresses that dig in and cause negative effects – worry about debts, emotional turmoil, etc. – can really have the opposite effect, though. Use your mind, keep your head up, and know that you’ll get through. It’s up to you if your mind is strong enough, if you’re up to the challenge – but remember that there’s always stress in this world, and the better you can deal with it, the better off you’ll be overall.
Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of quiet time for health and reflection. It’s not always about your mind and your external body; you can go inside your own head too. Take time to be okay when you’re alone and quiet, to be comfortable with yourself, and to strengthen your mental abilities through meditation and focus. You’ll see benefits almost immediately! One great side effect of this is that it can help avoid reliving past negative emotions or trauma, and allow you to overcome things that you may have thought would always effect you, possibly giving you a freedom you thought you’d never have. Yet one more bonus to building up the strength of your mind.
Your Mindset and Your Mood
Once you’re comfortable doing this, you can even use your mind to control your energy level. Just like when devoted parents work two jobs for their kids and somehow still find time to cook dinner and help with homework, you too can draw on your inner abilities once you’ve allowed them to flourish. It isn’t always easy, and it definitely takes dedication, but it’s possible because the mind creates your energy and perseveres when you consciously tell it to. Build up this strength and watch your life get better in uncountable ways.
Continuing with that point – you can elevate this habit to a whole new level when you use your mind to control the chi (your own inner energy force that radiates outward from you) inside the body. With meditation, and a lot of practice, you can control your lungs, heart rate, or even temperature. There is an energy inside the body that is only used naturally, but by concentrating, it can be moved around the body (just remember – we’re saying outright this requires consistent training!). Chi is very real and can be used for what you want; we use this largely in kung fu at our studio for healing. Doctors have proven that electrical energy can increase healing, and since our cells function on electric signals from our brain, it stands to reason that we can channel it into very positive effects.
Using Your Mind for Self-Improvement
Let your imagination go: use your mind power to control and overcome addiction and negative behaviours, by being honest and up front about your actions. Build up your mental endurance to hard situations or seemingly hopeless ones. Become a better person to be around by considering yourself from other people’s points of view. All of this, and so much more, is done by training your mind to do its best.
If we can leave you with one thought, it’s this: nothing worth doing is easy or quick. People respect masters because they have put in the time and effort over years and decades to become masters at what they do, and they have earned it. The journey of learning and improvement is far more important than any goal, as our natural human state is to want to constantly grow in our abilities.
So in one, or five, or ten or twenty years, when you look back at all the things you could have done, what will be on your list? Will you be consistently moving forward? Or will you always be looking back?