Keep Calm and Tame Your Brain

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The first thing that happens when you wake up is that you become aware of your thoughts. Your thoughts decide how you feel. Although, is that true? If we wake up with angry thoughts and horrible feelings, does that alone in isolation make us unhappy? Not really.

What makes us angry is how we respond to them. We feel horrible because of some thoughts of what happened to us, often done by others. But should we? Is what our brain thinks really what we should think and act upon? Is our voice inside telling us the purest truth, or is it fed by our ego and subjective perception of the people and work?

When you have a thought, ask yourself critically, is what I am thinking true? If not, drop it. If it is true, is there something I can do about it? Yes, do it. If you cannot do anything about it, accept it. Acceptance doesn’t mean you cannot do anything. You can still do something despite its presence.

How does this work? An example. Last Friday morning, I woke up quite tired. I did not sleep well. After a fight with my wife, I spent the night in a Hong Kong hotel. I don’t sleep well in bed other than my own. My brain was still bothering me with thoughts like ‘She is impossible’, ‘I cannot take this any longer’, and worse, I better not write down on paper. As a result, I felt horrible.

Then I asked myself, is what I am thinking true? Hell no! My wife loves me for thick and thin. We have gone through so many happy times together, and we have so many fond memories together. We are so lucky; we have four kids, including the two kids from my first marriage, we all love, we have a great family, a lot of caring friends we are close to, and we have been together nearly 13 years, and most of the time we have been delighted with each other. Drop it! Then, I went for an excellent breakfast with the iconic Hong Kong harbour view. Before I returned home, I felt grateful for everything, even that lonely night in the hotel bed.

This was an example of my brain popping out thoughts which were not true. It’s kind of an ‘easy’ solution to drop it. But what if it is true? Another example from a friend. Things are not going as you would like them to at work. The business in Asia is down, and your US-based bosses are difficult to impossible. One day, you get an email that the US has decided to close the office. They explained that the company doesn’t have enough resources to continue the expansion in Asia without risking the whole company’s financial future. Your brain goes mental. How dare they? By email? Can they not see the long-term future of Asia? How can they be so dumb? What do I tell my wife? Oh no, that friend has already told me this might happen. Now I know why my colleague moved to the US last month. They must have told him. So everyone knows, and I am the last to find out? Why do these things always happen to me? I have consistently bad luck. I cannot take this any longer. I need to do something now: stand up and teach them a lesson. More and more dark thoughts take over your brain and make you feel horrible.

Again, it helps to listen to your thoughts and ask yourself if they are true. Most of the thoughts above are not. But you leaving the firm is. Nothing there is you can do about it other than accepting it. And you can do something despite its presence! You can find a new job, learn new things, and change the direction of your career. And, before that, enjoy that long-overdue one-month summer holiday you have never been able to take when working day and night. And, start that blog about travelling you always wanted to do online or write that book about the history of Manilla.

Charlie Mackesy sums it up well in his superb book ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’: ‘One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.

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Keep Calm and Tame Your Brain

The first thing that happens when you wake up is that you become aware of your thoughts. Your thoughts decide how you feel. Although, is