Mind Training

Two weeks ago I met a person who works at OpenAI at my friend’s birthday party. We talked about what we do. He was working on a machine learning model that creates a coherent story when given few sentences to start. At the time, I thought “what a cool project” and moved on. Later when I thought about it, the model seems to draw parallel with the thought that I have been thinking and reading about my mind. My mind is a story telling machine! Similar to the machine learning model, it doesn’t always create a true story. It is just constantly generating a stories that are coherent to the triggers that surround me. Even more similar, I think the mind gets trained to generate a certain type of stories over time.

This perspective on mind came very recently. I have never treated my mind as something that needs training. Instead, I have always pushed my mind to put myself into discipline. Looking back, now, I think one of the biggest motivation that I have used is a fear. Fear of not going to good school, fear of not getting a good grade, and fear of not getting a good job were common driving forces that I have utilized to push myself. My mind, without me noticing, has been trained to use fear as its biggest voice.

Toward the end of my college years, as I started to think about my life after school, I started to notice that I did not really know what I like to do. My mind has be trained not to listen to what I like. Its priority was set to getting a good job, and in order to meet the goal, it listened less and less to stuff that I like. I felt like my mind has grown deaf to my feeling over time. This became more of a problem after graduation. During a school year, regardless of what I liked to do, the next steps were pretty clear. However, after school, there is no single path. Instead, there are so many paths that I could take my life to. What would be the best for me? My mind did not know.

In 2018, I switched team, and unfortunately, the career trajectory was not as good as I expected when I made to decision to move. At this point, my mind got completely lost. I was not sure of anything. I felt a strong urge to switch to different team, but I was not sure if I felt it because the team really was a bad fit for me or because I wanted to run away. It eventually reached the level where I was not sure if I can survive in the industry. Thankfully there were many friends to talk about this and Benjamin recommended me a book, “The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness.” Meditation was not something that I thought seriously about before, but I was ready make a leap of faith on anything that could help. I finished the book a few weeks back, and I have been meditating for about a month now. It did not magically solve all of my problem but I think that it has been helping and I wanted to share some of my learnings.

I think the biggest change in perspective was on learning that the mind can and needs to be trained, and that meditation is a way to train the mind. Andy Puddicombe, the author of the book, says that “Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and understanding how and why you think and feel the way you do, and getting a healthy sense of perspective in the process. (p. 14)” In fact, most guided meditation from Headspace app are built around in building awareness on thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that comes and goes instead of being caught up with a series of thoughts.

As I paid more attention to my body, I was able to be more aware on how my body is feeling and how that is very closely connected to my mind. Many times, when I fall into the cycle of negative thoughts, I find myself that there is a physical sensation that triggers these thoughts, mostly fatigue or little discomfort in my head. Before whenever I fell into unproductive cycles like watching YouTube, I would be harsh on myself for lack of self control. Now, when I fall into that cycle, I notice how tired I am.

This changed my belief that strong mind can control everything. Instead, I am thinking that the best my consciousness can do is to keep my body at its optimal state by sleeping, eating, and exercising at the right time. Self control will come naturally when my body and mind are in healthy state. Instead of being harsh on myself, there are essentially four things I can do when I am not in the best state: sleep, exercise, eat, and meditate, in the order of effectiveness.

My hope is that as I take more care of my body and put effort to keep it at its best, my mind will calm down and be okay with what is happening. And eventually to experience other benefits that book promised like being more present, and being more clear in thoughts.

The book talks about how training our mind changes our experiences in all dimensions in life. “… when it comes to the way you think and feel about those situations, the starting point is to acknowledge that it’s the mind itself that defines your experience. This is why training the mind is so important. By changing the way in which you see the world, you effectively change the world around you. (p. 26)” I hope I get to enjoy that feeling someday :)

Written on April 14, 2019