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This is not a fluffy article about meditation. We are going to tell you how to train your mind so that you can work more efficiently, work less hours and make more money. We know you want to hear about that, so read on. We’re not here to get you in touch with your inner child, we’re here to help you unleash that tiger inside.

Ok, so now that we got your attention, it’s a 3-step plan to erase, rewind and reboot your brain. These 3 steps will help you focus your thoughts, create a mind that is concentrating on the task at hand and not being distracted by, well anything.

Upgrade your brain. And by the way, if you didn’t know this already, mindfulness meditation changes the shape of your brain. It actually physically changes the brain, a process known as neuroplasticity.

This is what researchers at the University Montreal found in a landmark study:

"Through training, Zen meditators appear to thicken certain areas of their cortex and this appears to be underlie their lower sensitivity to pain," says lead author Joshua A. Grant, the lead researcher of the study in the Université de Montréal Department of Physiology and Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal. "We found a relationship between cortical thickness and pain sensitivity, which supports our previous study on how Zen meditation regulates pain."

So, with that said, here are the 3 steps you need to take to refocus and reshape your mind:

Step 1—Clear your mind

Stream of thoughts. Your mind is a constant stream of thoughts and emotions, and sometimes, your mind flips from thought to thought at blurring speed. It’s helpful to think about your mind as a stream of water, sometimes calm, sometimes flowing slowly and sometimes like raging rapids.

Start at the beginning. The first step in mental self-control is being able to focus on one thought. Your mind is always going to be thinking about what seems like a million things at once, leaving you in a fog. But if you can train your mind to focus on just one thing at a time, you have it made, right? Here’s the exercise that will help you do just that. For our regular readers, we covered this key mindfulness exercise in our last blog which you can get here.

Focusing Your Mind Exercise

Find a quiet place where you can sit down without distractions for a few minutes. Sit down on a chair comfortably, keep your back relatively straight and rest your hands on your legs or lap.

Start paying attention to your breathing: inhaling, exhaling and the space between. If you want, you can count 1 for inhales and 2 for exhales if that helps you focus. The key is to let yourself breathe naturally as you normally would, just pay attention to your breathing.

Your mind will wander and you will start thinking about other things. Gently stop yourself and refocus on your breathing. It’s ok, that is what the mind does, it pops thoughts into your head. Just focus back on your breath when this happens. Do this for 2-5 minutes.

So now if you keep practicing this, you will get better at being able to drown out all of the other thoughts in favor of the one thought that you want to focus on. It doesn’t come easy, but it will come with practice.

Step 2—Catalog your thoughts and emotions

If your boss tells you to organize this month’s receipts and nudges you towards the filing cabinet that is overflowing with them, what would you do (is this a thing? I thought everything was computerized now…just bear with us on this one)?

Identify and organize your thoughts. In order to put various files or things or thoughts in order, you first have to identify each item. So, this step is about being able to identify the thoughts and emotions you are having, and then categorize them. In step 1, you developed the ability to quiet the mind and focus on one thought or object, which was your breathing in that exercise. The skills you gained in step 1 improve your ability to observe the thoughts and emotions you are having for this exercise.

The calmAscent app has a series of nuggets and exercises which help you observe your thoughts. Download the app if you are interested in taking a deeper dive and exploring this and many other topics. Or read on for a brief exercise:

Observing Your Thoughts Exercise

Before you start this exercise, it’s helpful to have some categories of thoughts set up for yourself. For example, to keep it easy to start, you may want to just categorize them as positive or negative. Another method could be based on the function of the thought, such as thoughts about planning, judgment, anger, fear or desires/wants.

Sit down and get ready for the exercise. Relax and begin to notice your thoughts. Take note of what “bucket” the thought falls into based upon your pre-defined categories. After you have identified the thought, let it go so that the next one pops up. Repeat this process for 1 minute to start and increase your time as you get better at it.

A few helpful hints: You may want to make quick notes about the categories of thoughts you are having in a journal. And, some thoughts may be hard to just let go. If you find yourself stuck on letting go of a difficult thought, make a special note of it. It’s ok, this happens. Some “sticky” thoughts are just that, difficult to let go.

Step 3—Change your relationship with your thoughts and emotions

It takes effort. Now that you’ve managed to complete the exercises on focus and observation of your thoughts, the final step is to implement change in the thoughts and/or emotions you are having. This step does take time and effort, but we will show you the path and the desired outcome. It is then up to you to put in the work. It’s exactly like working out, easy to learn, but hard to keep at it to get those chiseled abs. But we know you can get it done. Enough cheerleading, here goes.

There is a difference between your thoughts and you. After doing these exercises enough times, you will begin to notice something really important. Your thoughts are not you. You are now able to observe what you are thinking without “getting involved” in the thought. The way that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh puts it is really helpful: “when a feeling of sadness arises, immediately recognize it: ‘A feeling of sadness has just arisen in me.’” If you start feeling fearful or anxious or tired or whatever you may be thinking or feeling, acknowledge the thought or feeling you are having and move on.

Here is another key point. When you keep practicing this exercise, you will experience something like when you do your breathing exercises. When you keep bringing your wandering mind back to the breath, you are focusing on your breathing in order to quiet the mind. Similarly, when you keep taking a step back from your thoughts and observing them, you begin to master your thoughts and feelings rather than being ruled by them.

So that my friends is the whole kit and kaboodle in a nutshell. Sorry, we get cheesy sometimes once we finish something, kind of like our version of the touchdown dance or goal slide. We covered a lot in this article, and it’s ok if you take your time reading it. More importantly, take your time practicing the exercises, so that you can strive to achieve mastery over your thoughts and feelings so your mind can become more focused and productive.

If you liked this article and want to see more great content, you can sign up for email newsletter below so we can email you whenever there is a new blog posted. Or better yet, download the calmAscent app and get short pieces of actionable content like this that you can read in a few minutes a day. You get a new ‘nugget’ and exercise every day and it’s totally free!