One of the most important disciplines in life, as far as I’m concerned, is the discipline of training your mind every bit as much as you train your body.
Naturally, there are conventional ways to do this, like exercise, nutrition, learning something new, using your non-dominant hand (the now-famous method of neurobiologist Lawrence Katz) and so on.
And there are the basic rules. For instance, Dr John N. Morris [director of social and health policy research, Institute for Aging Research] states that to train the brain you should choose challenging tasks and complex activities and be consistent.
But I’m not interested in those things. Instead, I’m going to show you the most powerful mind training exercises of all time.
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Top 10 Mind Training Techniques
There are many meditation techniques. Each of them trains the mind in different ways. So, whether you’re looking to increase willpower, heighten your voluntary attention, or fire-up your motivation, meditation will help. Notable instructors who advocate meditation for brain training include Jon Kabat Zinn, Tara Brach, and Pema Chodron.
Some meditations have seriously huge effects.
- Metta, which is the Buddhist method of “Loving-Kindness”, develops compassion.
- Vipassana helps us to be more aware of thoughts and feelings (and more in control).
- And Third Eye Meditation cultivates insight
Many of these methods can be learned with apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, and Synctuition. But for best results, work with a professional instructor like me.
Mindfulness is often confused with meditation, but there is a critical difference between the two practices.
Mindfulness means living in the moment. It is about focusing on now instead of on your thoughts. It’s a method advocated by everyone from spiritual gurus to business leaders to positive psychologists.
Often, people are stuck in their thoughts and feelings. They do not focus on the present moment but instead on mental phenomena such as internal dialogue.
When we live in the moment, we naturally relax, and our happiness increases rapidly. Plus, being present-moment-minded means we are more focused on what are doing, which ultimately means we have higher concentration, are more productive, and are more likely to be successful.
A study by Lutz, Dunne & Davidson (2008) revealed that mindfulness strengthens the amygdala, which is the region of the brain associate with emotional processing. Mindfulness also strengthens the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain associate with memory, according to research from Goldin & Gross (2010). These and countless other studies reveal that mindfulness is one of the most powerful mind-training techniques in the world.
3: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Just ignore the fact that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has the word therapy in it. CBT isn’t just about curing problems. You can also use it to enhance your mind.
CBT is a cognitive therapy that uses a variety of exercises to improve mental health and reduce complications like anxiety and depression 
There are many effective CBT exercise. All of them involve working with your thoughts. For instance, one activity is to notice when you keep thinking recurring negative thoughts. You then challenge that thought in various ways, such as by reminding yourself that it is just a thought, or by creating alternative, healthier thoughts.
Many people ask me how to train the mind to think differently, and in my experience, CBT is the most effective method. The National Institute of Health calls CBT the “gold-standard of psychotherapy”. When it comes to developing mind power, you really cannot beat CBT.
4: Mantras and Affirmations
Mantras and affirmations are recited words or phrases. They range from sacred Sanskrit words like “Om” (which is the universal sound in Buddhism) to English phrases such as “I am confident and in control”.
Some mantras have spiritual properties and are many thousands of years old. Sacred texts state that these mantras will grant special powers to the practitioner.
Affirmations, on the other hand, are mostly positive statements that we repeat in our heads to encourage the development of new positive thoughts.
5: Pratyahara Yoga
You probably already know that if you do yoga, you will improve your mind, right?
What you probably don’t know is that the best yogic exercise is not physical, it’s psychological. It’s Pratyahara Yoga, one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga created by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.
Pratyahara is a technique in which you withdraw from your senses. This removes you from external stimuli, so you create a psychic defence shield around you. It is also excellent for reducing information overload. Sandra Bond Chapman, [founder, Center for Brain Health] states that the more information we consume the shallower our thinking becomes.
To start practising Pratyahara Yoga, ask yourself what sources of negativity there are in your life, and then replaces them with sources of positivity.
Pratyahara is also a fabulous way of overcoming distractions so you can get through your to-do list quicker.
6: Peak Training While Forcing Positivity
Inevitably in this list of mind strengthening techniques, we would come to physical exercise. There is an undeniable connection between the body and the brain. A strong body is a strong mind.
My go-to exercise is a twist on peak interval training,
Peak interval training is a form of physical exercise in which we drive our heart-rate to its highest healthy level. We then reduce the intensity of the workout to relax before pushing again.
When you’re working at your peak fitness level, your mind starts to react. You naturally think about quitting exercising. You begin to come up with reasons why you should stop. For example, you might think, “I’m not that fit so I might as well just stop.” You will naturally bring up some negative thoughts. This makes it a perfect opportunity to change those negative thoughts.
While you’re working out, observe any negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. This will train you to power through negativity. Then, the next time you think “I can’t…” you will automatically replace it with “Oh yes I can!”
Physical exercise is essential. Research shows that physical exercise helps us to power through distractions and that students who workout before an exam perform better.
2013 research on the effects of exercise in mice also suggests that exercise increases neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells, in the hippocampus.
Since the time man started painted on caves, the number one mind training technique for the imagination has been art.
- Visual art
- Performing arts
All arts train the imagination. As a former actor, singer, painter, and current writer, art has trained my mind to be incredibly creative and imaginative.
When we are more creative and imaginative, we are more able to create new solutions to any problems we may be experiencing, and we are more able to create opportunities in all avenues of life, including careers and relationships.
Imagining different things can also help to activate different regions of the brain.
8: Overcome fears
This is one of the hardest exercises. In fact, most people who read this will lack the courage to do it. That’s understandable. Facing fear is not easy. Not at all. But let me promise you one thing.
I promise that if you face your biggest fear right now it will change your life forever and it will train your mind like batshit crazy.
Facing your fears is the number one mind training technique. Because when you can power through your fears, you will find that nothing holds you back. It might not be easy. Intentionally putting yourself into a situation that frightens you is uncomfortable. However, it also boosts your mental strength.
There is a correct way to do this: Gradually.
You do not want to face a terrifying ordeal on day one. Instead, you want to overcome your fears in stages. There is a CBT technique for achieving just this. It’s called Fear Exposure. It means gradually exposing yourself to things you fear.
Ask yourself, how could you face your fear in a more comfortable way today? If you’re afraid of the dentist, for instance, just look at a dental brochure, then tomorrow watch a video about it, then the day after that go to a dental office and so on. Gradually exposing yourself to fear in this way is one of the best ways how to train your mind to overcome fear.
Mudras are specific hand gestures used in Buddhism, yoga and other spiritual systems.
Mudras take advantage of human body language as well as the acupuncture points in the hands. For instance, the prayer gesture (palms together, fingers pointing upwards) was originally a mudra called Anjali, which is said to have powerful effects on mental health.
There are well over 60 mudras in total. Each of them trains the mind in different ways.
10: Cultivate your qi
Qi (or prana) is the energy that flows through all living things. It is the energy that you feel when you are at rest. When this energy flows through us unobstructed, it enhances both our physical and mental health. However, when qi is blocked, it can create health problems, both psychological and physical.
Some ways to strengthen qi include:
- Tai chi
- Zhuangi (a Taoist meditation)
- Chi Meditations
There are many ways to train the mind. And according to research, people who use a variety of different brain strengthening techniques experience the most benefit, perhaps because mixed training leads to broader brain activation patterns. By incorporating a combination of speed processing training, memory exercises, and reasoning skills, you will experience the greatest benefit.
As well as the above mind training techniques it’s important to do the basics too, like eating healthy, workout out, reading, learning new things, and socialising (the latter of which can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease).
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison