If I asked how you train your mind, what would you say?
- “I read a lot.”
- “I meditate for an hour every day.”
- “I journal every night.”
If any of those things are true, then you’re doing a great job of feeding your mind. But what happens when you feed yourself and don’t workout?
You get flabby.
People who hit the gym regularly have bodies that show it. The same is true for people who condition their minds. Conditioning isn’t about feeding your brain new information or finding productivity “hacks,” it’s about creating a training routine for your mind.
Thinking of your mind as a physical thing, a concept we call the body-mind, is a big shift for some people, but it’s fundamental to conditioning.
People who can’t conceptualize this are always at the mercy of their reptile brain and have little control over their thoughts.
I’ve written this how-to for conditioning your mind for people who don’t want to be victims of circumstance. If you want to be in your mind’s driver seat, the first step is to understand the physical forces that control your mind.
Your State Of Mind Begins With Your Body
It’s very easy to get lost in abstractions when discussing the mind. Anyone who’s spent a considerable amount of time in a college dorm room has been witness to at least one debate over “what is consciousness.”
Your state of mind comes from your body. It’s that simple. Let me give you an example using a tool I built called The Cure.
The Cure is a four step process to get yourself out of any negative state. It works like this:
- Put a smile on your face. The sensation of smiling tells your mind to cheer up.
- Thrust your arms in the air. Or do any short burst of physical movement.
- Repeat a mantra. It doesn’t have to be “Jai guru deva om.” I yell, “Fuckin’ ay!”
- Deep exhale. Let go of all that tension and relax.
If you don’t believe me, try it right now. I guarantee you that doing this will change how you feel. Do it dozens of times a day and you will be training your body-mind to more naturally feel this way.
Why does The Cure work so well? Because 95% of negative states can be traced to one of three causes (or a combination of three causes):
- Muscle tension. We’re so used to stress we don’t even notice how tense we are.
- Shallow breathing. We think we’re calm, but we’re actually taking panicky, short breaths.
- Negative self-talk. We get caught in an endless internal dialogue of self-criticism.
The Cure physically disrupts these negative influences. It gives you conscious control of your body-mind, not by journaling or “practicing gratitude,” but by physically engaging your brain.
Why You Can’t Condition Your Mind With Meditation
“When I look back at my life, I am happy to have had what most people would consider a successful life, not only in terms of business, but in my relationships and in lots of ways. More than anything else, I attribute it to meditation.” —Ray Dalio
Ray’s not wrong. I meditate/trance at least an hour an day, and can tell you that meditation is the greatest tool for maintaining your mind.
However, meditation is a terrible tool for conditioning your mind. It’s great for becoming aware of your thoughts and over time, learning to stop those thoughts from consuming you, but that’s different to conditioning your mind for top performance.
Conditioning is strengthening yourself through repetition. Top athletes condition their bodies and mind constantly. For example, if you watched the Rio Olympics, you wouldn’t be at fault for thinking that Michael Phelps has anger management issues:
But what you’re seeing there is pure mental conditioning. Michael has a ritual for top performance, one he practices every day, so that his mind is fired up like a race car when it’s time to win.
This isn’t easy to do, but it ALWAYS pays off.
As Nico Rosberg put it after winning the Formula 1 World Championship a couple of weeks ago: “I put everything into it. Had a mental trainer and made massive progress as a result. Mental training is difficult. It is on and on.”
Just like conditioning your body, conditioning your mind is about repeating the same “exercise” until you get stronger. Your specific ritual might differ, but the basic keys to conditioning your mind remain the same.
Follow These 3 Keys To Condition Your Mind
When I start working with a client, I walk them through my System for a Limitless Mind. The system is a bit too broad to detail in full here, but part of it is mental conditioning.
Here’s the three-step process for conditioning your mind that I walk every client through:
Step 1: Figure Out What’s On In Your Brain
No matter what weakness your mental conditioning is addressing, you need to understand the mechanisms behind it.
In my article on overcoming anxiety, I broke down the two foundations of anxiety: Fear and overwhelm. The two work in a postitive feedback loop:
- Life begins to stack up and overwhelm you.
- You become afraid that you can’t handle everything.
- Your fear increases your feeling of overwhelm, which in turn, increases your fear.
Until you break it down to really understand the mechanisms behind your weakness, you won’t be able to pick the right tool to address it.
Step 2: Find The Tool To Fix Your Weakness
In the case of anxiety, the tool I recommend is The House of Flow. The condensed version looks something like this:
- Stop thinking about everything besides the task at hand.
- Visualize the task going perfectly.
- Ask yourself how that visualization feels.
- Relax your body, and absorb yourself fully in the work.
The House of Flow is a tool you can use to control your body-mind and enter a flow state whenever you’d like. It’s one of many tools I developed and tested on myself for years before unleashing it on my clients.
When I wrote about anxiety, a lot of commenters wrote something along the lines of, “he just doesn’t get how hard it is for me.” Wrong. I know how awful these patterns are from the inside-out, and as long as you’re whining about how bad they are, you’re failing to practice the tools that will help you overcome them.
Your tool will change depending on what you want to condition, but in general, it will be a routine you can repeat to take control of your body-mind and shift yourself in the right direction.
Step 3: Put Your Tool Into Practice Every Day
Conditioning only works if you do it constantly. If you run 10 miles today, then wait six months to run another 10, you’ll have conditioned yourself less than someone who jogs a half mile every day.
Analyze your daily routine and figure out when it makes the most sense to practice your ritual. If you’re conditioning yourself against anxiety, figure out the moments in your day when you’re most anxious.
Consistency is everything here. The mind is a muscle, and like your biceps, quads, pecs, and every other muscle, it needs constant stimulation to get stronger.
What Many People Get Wrong About “Discipline”
Everyone knows discipline is critical, but most people have terrible misconceptions about what discipline actually is.
If you’re visualizing a Rocky montage where you punish your body and mind, getting by only through sheer willpower, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you want to see what I’m talking about, stop by a gym this January.
You’ll see dozens of people who have spent every day that week in the gym. They made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape, and they’re channelling their inner Sylvester Stallone.
Two weeks later they’ll all be gone.
It’s not because they’re weak, it’s because they’re relying on motivation to get them to the gym every day.
Motivation doesn’t get results. Discipline does.
Starting new habits is not easy, yet even the smallest action repeated regularly will allow you to reap huge rewards. And with a little consistency, you’ll soon find yourself entering a new positive feedback loop, one where discipline leads to the conditioning of your mind, which in turn strengthens your discipline.
Over time, this will leave you feeling better and better and better.
And who doesn’t want to practice things that feel better and better?