If we can deeply understand the power of mind, how we can both injure and benefit this world, we see that practice isn’t a luxury, but rather an imperative. It’s like food and water. It returns us to ourselves, to our sanity, to our true capacity.
~ Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
My husband and I enjoy our weekly ritual of doing a BODYPUMP class together. In this class we lift weights to strengthen the different muscle groups. We do more than 100 repetitions within each muscle group. In the middle of working out each muscle group, the instructor asks us to reset by taking a break or slowing down for a few seconds. In the absence of such a reset we would fatigue our muscles, hurt ourselves, or lose the right form for benefiting from these exercises.
I would argue that the same idea to reset also applies to our minds. Our minds are our most valuable asset—our best ideas originate in our minds as do our most destructive thoughts. Yet, we spend little or no time to look at the contents of our mind and take care of it. We pay more attention to our cars and computers than we do to our minds. Imagine using multiple programs on your computer without stopping. You know your computer will slow down or freeze and you’ll need to hit reset. But we never stop to rest our minds. Even when we sleep our brains are pretty active.
See for Yourself: Your Mind on Autopilot
When we don’t ever stop to look at our minds or the contents of our minds, we are letting our thoughts, emotions, and habitual patterns influence our decisions and actions. See for yourself. Even as you’re reading this post, what’s the quality of your breath—is it shallow or deep? Many of us habitually breathe in a shallow way, especially when we’re focusing on something. How about the quality of your mind—are you rushing to get to the main point in this post or are you taking your time to read and reflect on the words in this post? Neither shallow breathing nor rushing, when you don’t need to, is helpful but you continue to do so because you’re not even aware of your shallow breathing and rushing mind. You can’t change what you can’t see.
You can’t change what you can’t see.
Scientists have discovered that we make most of our daily decisions on autopilot—without our conscious awareness and intentional control. We have limited cognitive resources that we use for thinking, planning, remembering, strategizing, and planning. It makes sense for the brain to automate as much as possible so we don’t have to relearn everything, and we can conserve our limited brain resources for emergencies. Automating our decision making makes us efficient.
The downsides of automating our decision making are that we lack creativity, we don’t see new possibilities, and we’re reactive to changes in our environment. In the absence of awareness of our minds, we’re likely to take the path of least resistance—one that feels familiar and comfortable and not necessarily the most effective or creative.
We’re rewired to resist change when it feels like a threat to us. For example, you just got hired by a dynamic company doing something you love and you’re even getting paid much better than you did in your last job. Now that’s a good kind of change! But even positive change can feel like a threat. The new job entails working with new people and learning new tasks. If you see yourself as an outsider and don’t feel like you belong and/or if you feel incompetent because the new job requires you to learn new skills, you will go into a fight or flight, depending upon how you habitually react to threats. Fight tendencies involve becoming aggressive, angry, frustrated, complaining, and overtly resistant. Flight, on the other hand, involves closing down, disengagement, avoidance, procrastination, and other acts of suppressing your fears and insecurity. In the absence of awareness of your mind—thoughts, emotions, and how you process information—you’ll not even know that you’re in fight or flight mode.
The hard part about changing our autopilot nature is that it’s invisible to us. But if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you’ll benefit from a reset in the new year. These symptoms can show up in your relationships, work, health, school, or any aspect of your life:
- You’re not sleeping well
- You feel anxious
- You’re restless
- You tend to procrastinate
- You’re disengaged
- You lack motivation
- You feel stuck
- You don’t have enough time to do things important to you
- You don’t have enough energy to do things important to you
- You lack control over things important to you
If you’re feeling any of the above symptoms, you’d benefit from a RESET.
How to Reset
The beginning of a new year is a good time to reset. Reflecting on what worked and what held you back, can help you clarify your intentions for the new year and actions you’ll take to replace old habits. The basic idea behind a reset is to disrupt our default habits, step back to see the big picture, and take actions that are most aligned with our intentions.
For example, one of the defaults I noticed in myself this year is that I focus on all the ways I can be better and do better and underestimate what I do well. As a lifelong learner, this default serves me well. It helps me to stay open to learning but it also holds me back because I act on the limiting beliefs about myself. I noticed this default when we were having a dinner conversation with friends about networking. My immediate response was that I’m not good at networking. I remember saying, “I don’t like going to big networking events but when I do, I enjoy meeting new people and enjoy learning from the exchange of new ideas and experiences.” As I went on to say how people appreciate that I am genuinely interested in them and really listen, it suddenly hit me, I have many qualities of a good networker and yet I was operating out of an old belief that I’m not good at networking. This limiting belief about myself keeps me from attending conferences and big events. Yet, every time I go, I make new connections that are beneficial to me. Next time I resist going to a conference, I can reset to choose what’s aligned with my intentions.
There are many ways to practice reset. You can set aside time to follow the steps below as an act of contemplation or do some free style journaling. Once you’ve practiced how to reset, you’ll be able to reset not just in meditation but on the go, like I did in the dinner conversation—I noticed my default belief about myself and was able to disrupt it with new information that is more accurate and serves me better in taking actions that are beneficial for me and all involved. The more we practice how to reset, the more easily we can reset when we need it.
If the acronym—RESET—is helpful, you can use it as is or simply remember to stop, see the big picture, and take the most skillful and kind actions. When you’re using reset to find clarity with regard to a decision you’re making or a solving a problem, you may want to do all the steps sequentially. At other times, you may find that a particular step is more useful and just focus on that one step.
I. Relax you mind and body
Take time to relax your mind and body. Meditation is a good option, but you can also relax your mind and body when you’re exercising, dancing, and out in nature. Any activity that allows you to rest your thinking mind and engage your senses—like mindful eating, listening to music, noting the smells in a forest walk, etc—is calming to the limbic system (your emotional brain) and helps heal the mind and body.
Example: One of the ways that I relax my mind and body, besides meditation, is doing Zumba. Feeling the music in my body and responding to the different beats takes my mind off work and enjoy the present moment.
II. Explore your experience
Many people who practice mindfulness, end their meditation and move on to their next activity. Relaxing the mind and body with meditation is only the first step. Meditation creates the right conditions in the mind and body to explore our experience, which leads to new insights about our default patterns. In this next step we develop meta-awareness—awareness of our thoughts and how we think, our body sensations, feelings, and emotions. We do this step with kindness and non-judgmental curiosity. (In mindfulness 2.0 we develop the eight qualities of the mind essential to reset)
Example: In the middle of the dinner conversation I described above, I was able to observe—with almost a kind of playfulness and humor—what I was saying and feeling about my networking skills.
III. See the big picture
The next step is to step back to see the big picture—what are your beliefs and assumptions about yourself, your intentions, and others’ perspectives. In this step we start to see the patterns in our body sensations, thoughts, emotions, and actions, which can reveal to us our defaults. Once we see them, we can disrupt our defaults with mindful awareness and align ourselves with our intentions. Having clear intentions and aligning our actions accordingly is important. It’s easy to get distracted and move away from what we really want.
Example: Many people I’ve worked with share a common reaction before big presentations—anxiety. I know exactly how they feel because I feel it too. No matter how well I’m prepared there’s a tightness in the pit of my stomach and I can feel my heart beating faster. When I don’t stop to reset but just use positive thinking, my presentation is OK at best and I walk out of it not feeling satisfied. But every time I stop to reset, I find the root cause of my anxiety is a desire to impress and be liked. Once I see that, I can realign with my intention to be of service to the people listening to me and that inevitably leads to a fulfilling experience for me and my audience.
IV. Expand possibilities
Once we see our defaults and align with our intentions, we can expand the possibilities available to us. Rather than going with the first outcome or solution, in this step, we stay open to possibilities. This can open up new ways of seeing the problem and novel approaches to engaging in the challenging situation. We may discover that we came into the situation thinking of an either-or kind of solution, but we end up with a third way of thinking about it, which is better than earlier solutions we had in mind.
Example: A non-profit I was working with had a contentious dynamic between one of the key personnel and his colleagues around the use of cell phones in meetings. People who were in meetings with him complained that he was distracted on his phone and wanted to put in place a new rule of no cell phones in meetings. He, obviously, didn’t like that rule. When they utilized these steps to reset, they were able to have an open conversation about their thoughts and experiences, without any kind of judgment. Rather than focusing on whether they should or shouldn’t adopt the no-cell phone-rule, they asked questions to understand each other’s perspectives and experiences. For the first time the group heard his reasons for being distracted. He shared that the meetings went on too long because not everyone came prepared and he needed to spend time connecting with donors and not in these meetings. As soon as he said that, everyone agreed that their meetings were dysfunctional. Rather than creating a no-cell phone-rule, they ended up creating rules to have more efficient meetings, which had the buy in of everyone, even the disgruntled man that everyone was complaining about.
V. Take actions in alignment with your intentions
It’s not enough to have insights into our defaults and discover solutions, we have to act on them. In this last and very important step, we need to break down the solution into concrete steps we’re going to take that are in alignment with our intentions and beneficial to all involved.
Example: One of my intentions for 2020 is living a more active and healthy lifestyle. I used to think I’m just lazy, which is why I don’t like to run like my husband, who’s a marathon runner. It turns out my default desire for comfort is not laziness but a function of my entire childhood in Kuwait, where temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, prevented outdoor activities and confined us to a sedentary lifestyle. To undo that wiring in my brain, I need to take steps regularly to be more active. One of the actions I am committing to is starting a mindful Zumba class, which will get me to practice mindfulness while doing Zumba—I can reset my mind and body at the same time!
Every time I RESET, I gain so much, whether it’s clarity about my default or my intentions or new actions I can take in alignment with my intentions. I encourage you to take some time to RESET in the new year. If you’re willing, please take the extra time to share your insights and intentions for 2020 in the comments as it may inspire others to also RESET.
Given the rapid changes in our political, technological, economic, social, and cultural environments, we can all benefit from stopping our default reactions and taking the time to RESET.
If you haven’t already, take the mindfulness quiz to assess the mindfulness skills essential for a mindful RESET.