SOS not iOS: Our personal operating systems need an update

Aaron Turner
We pay little attention to how our own operating system, our mind, works – let alone update it. (Source: Getty)

We all understand what happens if we have a sluggish operating system on our smartphone, tablet or laptop. It’s slow, or at worse just crashes. An operating system is the most important software that runs on these devices. It manages the memory, processes, and all of the software and hardware. The need to download the latest update is something most of us understand and regularly do.

However, when it comes to the most important operating system we all own, our minds, we often pay little attention to how it works, let alone update it. We have days when our mental processes run flawlessly – when we feel energised and sharp – and periods when we sit at our desks making mistakes and feeling exhausted. These different states of mind are determined by how healthy and updated our operating systems are, not the circumstances we face at work.

A little understanding about how your mind and thought processes work can help you think more clearly and find more fulfillment at work and home. The good news is that it requires nothing of you. No new techniques, habits, or practices. You don’t even have to meditate.

Don’t let your environment stress you

Don’t be tricked into a bad mental state by the situation you are in or environment around you. How you feel comes from your mind, so don’t let the busy commute or a noisy office tell you it’s time to be stressed or angry.

You have a choice about the thoughts and feelings you react to, so disregard the negative ones and unnecessary noise, and instead focus on what you are doing. This allows you to make a mental separation between your feelings and the environment or situation. Same job, same office, less stress.

You don’t always need more apps

We all know you can’t fix a sluggish operating system by adding more stuff to it. But there is often a temptation when you are feeling slow or sluggish to compensate by doing more, like drinking coffee or trying to meditate as a means of counteraction.

Thinking more frantically, panicking, and trying to jump-start the mind can be counter-productive. Instead, let your thoughts settle and notice how effortlessly your clarity of mind will return. It’s easier to navigate than you think.

Embrace the worry

When you’re feeling high levels of anxiety or urgency, experiment by doing less, not more, thinking.

The primary impulse is to rake over a cause of anxiety and try to solve it, but instead, let yourself feel the worry, and allow it to wash over you. You can have stress without it having you. Left to its own devices, your mind will auto-update, and naturally move beyond that worried state to become calmer.

We often don’t give it the time to do this. Think of that moment of relaxation when you take a sip of a glass of wine at the end of a working day. Your mind here is letting concerns slip away, and it’s this moment you should be emulating frequently throughout the day (though not necessarily with wine).

Let your mind wander

Our mind has an in-built capability to solve problems or issues. Have you ever had a bright idea when mowing a lawn, or on your cycle into work? Our best solutions often come when we’re not actively trying to solve a problem.

One of the most powerful mental states we have is when the mind isn’t being used for analytical thought, and can think independently of conscious thought. You need times where you allow your mind’s bandwidth to get on with processing, which can mean letting it wander.