Your brain is the most powerful tool in the universe. And it’s yours.
Lucky, lucky you.
The human brain can solve problems, generate unique and revolutionary ideas, envision and create new realities, conjure up joy . . . and if left unsupervised, it can also create anxiety, hold us back from becoming what we’re capable of, and find evidence for limiting thought patterns.
The brain is a marvel and can also be a menace. It has distinctly reptilian areas, designed to protect us from harm. And it has uniquely human areas — where we plan, reason, and entertain new and novel ideas. It contains connections we inherited and connections we built, consciously or unconsciously. It is a combination of programming and present moment — sometimes automatic, and sometimes deliberate.
It’s easy and normal to feel at the effect of your brain, to let ‘automatic’ rule the day. “I’m having an off week.” But the truth is that you have a ridiculous amount of influence and control over what happens in that cranium of yours. Need proof? What’s something you used to do/think/be that you intentionally stopped? Do you floss your teeth regularly now? Pay your bills differently than you did in your 20’s? Have mad crossword skills that would make your past self gape at the marvel you’ve become? Swim a mile 20% faster than you did a few years ago?
Those changes were deliberate, part of a plan you may or may not have been conscious of creating. It could be that you practiced something long enough that it (quite literally) rewired your brain for that strength. It could be that you changed your thinking, and so changed the emotions and resulting behaviors of a specific task or habit. But it was all you, all on purpose.
You probably have other examples, too — a person you used to have a challenging relationship with, but now love (or vice versa); something in your past that used to cause pain when you thought about it, and now feels neutral (or even positive). We say things like, “time heals all wounds” and, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” What we really should say, “with time, our perspective about a specific event changes based on its relative importance and prioritization within the larger context of our lives” and “when we’re away from someone we love, we think constantly about how much we miss them, which makes our thoughts dominated by visions of their perfection, giving us the sense of loving them even more.” Those would be just as quippy, so I’m not sure why we don’t use them.
If we can change our brain deliberately when we don’t even know we’re doing it (unconscious deliberateness?), imagine what we can do when we take full, conscious control. When we become the CEO of our own mental experience, instead of giving our brain the top job.
Using the CEO/org chart model can help us think about mental management the same way we would about leadership or management of a team, and recognize where we aren’t serving ourselves as well as we’re serving others . . . and by extension not serving others well by not showing up as the most powerful and deliberate version of ourselves. Let’s take a closer look at what a CEO (you) would invest in an employee (your brain . . . and by extension, also you . . . wow).
How do employees at your ‘company’ work together and treat each other? Are you meeting all these commitments to yourself? For example, would you ever, ever think negative or berating thoughts about one of your employees? Use a mistake on a project as a reason to doubt an employee’s worth as a human? If you answered no, do you do these things to yourself? What if you didn’t? What if you established that your mental culture from this point forward is to never, ever beat yourself up for something ever again? What if you committed to a corporate culture of looking to the past only to learn, not to engage in the futile exercise of trying to change it or think it out of existence? What if you decided your time was better spent looking toward the future?
What are your expectations for meeting professional commitments? Setting priorities and goals? Delivering on work product? Have you committed to yourself in the same way you would expect an employee to commit and deliver? If everything you planned to do for yourself was treated like a meeting with your CEO (again, that’s you!), how might you approach things differently?
Similarly, what are the measures of success for employees at your mental company/self? At the end of the day, are they evaluated based on how they showed up, or how other people reacted? Based on whether they push themselves, or achieve the minimum when they know the bar is low? How do you evaluate you?
You didn’t develop those crossword skills overnight. You had to work at it. You invested time, and you probably unconsciously set yourself up for success by just enjoying the process, rather than worrying about when you were going to be able to complete a Times Saturday in under 5 minutes. You were training, working on a project with a positive framing — over and over, you directed your brain to solve, solve, solve.
There’s sometimes more effort involved when consciously training our brains, but we can start by asking ourselves solution-assuming questions. Instead of thinking “There’s no way I can get everything done and still do anything nice for my team this week.” how about “How might I get everything done this week and still have time to surprise my team?” Or instead of, “Why are there always so many meetings on the calendar? When am I supposed to get my work done?” try, “What are ways I can effectively use my time this week to meet my commitments to others and to my own to-do list?”
These may seem like subtle distinctions, but your brain is going to find the solution to the question you ask it. So, “Why are there always so many meetings?” finds that answer, which really, isn’t the answer you’re looking for. You want to know how to kill it. You want to know how to balance various priorities. You want to know where you might need to say no. You want to know how you might do all that and feel great while doing it. So ask your brain those questions.
Training implies deliberate repetition. To get good at something, including a new perspective, you have to be deliberate or consistent, and preferably both. And especially when we’re doing new things, our brain wants to go back to homeostasis — back to what’s comfortable, easy, and automatic. So to give ourselves a new habit, or a new way of thinking, we have to move past the voice in our head that says, “I just don’t feel like it today.” or “One day off won’t kill me.” Those voices are darling little furry pets, and we love them. But they’re not really helping us, so we have to leave them at home in their crates.
So what’s your training plan? Do you want to start your day by identifying the right questions? Set a weekly time to identify thoughts you’d like to practice, look for evidence of, and begin to really believe? Put regular reminders in your phone to find positively-framed questions to your current challenges?
The choice is yours. You’re the CEO, and get to decide what amounts of training you provide your employee, and what kind of projects and challenges you assign her.
Mental health works the same as physical health: prevention is everything. When we realize the effects of taking care of our brains, directing them to ever more productive thoughts and solutions, and when we reserve time to do this on a regular basis, we experience myriad benefits. The same way we benefit from eating things that are good for us, exercising regularly, and making preventive care appointments with our doctors. As the CEO, we have to offer the benefits (time, space in our calendar, practice, etc.), and then, as the employee, we have to take advantage of them.
Prioritizing your mental game is a radically selfless act. Servant leadership does not mean martyrdom. Servant leadership means being of service to those you lead.
We serve others best when we are our best.
Be your brain’s CEO. Create an awesome working environment in your mind.
Dig deep, show up.
If you’re thinking differently than you were before reading this post, and like it, don’t stop now. I offer a limited number of free 30-minute coaching calls each week, and one of them could be yours. All you need is yourself and a desire to see what’s possible. What are you waiting for?