Muhammad Ali was a mind champ.
Way before he stepped into the ring, Ali had already beaten down his opponent countless times in his own head.
He’d seen himself dancing out of the dressing room and stepping into the ring. Imagined himself floating like a butterfly circling himself and his opponent. And felt himself standing over his downed rival as the ref counted him out.
Long before any punch was thrown, in his own mind, Ali had already won. More powerfully, Ali was masterful at getting his opponent to believe he’d already lost.
Aussie cricketer, Steve Waugh, known as the Ice Man for his mental toughness, called this form of psychological warfare, mental disintegration.
But being a mind champ isn’t just for top athletes striving to win more. It’s about using your powerful mind to get what you want in every aspect of your life.
What Is The Mind?
Inside our thick skulls we each have a brain, and somewhere not necessarily inside our heads (in our “awareness”) we have a mind that we can use to direct the brain.
Think of the brain as an organ, and the mind as pushing the pedals, akin to a car and a driver.
Just like a car, the brain mostly drives itself. We don’t need to bother thinking about how the body breaths, walks, and pumps blood. The role of the mind is to oversee the operations, steer in the right direction, and keep us on the road.
Unfortunately for most of us, nobody ever taught us how to drive.
Brains Out of Control
Because nobody ever teaches us how to use our brains—“Education” is stuffing them with information—most of our brains are out of control.
From moment to moment, like those people whose foot is always tapping while they sit, many of us have just accepted our noisy brains and their wild swings in thinking and focus.
Like the most powerful computer on the planet left to surf the Internet all day, most of our brains are running amok.
One minute we’re feeling great about ourselves. The next we’re insecure. This moment we’re thinking about picking up bread on our way home, or a memory from college, the next moment we’re worried about some loser in North Korea.
Our brains are so out of control that we’re raising a generation of kids who can seemingly only focus on video games, and whom we’ve resorted to jacking up on speed.
Us adults aren’t much different, “medicating” with pills, caffeine, alcohol, food, and other escapes just to get our brains through the day.
We all have goals but lacking the skill at getting our brains to consistently focus on what matters, few people ever achieve them.
More sadly, millions of people whose brains suffer depressed, anxious, insecure and other crap thoughts have come to label themselves that way (e.g. “I’m depressed”), and have no clue that their problem is a lack of “will and skill” at directing their brain.
A car left in drive will keep going until it hits something, and a brain that is left to drive itself will mostly drift to the negative due to our inbuilt “negativity bias.”
Being a mind champ is training yourself to direct and oversee the brain, and to step in and grab the wheel any time you choose.
How Do You “Control” Your Mind?
I put the word “control” in quotes because it’s a ludicrous idea.
Now, I know if you search for it, you’ll find plenty of experts talking about “mind control,” but every serious practitioner knows that mind controls “us.”
Like riding a wild stallion, the skill of being a mind champ isn’t to “control” the amazing biological machine we ride, but to exert influence when we can and choose.
Think about it this way. Can you tell me when you will next need to go to the bathroom? Of course not, because we’re not in “control” of those bodily functions…
The body is in control, and the best we can do is influence how we comply when the body tells us what it’s going to do.
Our thoughts and feelings work the same way.
Bubbling up from a deeper level than our conscious awareness (from our unconscious energetic reality), our thoughts are presented to us like we’ve tuned into a TV or radio station, and the best we can do is train ourselves to change the “channel.”
I’ve spent a lifetime doing hard things, but, BY FAR, this is the toughest thing I’ve ever trained.
What is mental toughness?
We often think of mental toughness in extreme contexts like soldiers and marathon runners, but you also meet many mothers who’ve developed this skill…
With young kids getting themselves into all sorts of ruckus, those mothers have trained themselves to get beyond the natural fears and worries of the brain to think and feel how they choose.
One might say that mental toughness is your ability to ignore those natural signals from the brain (e.g. a marathon runner’s brain telling her to quit at mile 20), and use your will and skill to direct the mind as you choose.
Of course at some level Ali didn’t “know” he was the greatest, but by directing his brain there every day since he was a kid, he came to know it.
While we often think of mental toughness in arenas of “grit,” I’d suggest that mental toughness is something much more fundamental too.
What is tougher in our world than maintaining a positive state of mind?
There are of course many things to celebrate in our lives, yet the chips are stacked against us staying positive.
We are born into a body that suffers pain, decays and dies. We’re the only animal on the planet that is aware of mortality, and it’s up to us to create great meaning in our lives.
We all have unmet needs. We’re not doing the work we want. Lack financial security. Miss the relationships we want. Yet, we want to stay in a positive mind.
You can’t turn on a radio, TV, or the Internet without being reminded of the worst of our world. Our news paints a hell on earth, and it’s up to us to keep seeking out the good.
Day-to-day we’re stretched. Working around the clock, balancing our lives and families, many of us stressed and overwhelmed, our only line of defense is a positive mind.
With all these things coming at us, as well as our brain’s negativity bias, just living in a positive mind might be considered the work of a mind champ!
3 Steps To Becoming A Mind Champ
As you guys know, I detest self-help hacks, and I only have one way of doing things.
The fact that social media is dripping in inspirational quotes suggests that many of us need them just to get through the day, but if you want to become a mind champ, you need more than a disposable idea.
You need rigorous process…
1. Acquire Knowledge
There are two types of knowledge you need for becoming a mind champ.
General knowledge demands a “good-enough” understanding of how we are controlled by our thoughts and feelings. You could spend a lifetime reading books and training with experts (as I’ve done), but, ultimately, you need little knowledge to proceed.
You don’t need to know how a piston pumps a crankshaft to drive a car, and you don’t need to know the intricacies of how your brain works to drive it.
I suggest downloading my free book to Building Your Limitless Mind, which gives you all you “need” to know and also directs you to other resources if you want to go deeper.
In addition to this general knowledge, more importantly, you want to develop specific knowledge about you and your brain.
No boxer steps into a ring ready to fight “an opponent.” They train specifically for the boxer they are facing, seeking as much knowledge as they can on their rival, and designing a specific strategy to beat them.
For instance, if you suffer from being anxious, you want to know what you are anxious about, how your brain is processing those thoughts, and what specific changes will have the most benefit for you, as I outlined in this article.
So, start here. Get knowledgeable on the equipment, but most importantly, focus on how specifically you have been using it.
2. Daily Exercises
At the most basic level, if you’re serious about being a mind champ, you want to be writing this stuff down.
You can pretend that you’re “working on this” by reading this article and “trying to be more positive,” and just like the many people gearing up for their 3 weeks of working out starting January 1, nothing will change.
Or, you can lay this out methodically, get very clear on how you’re becoming a mind champ, and every day train yourself to do it.
A process that I created for myself and my clients is Daily Exercises.
In your Daily Exercises, you write down ALL of those things that you are training in your mind, and how specifically you are doing it.
Output of this step might be a table of ideas like, “In stressful situations like X, I get a negative picture in my head, have a fearful inner voice, feel my mind racing, heart beating faster, and I lose the composure I need to make good decisions.”
Going deeper into the “structure” of this problem you see some type of External Event triggers in your brain an Internal Process that leads you to think, feel, and behave a certain way.
Knowing this, it’s easy enough to design a process to change it: e.g. “If X happens, I step back, get some distance, interact differently with that inner voice, take 10 breaths, and get my mind calm before I act.”
This is of course just one example, and you might find that, like me, your Daily Exercises can end up as dozens of pages, although I would suggest you start with no more than one page.
Then, you can guess what you do from here… Just like getting your body in shape, to get your mind in shape, you do your exercises every day.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
The brain simply does what it’s conditioned to do.
We all know that our brains operate mostly by habit, and that habit is mostly formed through repetition.
Hence, to change old mental habits and create new ones, you want to practice, practice, practice…
Truth is, with advanced tools like hypnosis you can change your brain much more quickly, if not immediately, but doing it the old fashioned way (which is all I can teach as “self” help) requires more elbow grease.
The patterns in our brains are developed over years, decades, lifetimes, and they can be stubborn to change. But when you’re being a mind champ every day, it’s only a matter of time before you’re thinking and feeling how you choose.
Just like you once trained yourself to walk, you train yourself to think!
Often in life we think there’s “something wrong” with us, when, really, we’re just out of practice.
You don’t get heavily overweight in a week, and the ways we think, feel, and behave are merely the result of accumulated behavior.
You don’t lose that weight in a week but through training over time, and getting our brains in shape works the same way.
It’s not a matter of deciding to “think positive” or “have more mental toughness.” You become a mind champ by practicing every day.
For mind champs like Muhammad Ali, as I wrote about in Boss Magazine, this isn’t something they do every now and then, it’s a way of life.
Every second, moment to moment, you want to be taking charge of what is happening inside, directing your brain where you want it to go.