Mindfulness is not a complicated therapy or practice that takes years to learn. It's actually something that you can start with immediately and will greatly benefit your life.
In this post I will explain how you can start today, with one simple mind hack that I call ‘the gap between the watcher and the mind'.
For a moment, think about your brain/mind and you (the self) as two separate entities.
That might sound strange, but bear with me.
At the moment the two are merged together, and whatever your mind tells you to do, you act out.
We generally talk about the mind in two components: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind (1).
Your conscious mind gets its information from your subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind is like a huge computer hard drive with unlimited capacity. It stores everything that has ever happened to you. Its function is to store and retrieve data.
Everything that happens in your life moves through your conscious mind and is stored in the subconscious mind (2).
For example: if you fell off a swing when you were young and broke your arm, the information that swings are potentially dangerous and should be avoided is stored in the subconscious mind. This is then fed back through your conscious mind whenever you encounter a swing.
Your behaviors: your thoughts, hopes and desires are all as a result of the information stored in your subconscious mind.
And throughout the day, your conscious mind simply answers yes or no to decisions based on information in the subconscious mind.
Your subconscious mind regulates everything you do and keeps you thinking and acting in a manner consistent with the actions you have taken and the things you have experienced in the past.
Understanding this reveals exactly why we stay stuck in the same patterns of behavior, both positive and negative, throughout our lives. The regulatory nature of the subconscious mind can both enable and disable our potential.
Overcoming the Autopilot Response
Mindfulness is used here as a mind hacking tool to interrupt the autopilot response we have to daily challenges. And we can do that by creating a gap between the watcher and the mind.
The idea is that you become the watcher and put space between yourself and your conscious mind, which is being fed information by your subconscious mind.
It really is quite simple. Next time you are faced with a challenging circumstance that causes you emotional hardship, simply recognize the response you are having and question it.
Imagine yourself literally stepping back from the information your mind is acting upon, and questioning whether the emotions you are being asked to feel, the reaction you are having and the actions you are about to take are beneficial to the situation.
Create the gap between you the watcher and the mind.
A Real-Life Example: Anxiety
This is particularly useful for those who suffer from anxiety.
Consider this. It may be that you become anxious when meeting new people.
Prior to meeting new people you may experience worry that the person won't like you or the way you look, or that you might say the wrong thing.
You may sleep badly before the occasion, or suffer symptoms such as high levels of adrenaline, sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach or nausea.
Amidst these symptoms you also know that on numerous occasions in the past you have met new people and everything turned out perfectly fine.
In fact, the overwhelming number of times you've met new people it has been a pleasant experience and you've had a good time.
The point is, even though the anxiety is very real, it is irrational.
You even know beforehand that it is going to occur, and you wait for it to occur, as such facilitating its occurrence. This is as a result of the default behaviour stored in your subconscious mind.
Simply identifying that this is true, is mindfulness. Because to do so means you can become the watcher and sit back and watch these emotions and symptoms unfold, and from an objective standpoint realise how unhelpful and irrational they are.
As this anxiety begins to come on, you can choose to meditate and visualise separating yourself, as the watcher, from your mind and observing the autopilot behaviour.
You can then choose to intervene as the watcher and change this behaviour.
This might not be possible immediately, but over time you will be able to do this.
You will see a shift in the way you cope with the emotions and the symptoms and you will be able to control the situation and ultimately begin to reprogram your subconscious mind to give a different, more positive response to meeting new people.
Become the Watcher – Every Day
You can use this mind hacking technique in any area of your life. You can use it to make decisions.
For example, if you get a job offer and you're not sure whether it's the right one for you, you can create the gap between the watcher and the mind to observe how you are reacting and dealing with this decision.
You can objectively see whether you are being controlled by emotions linked to events in the past or fears of the future and begin to see how certain emotions and thoughts are not helpful and not conducive to making an informed, practical decision.
Creating a gap between the watcher and the mind allows you to observe yourself and your default behavior.
It enables you to climb out of the flowing stream of routine and sit on the bank and observe the water and debris flowing by.
The more you do this the more you will see how specific situations make you fall into story and how you pretty much always respond in a similar way to specific events in your life.
You will notice that some things you respond positively to – and these things usually have a good outcome as a result – and other things you respond negatively to, or simply avoid doing, and as a result things don't turn out well or simply remain stagnant.
I have been using this technique for a number of years now and find that I am more emotionally balanced because of. I will often use positive interruptions, too.
By this I mean that when I identify that I am falling into a pattern of unhelpful behavior, I will interrupt the process with meditation of some form: a breathing meditation, a nature walk, a run, listening to music, or even talking myself through the situation using logical progression.
Here is the process in 5 steps:
- Identify the negative pattern of behavior.
- Mentally create the gap between yourself, the watcher, and your mind
- Observe the behavior: the thoughts, emotions and actions your conscious mind is being fed by your subconscious mind.
- Recognize the flaws in this behavior.
- Intervene with a positive response mechanism.