THE BLOG
01/25/2015 08:49 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2015

You're a Mind Gardener

You're a mind gardener. This is so important I'm going to say it again. You are a mind gardener. Every moment of every day you cultivate your mind whether you realize it or not. There is no moment in your life, since the day you were born, that you have not been a mind gardener. I'm not saying that you are a mind gardener because you're a meditator or a lover of positive affirmations. Even if you don't want to be one, you are. Because it is your every thought, action and experience that wires, shapes, moulds and refines your brain and shapes your life.

That's pretty significant. Because every part of your life is determined by your brain. And you can choose to let it happen in the generally unconscious way that many of us bumble through life, or you can wake up, get conscious, and design your mind garden. But either way you are, and will always be, a mind gardener.

Let's face it, most of us are on autopilot most of the time, for most of our lives. And for most of life's experiences, you probably get away with it. I'm not saying that every little activity you do requires conscious reflection and choice. Your brain is designed so you don't have to do this. It learns routine activities and allows you to repeat them so you don't have to waste vital energy relearning something you've already done before. The sequence of movements when you clean your teeth can be repeated blindfolded. But let's flip this on its head. Every time you do an action on autopilot, you train your brain to not pay attention. This is the silent deadly trick of the brain that goes unnoticed. That everything you do, intentional or not, can become a habit for your brain.

Your husband, wife, mother, father, daughter, son, best friend, boss, colleague, bus driver, shop owner... every one of them is mind gardening right now. It's easy to say "well, I can see that I'm a mind gardener when I do a yoga class or read a book." But here's the rub. You probably do more to cultivate the habits in your mind the moment you leave the yoga class or put down the book. Because your brain continues to absorb your experiences, play with your thoughts, slip into habitual mindsets, judge, criticize, ruminate and chatter. And when this activity of mind continues in the background untended, the garden of your mind grows.

What you give attention to grows. Your attention is the sun and the rain showering down on the plants in your mind garden. A thought dropped into your mind by a stranger's comment is a seed that becomes nothing without your own attention dwelling on the thought and encouraging it to take root.

Weeds are hardy plants and the negative thoughts in your mind have this characteristic. They are clever at sourcing the nutrients they need in your brain and have developed long and far-reaching root systems. This enables them to sprout far and wide and appear in unexpected places. How often have people who struggle with weight loss found that the weight has fallen off not through diet, but because they have finally addressed a weed that took root in their mind many years ago?

While weeds find their place and grow well when the garden is most ignored, it seems that the positive and happy plants that we would prefer to grow in our mind are much more vulnerable and require more active tending and cultivation. This is because of the brain's prioritization of threat over reward. It is important to remember the challenge that this presents, because when your threat response is triggered, fears are likely to rise up and steer you off the path of the well-lived life without you even noticing.

What would someone proclaim when they first see your mind garden? Would they see fields of happy thoughts that have taken root and propagated kindness, love, gratitude and cheer? Or would they find creeping vines of worry, stress, and anxiety intertwined with negativity? It's never too late to cultivate the mind that will create the life you want. Because you are a mind gardener.

(Adapted from the author's book Wired for Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive.)