What is the main job of the mind? I ask this question a lot since it is typically one of the main attributes which needs to be addressed in working with others (and myself) in that we often get stuck in our thoughts because of our minds primary job. Think about those times when you are dealing with repetitive thoughts and how that thought will return over and over again. Think of the amount of energy and time we use in dealing with this. It typically looks like a constant cycling on a topic, question or problem (or all three!) that’s often outside of one’s control and/or will require some time before there will be any resolution. Sometimes there is no reason at all that one can think of, but the thought keeps returning.
When this phenomenon occurs and it is noticed I simply like to ask (or remember for myself) what is the main purpose of the mind?
Now, a lot of times people don’t necessarily know how to answer this question, because well, how often have you been asked what’s the main purpose of your mind? And they’ll say, “Well, it’s to keep me alive. It’s to keep me doing things that I’m supposed to be doing.” Or, “It regulates my heart. It regulates my body.”
First off, there’s a difference between your brain and the biological functions that are happening to keep you alive, such as your breathing, blinking, your heart beating and the voice that’s in the back of your head. The voice that right now is stating, “What mind? What is he talking about?” Or maybe your mind is saying, “Yes, I know exactly what that voice is.” However, this “voice” is not a voice but a thought and often we don’t even notice this inner voice, we are fused or subject to the thought, to the mind, and to what is actually happening.
The Main Purpose of the Mind.
The main purpose of the mind is to make meaning to solve problems. I’ve actually heard it referred to once as a meaning making machine and it’s adding and making meaning out of everything you experience for the primary purpose of trying to solve a problem. Now, if you think about it, it’s a really good thing that our mind likes to solve problems. There’s plenty of problems, there’s plenty of issues that we run into on a day-to-day basis.
It’s a great idea for the mind to take charge and have us look both ways before we cross the street and if we look back a hundred thousand years ago, I’m grateful that we have a mind and that we’re able to come up with solutions for problems. At that time the simple problem of, “Oh, it’s raining. I really don’t like having rain hit me in the head and soak everything. I wish there was a way we could not have to deal with this all the time.” And so we created a roof. “I am tired of having to walk everywhere and I wish we could travel faster” led to horseback riding, the train, the automobile and the airplane. So as you can see, there are plenty of issues out there that require our mind’s attention. But here’s the thing.
Everything I’ve described so far are external. They’re things that are outside of the body. So the need to travel faster, the need to have a roof over the head, insulation, find heat, make money, find food, all of these things the mind does an incredibly good job at addressing. It does run into a problem once in a while when it cannot change the speed of resolution but we don’t get too hung up these since the mind is also good at seeing patterns and sequences and therefore it can focus elsewhere in the meantime.
However, when it comes to emotions, when it comes to feelings that are in our body, coming up with a solution, being able to address that as a problem is much more difficult. Why is that? Well, have you ever tried to change your emotions?
Go ahead. I’m going to give you a chance to play with this concept for a second. I would like for you to actually change your current emotional state. So, if you’re in a calm mood, or maybe you’re in a curious mood, or perhaps you’re in a bad or an anxious mood. I would like for you to immediately change from the mood you’re in to the opposite mood. You have three seconds to give it a try. So, if you’re feeling depressed, I want you to feel happy. If you’re feeling anxious, I want you to feel calm.
Okay. So, at this point, you should be feeling the exact opposite.
Except you’re probably not. In fact, out of the hundreds of people that I’ve worked with and I’ve done this exercise with, nobody has been able to their inner state, their emotional state, on a dime. Now, there have been some people who are very smart at trying to play with this particular challenge, and so they will act depressed if they were happy right before. Or if they’re depressed, they might actually put on a smile. But that’s really the same as putting on a mask. It doesn’t necessarily cover up how you actually feel in the body.
And in fact, I would be willing to bet money that when you’re not feeling a particular way, you will put on a mask, especially in a social situation, right? But it doesn’t actually change how we feel inside. Because emotions just cannot be changed that quickly. They typically will come and go of their own accord, and they may show up for really no major reason whatsoever.
Now, underneath that feeling, the mind is constantly trying to solve the problem of that feeling. So if you wake up in the morning and you do feel agitated, it’s not a bad idea to do a grounding exercise which you can actually find on my website as well, a centering exercise, a mindfulness exercise, or just simply check in and see “Am I sore?” Maybe you went to the gym the day before and you’re actually sore. Your body is just tense. It’s sore. Maybe the day before you had a meeting that was pretty intense, or you have a meeting coming up which is pretty intense. So there’s a certain amount of anxiety in place.
When the mind detects physical irritation, it begins to look for a reason to therefore discover a solution. However, this is difficult for many since they are out of touch with their body and this is a very common experience here in our culture in the U.S. We’re not paying attention, we’re actually brought up to ignore some of our emotions and to ignore our physical sensations. We’re rational. We’re supposed to be in our head.
Using mindfulness practices will help to alleviate this action. It will allow you to notice when your mind is trying to solve an unsolvable problem and free your mind up to address those issues which it can work to solve. Want to hear this article and further content? (See below)
Main take away from this then? Remember that the mind is always on and is always trying to make meaning to solve problems. Your sensations and emotions are often rooted to your physical body or an unconscious thought that will need time to be sorted out, but the mind will attempt to solve it immediately. Keep this in mind, use your tools and allow your unconscious mind (a future topic to watch for) to do its thing. If its a physical issue, take care of yourself. Need to focus on it? Simply sit, pay attention to it and let go any attachment to any outcome. This is often enough to be able to see it. Once you can see it, you then have a choice to let it go, at least for awhile.