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How Mentally Strong People Manage Their Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

How Mentally Strong People Manage Their Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

The only things we can control in life are our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we can manage those, we can achieve our goals and gain success in life. To have this level of control, we need to learn about the science-based patterns behind our emotions and thoughts and how to manage them. If we know how our minds work, we can be intentional about influencing our thinking and feeling patterns. We can evaluate reality more clearly, make better decisions, and improve our ability to achieve our goals. Thus, we gain greater agency and the quality of living intentionally.

How do our minds work?

Intuitively, our mind feels like a cohesive whole. We perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet, cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is similar to a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions.

Roughly speaking, we have two thinking systems. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for his research on behavioral economics, calls them “System 1” and “System 2.” However, I think the terms “autopilot system” and “intentional system” describe them more clearly and intuitively.

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The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions. Its cognitive processes take place mainly in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that developed early in our evolution. This system guides our daily habits, helps us make snap decisions, and reacts instantly to dangerous life-and-death situations (such as saber-toothed tigers) through the freeze, fight-or-flight stress response. While it helped us survive in the past, the fight-or-flight response is not a great fit for modern life.

We have many small stresses that are not life-threatening, but the autopilot system treats them like tigers. This produces an unnecessarily stressful everyday life experience that undermines our mental and physical wellbeing. Moreover, while the snap judgments resulting from intuitions and emotions might feel true because they are fast and powerful, they sometimes lead us in the wrong direction, in systemic and predictable ways.

The intentional system reflects our rational thinking and centers around the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that evolved more recently). According to recent research, it developed as humans started to live within larger social groups. This thinking system helps us handle more complex mental activities, such as managing individual and group relationships, logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, as well as learning new information alongside patterns of thinking and behavior.

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While the automatic system requires no conscious effort to function, the intentional system takes deliberate effort to turn on, and it is mentally tiring. Fortunately, with enough motivation and appropriate training, the intentional system can turn on in situations where the autopilot system is prone to make errors, especially costly ones.

Comparing The Systems

The autopilot system is like an elephant. It’s by far the more powerful and predominant of the two systems.

Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thinking. Moreover, our intuitions and habits determine the large majority of our lives, which we spend on autopilot mode. That’s not a bad thing at all, since it would be mentally exhausting to think intentionally about every action and decision.

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The intentional system is like the elephant rider. We can guide the elephant deliberately to go in the direction that matches that of our actual goals.

Certainly, the elephant part of the brain is huge and unwieldy. It is slow to turn and change, and it stampedes at threats. However, we can train the elephant. Your rider can be an elephant whisperer. Over time, you can use the intentional system to change your automatic thinking, feeling, and behavioral patterns. In this way, you will become a better agent in terms of taking charge of your life and reaching your goals.

I hope this information fills you with optimism. You can use these strategies to get what you want and achieve success in life!

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Featured photo credit: Naser Khan/Flickr via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

A lack of productivity leads to a lack of happiness.

When you can’t see yourself making progress or getting things done, you get anxious and become stressful.

There are also tons of things that contribute to unhappiness here too: Facebook notifications, emails, texts, and chatty co-workers are just a small fraction of the disruptions we’re bombarded with. These “little things” can stack up fast and lead to hampering your happiness and productivity levels.

Learn how to be productive with the 11 tips below and reclaim your everyday productivity and your happiness, once and for all.

1. Be happy now

Life is too short. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, be happy now. Start by finding something to be grateful for; everyone has at least one thing to be grateful for.

Most of the world still has trouble getting access to clean drinking water… yhat means you can even be grateful for that bottle of Aquafina you’ve got on your desk right now.

2. Finish your day before it starts

Proper planning is the secret to peak productivity, and it’s also a good idea to set daily goals. Get yourself a planning tool and prioritize your daily tasks with it.

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Here’s a smart technique on planning and prioritization: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

3. Celebrate the small wins

Every time you check off a task from your to-do list, you release a “happy chemical” in your brain called dopamine. This gives you the motivation to move forward and do even more.

For example, after I finish writing this article and I’ve crossed it off my list of things to do today, I’ll get a nice burst of “happy chemicals” releasing in my brain. The best part? Zero side effects!

Learn from here: How To Celebrate Small Wins To Achieve Big Goals

4. Leverage like there’s no tomorrow

Look for ways to use the good old 80/20 rule by identifying tasks that you might be able to outsource or leverage out to a virtual assistant.

Stop wasting time doing things that don’t challenge you or ignite your passion. Hire out or automate anything and everything within your means.

Check out this guide to find out how to start to delegate: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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5. Recharge your batteries

Figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and make sure you get it. Take time to stretch, walk, or relax—you’ll be glad you did.

Here’re some simple ways to relax completely and get rid of stress.

6. Become an early riser

This is one of the most underused productivity “hacks” on the planet. Ever since I decided to start waking up at 5am every day, my productivity levels and happiness have gone up dramatically.

Most people aren’t up that early, so no one can bother you or disrupt you from what you want to do. Use this time to exercise, meditate, or to get a head start on your day.

Not sure how to wake up earlier? Here are 11 Ways To Become an Early Riser Like Most Successful People Do.

7. Do work you’re passionate about

Make it your goal to blur the line between work and play by doing more things you’re passionate about. This promotes happiness both inside and outside of the workplace.

Find what you’re passionate about and do it, or learn how to enjoy what you do with these tips: How to Enjoy What You Are Doing No Matter What

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8. Use time blocks

For example, when I wrote this article, I gave myself a one hour time block. This prevents unnecessary dilly-dallying like updating your Facebook status and checking email.

Use an app like Alarmed to keep you on track.  Here’s a snapshot of the app from my iPhone.

    9. Avoid interruptions

    Interruptions are among the biggest barriers to both productivity and happiness. Every time you’re interrupted in the middle of a task your level of productivity takes a hit.

    We’ve all been there: you’re fully immersed in an important project until all of a sudden the workplace chatterbox appears out of nowhere and starts talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. By the time she’s gone, you’ve already forgotten where you were and it takes 30 minutes to get back on track.

    Avoid this by letting people know that you’ve got important work that’s got to be done.

    Learn more about how to stay focus in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

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    10. Shut down the digital disruptions

    iPhones, mailbox notifications, twitter, facebook, and everything that pops, slides, or fades in and out of your screen has got to go. Shut them down and focus.

    It’s as easy as turning off the notifications or scheduling only a specific time to check all these notifications and texts.

    11. Measure your success

    Every now and then, it’s a good idea to measure your results and see how things are coming along.

    How’s your progress? Are you pacing in the right direction? Are things getting better? Worse? It’s always a good idea to track your progress regularly.

    With an app like Rescue Time, you can easily keep track of the time you spend throughout the day. It helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task and so you can review your progress.

      With these 11 effective ways to improve productivity, you will get more things done timely and become happier.

      Start small and take up each suggestion one by one, you can boost your productivity and create your happiness too.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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