In a book I’m reading, The Art of Peace, there is a quote that says “Cast off limiting thoughts and return to true emptiness. Stand in the midst of the Great Void. This is the secret of the Way of a Warrior.” This passage from the 19th century from Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the Japanese martial art Aikido, is profound because it offers an insight that’s counterculture to our own. In a society and careers that say, “do more, go faster, acquire more,” the text reminds of that the way of a true warrior, aka anyone that is fighting towards their goals or objectives, is a path that returns to emptiness.
Why would we want to be empty? Isn’t our goal to fill our calendars and bank accounts?
I thought about that this morning as I asked myself why my iPhone was moving so slowly. As I switched between tabs, it hit me – I have SOOO MANY tabs open. ESPN, BaylorBarbee.com, Amazon, a Google search for “the difference between Emperor penguins and King penguins” and countless other tabs just hiding in the background. Some of those search tabs were from several months ago. Why were they still open? Though I wasn’t aware of them, they were taking up space, memory, and resources in the functionality of my phone.
But isn’t the same thing true of our thoughts? Have you ever thought about how many random thoughts you have on a daily or an hourly basis? Thoughts are good, but not all of the thoughts are productively serving you. Thoughts that don’t serve you are simply taking up space, energy, and resources in the cognitive functions of your mind. Though you “push those tabs to the back,” your mind interprets it as “I still have to account for and remember all of these thoughts.”
As a peak-performer, our minds are constantly racing. While it’s admirable to push for more, you may get there faster if you focus on less.
When your computer is acting up, you CTRL+ALT+DELETE to restart it (CTRL+OPTION+ESCAPE for us Mac users). The simple act of clearing out apps and browsers often fixes the problems and helps our computers run faster and more efficiently. In the same manner, by clearing your mind, you increase your capacity to focus on goals or the big problems you need to solve.
If your mind is racing a million miles an hour, here’s how you can return to emptiness.
GET CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT
Before we go purging our minds of everything, it’s important to ask ourselves, “what am I trying to accomplish?” Answering this simple question will give you clarity on what it is you need to focus on by clearing any thoughts that don’t contribute to that main goal.
OBSERVE YOUR THOUGHTS
Imagine sitting back in your mind and just watching your thoughts run around as if they were cars on a busy interstate. The goal here is not to direct your thoughts, but merely to watch and take notes on the types of thoughts you’re having. Good thoughts, driven thoughts, worries, stresses, and all thoughts in between. Don’t direct them or try and change them, just spend a few minutes observing the thoughts that your mind has. You’ll be surprised at the wide range of active thoughts you have if you focus on observing them.
ADDRESS THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
When you observe your thoughts long enough, you’ll inevitably find that several thoughts shouldn’t be there. Some thoughts of self-doubt and worry or thoughts that don’t in any way help you achieve your goal. At this point, you need to group these thoughts and ask yourself, “what is the common denominator in all these negative thoughts?” The beauty in finding the one or two common denominators in your adverse thoughts is that you’ll soon realize that you don’t have a million problems you need to solve; you just have one issue to address that will solve them all. Essentially, by finding the underlying cause beneath negative thoughts, you are attacking the root of the issue, not wasting energy just putting out small fires.
CONSCIOUSLY DIRECT YOUR THOUGHTS
You’re clear on what you want. You know the source of your worry, concern, or doubt. The final step is to ask yourself, “what plan of action can I take to address the source of worry in a manner that leads me toward my goals?” While it may not be an easy question to answer, you now have an advantage. Your mind isn’t filled with a bunch of random thoughts. It can now use all of its capacity to answer that one question.
Put all of your energy and being into focusing on that question and in doing so, you’ll block out or limit the excess thoughts that don’t serve you.
When you’re clear on what you want, observe your thoughts as if you’re your own therapist, address the negative thoughts and then direct your thoughts and actions consciously, you are expanding the capacity of your mind. You are returning to emptiness. By returning to emptiness, you return to your peak-state. Now fill your mind with affirmations and thoughts that drive you toward your goals.