Three tricks our mind plays that knock us off course


I am realising that my own mind is a more cunning saboteur of work than any other person that I ever knew. At one moment I can be full of enthusiasm and making resolutions to use the time available efficiently for work and the next moment I am wondering how the time passed without any work being done. I have therefore stopped assuming that my mind will be on my side, most of the time at least!

Although people do say that your mind is your own worst enemy, I had observed that it is not always easy to be aware when your own mind is actually behaving as your enemy. One tactic the mind uses to divert our attention and knock us off course in our work is by actually talking to us in a friendly manner! Now here are three examples you may hear from your ‘friendly’ mind:

1. The mind praises you for the little work done so far and wants to give you a treat.

The mind says, “Wow, you did a lot work in the last 10 minutes. Good job! I know you have not even finished half of the task but do not be too hard on yourself. You’ll get overloaded. It won’t hurt to give yourself a little break every now and then. After some rest you will be more productive. Let us make a drink. Perhaps we can have some entertainment to relax? Watch a movie, just for a while? Maybe check out what your friends are doing? Come on, you deserve a break.”

The next thing you know, your few minutes of break-time has become a few hours. Having breaks in between work is a good idea and we often need them but plan your rest clearly just as you would plan your work. Avoid using entertainment for relaxation as you may get sucked into it. You can also set an alert as a reminder to get back to work.

2. The mind suddenly gives you tons of different ideas.

We all probably have those strange moments where the mind is flooding us with tons of different ideas and we become momentarily excited about each one of them. Often it is just an excuse the mind makes in order to divert your attention from work especially if the work at hand doesn’t appeal to you. We have to realise that the mind is resisting paying attention to the work at hand by introducing another idea, then another and another, and so on, finally leading us into a state of restlessness.

Do not rush to examine each new idea that occurs to you if it means leaving the current task unfinished. If one of those ideas is really something that you would like to do then you will find yourself in a dilemma – should you finish the work at hand or start working on the new idea? If you think the ideas are valid then write the points down on a piece of paper and then keep it aside. Tell yourself, ‘Now they have been safely recorded for me to look into once I complete my current work.’

Steve Jobs once famously said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

3. The mind tells you that there is infinite time so there’s no need to rush, take it easy!

Patience is a great virtue and haste makes waste – these are wonderful sayings. And they are indeed true. But how many times has our mind misused these ideas to knock us off course in our effort. Sometimes people mistake their procrastination, delays and sluggishness as an exhibition of great patience. We stop adhering to our our own standard of punctuality and efficiency when the mind starts to tell us that there is infinite time. And this can be the most deceiving idea.

Suppose you need to complete a task in one hour and you have three hours. Your mind will tell you that there is plenty of time therefore even if you do it slowly you’ll easily be able to finish it in three hours. It would be a blunder to believe such an assumption. We make the mistake of treating a one hour job as a three hour one. That makes us feel it is alright to delay and unknowingly we spend most of the time in idleness. Remember that your work will only be finished if you actually do it and not because you have more time than is required to do it. Best practice is to aim to complete the work in the minimum time. You may even find the additional time comes in handy if extra work is required.

The whims and fancies of the mind are indeed endless. Getting the mind to be disciplined isn’t something that happens overnight. You have to train your mind every day through mindfulness, inspiration and intentional practices until the mind forms clear habits to support efficient work.

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