My school principal had given me a name- Delicate Darling! My early years were full of being delicate in physical fitness. In my forties, I am far stronger and fitter than I was in my twenties. Sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? That’s the reality, fitter when the cells start ageing, fitter with the help of a trainer and the routine of thrice-a-week workout. That’s only a part of the story. The other part of the growth story comes from the mind. They are not mutually exclusive. And like the body, mind needs some gym time too and today’s piece is about the mind gym.
The importance of Mind gym:
Sports personalities are fascinating. Firstly, they strive hard with a nearly impossible regime and secondly they achieve peak at an age when most others, especially corporates, are learning to grow. A sportsperson starts thinking of retiring in her late 20s and early 30s while an average office goer is dreaming of higher designation at that age. Imagine the difference in the learning curve.
This story is not about how sports people reach their peak. It is about how they stay longer on the peak. This is where they make their mind get fitter than their body and the coming together of mind and body keeps them at the top.This is the story of that tough place of mind gym.
Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic gold medal winner sums it up quite beautifully. “If you are competing in an Olympic final with the very best in the world, you ought to be physically drained. It is inevitable. You have already given it your best and that’s when the mind-body synergy comes into play. At one stage the mind goes numb and that’s when the body takes over. The hours of training that an athlete has put into getting to the top then takes centerstage.”
What Bindra is referring to is a kind of mind and body equilibrium seldom achieved in sport. It is a state where the mind can push the body and vice-versa. If one faculty is tired and fatigued, the other takes over and drives the athlete into a kind of robotic state of functioning.
After a hard-fought 235 against England in Mumbai on a difficult pitch where England collapsed soon after Kohli’s mighty masterclass, Virat Kohli had batted for almost eight-and-a-half hours, without once looking like he would get out. In the interview, Kohli says, “I felt like I was in a trance.” “The vision to win the Test match for India, although we were behind in the game, made me realize what I need to do for us to get there. My mind took over and the body didn’t feel tired. But that match was emotionally draining for me.”
The Mind Gym regime:
There is a systematic way of training the mind. Athletes go through rigorous mind training too- through coaches, challenges, interventions etc. There is a process and there are specialists to help do it.
In our day to day life, we train our mind too. Ask your colleague around and you will find him reading some article, book, listening to podcasts etc to train the mind & to grow. Learning a new skill or joining an online course is another common way. Like in physical fitness, which has various forms of exercises like yoga, zumba, weight training, similarly, there are various tools to train the mind. It can be reading, skill learning, meditating, writing. Access to knowledge and the will to learn is the first step but what one needs to add is these three steps to the regime.
1. A schedule
Roaming around or walking aids fitness but it is not actually a fitness regime unless one dedicates a chunk of time to it. Similarly, any exercise that grows the mind like reading, podcast listening, if done with a dedicated time to it, adds mindfulness. Scheduled time slots, even if just a few days of the week, brings in more alertness. According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. And, one of the essence of working deeply is to maintain a schedule.
2. The coach
I find it tough to stay motivated to workout on my own. I need a trainer, to not just give me my workouts but simply to ensure I show up at the gym. I know my reasons to not go to the gym always outweigh my reasons to go. So, in my trainer’s absence I am happy to be back in the bed or to my phone. You may choose yoga or zumba or pilates or whatever plan, you will find yourself sticking to the plan if you have either a training class to go to, whether group class or an individual one, an app as your guide or a friend together in it.
This is the way it works in mind gym too. A coach, a community, a book club are forces that keep one motivated to complete the task. There is always an urge to start learning something new, but to complete it is a different thing. Unlike my fitness regime where I need a trainer, I find myself motivated if I am following curators of knowledge from fields and areas that I understand less. They are my thought anchors, like a coach. It keeps me on my toes. Like I read Alex Tabarrok and his posts on Marginal Revolution for Economics and follow Azeem Azhar for his weekly newsletter on technology, philosophy and business. I may not read all the pieces but these unknown territories keep me awake. They are my virtual coaches and I take their lessons through their weekly newsletters.
In the early days of the Seinfeld show, Jerry Seinfiled remained a working comic with a busy tour schedule. It was during this period that a writer and comic named Brad Issac ran into Seinfield. Issac asked Seinfeld if he had any tips for a young comic. This is what Issac describes on his lifehacker:
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
This is what matters the most. The discipline. Most of the time it is not about how good or productive the mind gym is, it is about following the discipline and being in the routine.
A schedule, a thought anchor and the discipline are three ultimate mind gym rules for the road to growth.
“Change is hard because it’s a daily process,” Virat Kohli says. “It’s not like you have the realization and you have an adrenalin rush and you go and make some changes. You have to think, can I do it on a daily basis? You have to have a love for it, and I had that love. “Tweet
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