Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

PRODUCTIVITY, EDUCATION

Disciplining Your Own Mind

Training yourself to be more productive

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

If you’re like me, the following definition comes to mind at the thought of discipline;

“the practice of training a student to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.”

I’m sure students, parents and teachers alike are aware of this form of discipline, however, I’m interested in a deeper meaning of the term. Let’s ask a trio of questions.

“Does the student have to be human?”

No, it can be an animal, like a dog.

“Does there have to be a code of behaviour?”

Yes, otherwise we won’t be able to tell right from wrong.

“So, technically, you can discipline your own mind.”

Unsure of this one? Read on.

Your Mind Is The Student

If we dissect the definition of discipline, it becomes clear how the mind can be considered a student.

  1. “The practice of training a student” — your mind can be trained through thinking and understanding to learn concepts quicker.
  2. “To obey rules or a code of behaviour” — we already do this to varying degrees. The code of behaviour is found within the norms and values of our society. In most cases, it’s an unwritten code.
  3. “Using punishment to correct disobedience” — this can be a ‘formal’ sanction (prison for illegal acts) or an informal sanction (receiving negative attention).

The question is, why would we want to treat our mind as a student? Don’t we have enough to deal with already?

Glad you asked.

The importance of mental discipline becomes apparent when we consider the number of tasks most of us juggle on a daily basis. To make matters worse, our brain doesn’t keep tasks in a list, organised by date.

Instead, it keeps them in a pot, all mixed up. In order to rank tasks, our mind tends to work by priority.

This can be a good thing (urgent tasks tend to weigh on our minds) as well as a bad thing (we forget menial things like taking out the trash, or buying a loaf of bread on the way home).

Ever noticed someone in a state of agitation? The more they try to keep track of things, the more they seem to forget.

It’s not because they’re incapable of coherent thought, it’s just that their brain can’t decide which tasks to prioritize and has taken some time off.

Forgetting things is our brain’s way of reminding us that its capacity is finite. When we’re overwhelmed, it will automatically start to delete things to help us focus. Occasionally, it will retrieve an item out of the ‘recycle bin’.

Ever sat down after a hard day’s work and remembered something you should have done a couple of hours ago? Your brain senses you are more at ease and (annoyingly) decides to bring it back up.

Why Discipline Your Mind?

By training your mind to follow routines, keeping track of tasks becomes easier.

Abiding by a self-imposed code of behaviour will enable your brain to prioritize tasks in a different order, or to give less importance to a certain type of task (the one that usually takes up all your concentration, leaving you drained).

Timed routines work wonders here. Sitting down to complete a certain type of tasks at a certain time of day helps your mind get to grips with the volume of work ahead. If done well, you won’t feel overwhelmed, or drowning under an infinite mountain of paperwork any more.

Even something as minor as a change in perception can help your mind make sense of things.

Mental Discipline And Work

Let’s say you have one urgent task, five important ones and ten minor ones (including personal things like fixing the kitchen faucet). For most of us, that’s enough of a workload to feel overwhelmed. But why?

The answer is simple — your brain can’t see any way in which you can complete all sixteen tasks within the foreseeable timeframe.

Not being clear on what needs tackling first leaves you lost. You can try to think straight and prioritize things, but your brain is doing exactly the same thing in your head.

No matter how fast you write things down, your brain can forget them faster.

The Solution

By conditioning your mind to prioritise only certain tasks a given time of day, the workload on your brain is significantly less. The following is an example of the theory in practice.

From 8:30 to 15:30, we’re only tackling work-related tasks.

Your brain disposes of the rest and only focuses on the one urgent task, four important ones and five minor ones (all work-related).

From 15:30 to 18:00, it’s time to tackle any personal tasks.

Your brain retrieves the personal tasks from the ‘recycle bin’ — four minor ones and the remaining important one.

After 18:00, you may not have completed all the tasks, but at least you’ve considered all of them in turn.

At this stage, your brain might double-check and bring up the last remaining task (the one it considered to be of least importance). You guess it, that faucet’s still leaking.

The more specific you can be with timeframes and the more regular your routine, the easier it will be for your mind to associate a certain task with a certain time.

Top Tip #1: Avoid distractions when working on a task. The longer you can stay focused, the more your brain assimilates that time with productivity.

Top Tip #2: Know when to take a break. No matter how disciplined your mind is, you need a pause once in a while. Burning through work like there’s no tomorrow can be counter-productive.

The Moral Of The Story

Disciplining your mind to follow certain patterns not only makes workloads seem lighter but also helps maintain a daily routine.

Preparing yourself mentally for a specific series of tasks means you can focus on them exclusively. Being in control of your thoughts also reduces anxiety and the feeling of being lost.

Your brain is more than capable of organising a series of tasks in logical order; all you need to do is tell it which ones you want to focus on at that given time. The more specific the filter, the better the results.

“But I already have a regular daily routine, why would I want a mental one as well?”

Whilst a regular daily routine is an excellent way of keeping your mind on track, we have to acknowledge the fact that it is (usually) based on external factors.

Somedays you’ll have to work overtime or get stuck in traffic. Relying on external factors to remain productive isn’t as effective as having your own internal routine.

In a nutshell, training your brain to follow a series of self-imposed routines is likely to make you more productive, no matter the circumstances. Good Luck!

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Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel Caruana Smith

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Daniel is a writer, senior teacher and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.