When you hear the words “mind control”, I’m guessing your thoughts go to things like hypnotists, Sci-Fi movies, and social media among a host of other things. In each of these situations, the idea of mind control is typically something that someone (or something) does to another person. However, I want to consider mind control from a personal standpoint. Is it possible to achieve self-mind control? What would that look like? Is this something to be desired?
Now, maybe the term “mind control” is a bit extreme to use in this context, but I want to suggest that we can have more control over our own minds than what most of us would normally think. This includes our thoughts and mindsets and, to a certain extent, our moods and emotions as a result. To understand where I’m coming from, it will be helpful to highlight a recent line of research in neuroscience that looks into the wellbeing of our minds. An organization called The Center for Healthy Minds has studied the effects of certain practices on the health of our brains (more info from them can be found at hminnovations.org/science). They, along with other studies, have found that our mental wellbeing is actually a skill that can be practiced, as opposed to some elusive state of being that we strive to find.
I used to think that I was a slave to my thoughts and was always frustrated by the way my mind would fixate on negative things and produce all sorts of unnecessary stress and anxiety. It felt like my mind had a mind of its own if you know what I mean. My only solution was to distract myself and drown out those thoughts with other things. If you’re at all like me, you might be surprised to hear that we can practice mental wellbeing as a skill and that we do not just have to suffer with our internal angst and unsuccessfully "try harder next time".
So how does this work? The Center for Healthy Minds has performed studies that showed how using short mindfulness meditation practices on a regular basis can improve attention and self-regulation as well as compassion with others, and even purpose in life (Goldberg et al., 2020). Simply taking regular time to train your brain to be in the present moment and focusing on certain aspects of your immediate experience can start to rewire the brain and allow you to function at a higher mental functioning.
The application of this discovery is far-reaching. In the same way that we can train our bodies in specific ways to achieve physical health, we can also train our minds and cultivate well-being with our thoughts, emotions, and even relationships. What you may notice in these findings is a subtle shift in focus from attempting to “fix the issues” of mental health towards a wellness mindset of pursuing greater degree of wellbeing. This positive shift in perspective not only normalizes the place we find ourselves when that does involve having a mental health diagnosis or other tangible forms of struggle, but it also gives us something to work towards after we have found stability and growth. Everyone can use these practices to develop and maintain healthier ways of thinking and relating to others. In the same way that we can eat healthy and exercise to maintain our physical health, we can adopt mindfulness meditation practices and related exercises to maintain our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Although “mind control” may not necessarily be what we are talking about here-- at least in the stereotypical sense of the term-- there are definitely things that you can do to help improve your brain functioning and ultimately regain some control over your mind. Your thoughts and emotions are not simply things that happen to you as a passive and helpless victim. No matter where you find yourself, there is hope for your present and your future, and that happens little by little, one step at a time.
Drew Woznick | Counseling Intern
Goldberg S, Imhoff-Smith T, Bolt D, Wilson-Mendenhall C, Dahl C, Davidson R, Rosenkranz M
Testing the Efficacy of a Multicomponent, Self-Guided, Smartphone-Based Meditation App: Three-Armed Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIRMent Health 2020;7(11):e23825