The mind is an incredible device. If you are reading this book there is a good chance that you are experiencing times when the thoughts that pop in your mind often surprise you. You wonder, what made me think of that, or how did I come up with that idea. The brain is an amazing machine. In fact, it is the only machine in the world that can analyze itself and learn something new about it.
When working properly, the mind can open the door to some amazing opportunities. However there are often times when your mind can start to spiral out of your control. The human body, when under stress can affect the mind in very negative ways. This often happens, when a person experiences an overload of information coming in; the brain may struggle to process it all.
Think about it. There are five different ways that the brain receives data. Through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. You learned about these in your primary school days – the five senses. What you didn’t learn then was that when the brain is receiving too much information at one time, it is forced to decide what is important and what is not. It will temporarily shut down some of the senses (or at least dim their receptors) so it can focus more of its energy on what it perceives as essential. We often call this condition “tunnel vision.”
To enhance your ability to function, there are times when tunnel vision can actually work to your advantage. Artists often rely on this ability to help them to focus most of their energy on their creative work and business people tend to go into a zone so they can zero in on the task at hand. Sadly though, many people have been so overstressed in their lives that they are spending entire days, weeks, and even months in tunnel vision. It is those times when it can be more harmful to you than you might realize.
When you have tunnel vision, it means that one or more of your senses are shut down. In short, you have lost something called situational awareness, which can expose you to certain vulnerabilities. When you have tunnel vision you have a sort of hyper focus that can be beneficial in some cases. But quite often, when your tunnel vision is the result of negative thinking, it can actually diminish your productivity and effectiveness in many areas of life.
As an example of how this happens, think about driving home late at night. You’re on a dark windy road and visibility is poor. Your concentration becomes more intense and soon you don’t hear the music on the radio or any other noises in your environment. You are intensely focused on the road ahead of you. Add a thunderstorm to the equation and you probably won’t notice anything else for the duration of your trip. You have heightened your sense of sight with tunnel vision and your auditory or hearing senses are diminished.
Actually, in some cases, one can literally shut off all of their other senses so they con focus. However, this can leave them vulnerable to a world of dangers and risks. Think about how this kind of mental process might be affecting your work, your family, and your relationships. While every situation of tunnel vision will not end up in danger, think how effective this technique can be at blocking out external data. You might miss the beautiful sunset that is dropping down just outside of your window, or you miss the birdsong that is playing right before your alarm clock goes off.
Because tunnel vision (at least the negative and more dangerous kind) is the result of stress, by practicing mindfulness you can regain your focus and literally reset your mind. As you enhance your skills in mindfulness techniques, your other senses will be heightened, and clearer thinking will develop.
One of the key elements of mindfulness is learning how exist only for the present moment. This will keep you more emotionally stable. When we are too keyed up, either in anger or fear, our brains automatically switch to the fight or flight state. When we do look around, we are more likely to see everything as a threat, even when no real danger exists. We find ourselves watching our backs, looking over our shoulder, and becoming overly suspicious about everything and everyone. This usually happens as a result of our need to focus on surviving. In this condition, we are not looking at the bigger picture of the world around us and we may find that we are missing something very important.
So, what are you missing in this mental state? One way to figure this out is to first learn how our brain responds when we are calm, and in a less stressful state of mind. In this state, a different area of the brain kicks into gear. This part of the brain heightens our focus in all of our senses. We are able to see opportunities as they really are. In this condition, we see the bigger picture; we still see the problems we have to face, but we are better equipped to identify the solutions that may be right in front of us. When we process our thoughts in this way, the world is no longer relegated to just the threat of danger, we can also see all the shades and variations of life around you. In short, we have a more balanced view of our world and we can cope better.
Understanding that when we are in a more relaxed state of mind helps us to see that we can be much more effective in life. Decisions are easier to make, we have less stress, and we are generally much better at interpersonal relationships. Along with an increased awareness of our surroundings, connecting us both with the internal and external influences of life, we are better equipped with the kind of mental faculties that will help us to analyze everything we are connected with from a more objective perspective.