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5 Tricks of the Mind You Need to Master

5 Tricks of the Mind You Need to Master

Our mind plays tricks on us all the time. Unfortunately, advertisers, co-workers, friends, and family around us exploit those common tricks daily. Our minds are so mischievous that we can’t really be sure that anything is the way we see it. What I have learned from my research is that our mind acts in ways that would have helped us with survival at one point. And perhaps these mind tricks still help at times, but often they are now a liability.

Here are common tricks that our brains play on us, and how we can avoid their dangers and exploit their benefits:

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1. Thinking about the future. Fearing the future.

The human ability to plan for the future is a very important part of what makes us so successful in our ability to live and thrive. Being able to plan involves making predictions about what will happen in the future, which allows us to acting accordingly. The drawback to this skill is that we sometimes let it run away with itself and see a future that causes us to be afraid.

Fear is a powerful motivator and a great tool if we are in danger, but it can plague us in modern times, when dangers aren’t so obvious and the solution to them isn’t as simple as fight or flee. In Seneca’s words, we suffer more often in imagination than in reality. If you need to approach a difficult situation, use fear as a fuel for motivation. Channel it, rather than letting it paralyze you.

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 2. Thinking about thinking about thinking…

When we are faced with the question, ‘Who am I?’ many people listen to the thoughts in their heads; the internal narrative they hear in their daily lives. However, when you recognize that voice as just thoughts, you realize that there is some other form of consciousness that is observing those thoughts. The discipline of metacognition can be called ‘thinking about thinking’, or ‘knowing about knowing’. Simply put, it allows us to realize that our thoughts aren’t set in stone and can be altered by other thoughts.

If we were to observe a person on the street who says everything that goes through their head, most of us label them as mentally unhinged. However, the same thing goes on in our heads when we let our thoughts carry on unchecked. The fact that we can change our thoughts by thinking about them is the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and one of the arguments for a more spiritual aspect to humanity, or some form of larger consciousness. Thinking about your thoughts can change your thought patterns and your behavior.

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3. Old habits die hard.

Routine has been called the crutch of the mind, and that is entirely true. The remark is often made as an insult and a reason to break routine; but acting unpredictably and without routine on a daily basis would be absolutely exhausting. Habit formation is in no way unique to humans, as Pavlov’s dogs would argue, but our ability to cultivate good habits is something we can learn, once we’ve gone through the (above) process of thinking about how we act and think. Creating a ‘routine’ to frequently exercise, or to express love to a spouse, or to work without distraction, is one of the benefits of having a reprogrammable mind.

4. Winter is coming. Time to hibernate.

When winter starts to approach, our bodies are programmed to conserve energy by eating more or exercising less. This is a natural response when you are in a low-food or temperature environment, but one that is no longer necessary if you are have adequate food and heat. You will feel more tired and hungry than you have any right to be, and your body will try to store fat when it can. Don’t let it. This is one of those tricks of the mind that can’t really be used usefully, only overcome.

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5. My reality is not your reality.

Studies by Loftus and Palmer showed that eyewitnesses to car accidents can be incredibly far off the mark when estimating the speed of the vehicles and they can be influenced by the words used when they are asked questions. When it comes to street fights, baffled police frequently come across two people who are convinced that the other person threw the first punch, and neither appears to be lying.

Our minds are able to restructure our memories of an event to make us appear like the good guy, even if we weren’t. And the opposite – anybody trying to introduce themselves to somebody attractive has probably experienced ‘approach anxiety’, where any small comment or gesture becomes a hurtful insult. The positive aspect here is that we can retrain ourselves to see the good in situations instead. The wildly optimistic person may be a bit unrealistic, but it’s hard not to envy him.

Featured photo credit: Young man with pensive expression via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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