Take control of your thoughts

by | Sep 23, 2013 | Blog | 2 comments

mindfulness body part“Command and control still has a purpose—at least for my mind.”

That was one of my thoughts while listening to Dr. Craig Hassed of  Monash University, Department of General Practice, lecture on “Mindfulness: Why Attention Matters.”

Mindfulness is the mental discipline of training our mind to pay attention, as  Dr. Hassed explained to our Neuroleadership Institute class.

When we pay attention and live in the moment, we are tuned in and engaged. We also can listen and think more clearly.

With my thoughts darting to “command and control,” I wasn’t practicing the best classroom mindfulness. But at least I was thinking about the lecture and why mindfulness matters so much.

And I certainly wasn’t multi-tasking, which not only diverts attention but also is stressful.

(By the way, research shows that prolonged stress leads to wear-and-tear on the body. This in turn leads to impaired immunity, bone demineralization and atrophy of nerve cells in the brain among other conditions. This can adversely affect our learning and memory. So the next time you get a cold, think twice about blaming the person who sneezed next to you on the airplane.  You may be responsible for adding to your stress, which is weakening your immunity system. But I digress.)

As adults, it’s not easy to be mindful.

The mind’s default state is to be inattentive and idle.

That’s okay if you’re trying to use your “Milky Way Brain”—the vast non-conscious processing state—to come up with creative ideas.

However, the distracted mind often ruminates about the past, including negative experiences.  

This wandering mind can be an unhappy mind as research studies show. Dr. Hassed told us that wandering minds flourish among people who have been diagnosed with various forms of psychopathology. These include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.

To keep our mind from wandering, we can train it to take direction and be present in the moment.

By doing so, we improve our attention as well as increase our Emotional Intelligence.

How do you take cognitive control of your thoughts?

Many people start directing their mind and thoughts by learning to meditate or taking other mindfulness programs.

While these can be extremely effective and provide lifelong emotional and physical health benefits, you also can get value in taking simpler actions, according to Dr. Hassed, also author of The ESSENCE of Health. (ESSENCE stands for education, stress management, spirituality, exercise, nutrition, connectedness and environment, which he calls the seven pillars of well-being.)

For example, you can help train your attention by pausing to take deep breaths. 

You also can do a mental body scan in which you move your attention  through your different body parts. Your body is always in a present state so focusing on your body helps your mind be more present.

By the way, world-class athletes definitely understand the importance of the mind and body connection and practice both mindfulness and physical prowess to help them get to the top of their game.

Since organizational work is both mentally and physically demanding (especially when implementing strategic initiatives), we can take tips from traditional athletes to become better corporate athletes.  For more about this, check out my blog post about Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, Be the saint in the room.

Meanwhile, how well are you monitoring your thinking so you can command and control your thoughts?


  1. Chris Amstutz

    Interesting article Liz. An additional method to train your attention would be to put down that mobile device for a day! We are all so busy mulch-tasking that we are beginning to give increasingly smaller slivers to time to focused “attention”.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Chris! Give up mobile devices for a full day!!! What a drill sergeant! I agree that mobile devices are becoming appendages to our body and we’re using them constantly, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take as drastic an action as you proposed. If you try it, let me know how it goes. For now, I’m content to avoid multi-tasking and also turning off my device during meetings, meals, exercise, thinking time and time with others.

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