Ever Had a Brain Bath? Now’s Your Chance
I saw this quote on Twitter, and it really hit the nail on something I’ve been thinking about.
“Every morning you brush your teeth. Every morning, meditation is the same for washing your mind.”
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, where time appears to be slipping through our fingers like sand, we often find solace in routines that anchor us and keep us grounded. From the moment we wake, we instinctively embark on daily rituals that signify the start of a new day. Just as we dutifully brush our teeth every morning to ensure dental hygiene, there lies another habit that holds the key to cleansing our minds: meditation.
Meditation, like many ancient practices, has stood the test of time. Its origins date back thousands of years, and various cultures and traditions have embraced it. The beauty of meditation lies in its simplicity. It requires no fancy equipment or expensive memberships. It merely demands our presence and willingness to be still for a moment.
You might think of meditation as a practice reserved for those who are deeply spiritual, or perhaps even a little kooky. (And you might be right to some extent). But few people realize just how popular mindfulness meditation is becoming. There’s a growing interest in meditation from high performance fields, including those in the financial sector, management and more. Hedge fund managers meditate to manage cognitive biases. Athletes meditate to alleviate anxiety and achieve a flow state. And this is just the beginning; meditation's appeal continues to expand.
So what exactly does cleansing the mind mean? And how can meditation help us achieve this?
It starts with an understanding of how our minds harbor negative or maladaptive feelings.
Here’s how a single negative thought or trigger can become a depressive episode:
It’s a cycle:
You feel the negative emotion, be it fear, insecurity or hopelessness.
Your negative feelings cause you to feel disengaged with your immediate life, consumed in worry.
Your disengagement with your life makes you withdrawn from others.
Being withdrawn from others makes you vulnerable to spiraling down.
Spiraling down makes you distressed.
Being distressed for prolonged periods of time can make you feel hopeless.
And the cycle continues.
Meditation can help us to interrupt this cycle.
That’s because at its core, mindfulness meditation trains a very specific mental skill: the Awareness-Focus Loop.
The Awareness-Focus Loop
Right below your conscious mind, there is an iceberg of feelings that sit unaddressed. It turns out, these feelings actually guide the vast majority of your motivations in decision making.
You might have heard this as the rider and the elephant, but if not – allow me to recap.
With enough effort and skill, the rider (rational mind) can steer and guide the elephant (emotional mind) in the right direction. But when there’s a distraction, the elephant – much bigger and stronger, takes over.
This might seem like bad news for those of you who enjoy the illusion of control, but the good news is that the more you exercise your mind muscles with meditation, the stronger and more skilled you’ll become in overcoming your emotional mind.
Here’s one of my favorite meditation techniques that is all about awareness.
I call it “plenty of fish in the sea”.
There’s Plenty of Fish in the Sea
The name for this technique comes from the idea that your mind is as vast as the sea, and your thoughts are the fish. So keep that in mind.
Here’s how to practice it:
There’s just 5 simple steps.
(1) Find a quiet and comfortable space. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breath.
(2) Count your breaths as you inhale and exhale. Aim to count up to 50 breaths, which typically takes around 5 to 10 minutes.
(3) Now, as you count, your mind will inevitably wander, and your thoughts will arise.
(4) When you notice your mind drifting, make a mental note of the specific thought you caught yourself thinking about.
(5) Phrase your mental note as a complete sentence that starts with "I am aware that [fill in the blank] – and there’s plenty of fish in the sea".
This self-awareness is essential to the practice.
Once you've made note of the distracting thought, gently guide your attention back to the breath and continue counting from where you left off.
The thought might be as simple as “I am aware that I’m thinking about what to eat for dinner.” Or as complex as “I am aware that I am experiencing a sunk-cost bias".
The point is that you’re not supposed to judge the thoughts, or think about them any further. Just observe them as fish, swimming by in your infinite consciousness. No fish is more important than the other. After all, there’s plenty of them!
The more you practice mindful meditation in this way, the more you will be able to bring your subconscious feelings to your conscious mind and deal with them rationally. Not only that, but framing all your thoughts as just “fish in the sea” will take away the anxiety associated with each of them. Meditation removes your reactivity to your thoughts.
That way, the thought “I am aware that I am experiencing a sunk-cost bias” will naturally extend into “and I should scrap this project”, rather than ruminating endlessly on your options.
In other words, mindfulness meditation allows our minds to recalibrate. It is a reset button that allows us to approach the day with a clearer perspective, enhanced focus, and a sense of calmness that can carry us through the challenges that lie ahead.
When we sit down to meditate, we embark on a journey of self-discovery. We observe our thoughts without judgment, allowing them to swim by like fish in the sea. With each breath, we create a space within ourselves — a space where we can find respite from the constant chatter of our minds.
So make it a habit – just 15 minutes a day.
It will become second nature, part of your daily ritual, just like brushing your teeth.