You've probably heard the phrase 'mind over matter.' Maybe you've overheard someone say at the gym when they're lifting weights. Or, maybe you've even whispered it to yourself when you've had a particularly stressful day. It's used as a motivational saying to help people push themselves and overcome obstacles.
But mind over matter is more than just a phrase. These three words can be developed into a practice to reach goals or improve certain aspects of your life. In addition, research has found it to have health benefits such as being able to improve memory and increase attention. But what does mind over matter really mean? And what techniques can people practice to unlock its benefits?
What Does Mind Over Matter Mean?
Mind over matter is a phrase that means a person's "willpower alone can overcome a physical problem." It's the belief that a person's mind can influence their body and the world around them. For example, even if a person is tired in the midst of a long run, they can push through until they have met their goal.
The phrase originated in 1863. Mind over matter was first mentioned in the book The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man by Sir Charles Lyell. Lyell was a Scottish geologist that studied the earth and was close friends with famed evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.
In the book, the phrase refers to the immense growth in man's instincts, and ability to think and reason. In the world today, the phrase has been used to explore topics in psychology and philosophy to see just how strong the mind really is.
What Is a Mind Over Matter Practice?
A mind over matter practice stems from the belief that a person can train their mind. With continued practice, a person can shift their mind's attention to specific tasks and gain greater of self-control.
Psychologists still don't know exactly how the mind works or why it seems to be a trait that is unique to humans. In fact, some scientists still don't agree on whether the mind and brain are different aspects of the body, or if they are the same thing. Studies are still ongoing as to how to best develop a mind over matter practice, but in general, the it involves learning to train and shift your attention so that your fine-tuned focus can give you the energy you need to overcome obstacles. A mind over matter practice may involve practicing using mindfulness techniques or meditation.
Research has found some benefits to a mind over matter practice, especially surrounding attention. Some of these benefits include:
- Improves self-awareness
- Improves working memory
- Increases attention
- Resolves mental conflicts
In addition, some mind-over-matter practices, such as mindfulness have been used in interventions for smoking. Research has found that these practices can actually reduce smoking frequency.
Engaging in a mind over matter practice is different than just believing in the mind over matter mentality. A mind over matter mentality can cause people to push through pain or suffer from injuries due to the belief that they can shift their attention and move on. However, this can have serious negative health consequences.
For example, if you're out on a run and you roll your ankle, you shouldn't continue to push through the pain and complete your route as if you aren't injured. You should listen to your body's needs, especially surrounding injuries.
Many people believe that mind over matter is about being outwardly strong and tough. However, it's really about attention and self-awareness. Both of which require people to check in with their bodies and make sure everything feels healthy and comfortable. If you notice that something feels off in your body, or if you sustain an injury, seek medical attention or talk to your healthcare provider.
How to Practice Mind Over Matter
Mind over matter revolves around attention. More specifically, it revolves around how to develop and restrain a person's mind and thoughts, which can shift a person's attention.
There are parts of the brain that help people take in information from their external environments, known as their orienting network. And, there are parts of the brain that help resolve conflicts in order to help people achieve their goals, known as the executive network. These aspects of the brain and mind can be trained in order to give humans more control over their attention.
Mindfulness is the awareness of one's internal and external surroundings. It involves being fully present in the moment and giving something your full attention. For example, when you eat a meal and focus on the food on your plate, as well as how your body feels, then you are practicing mindful eating.
Mindfulness involves the process of bringing your attention back to whatever you're focussing on. Your thoughts may wander to other events or chores you need to do that day. That's okay. Just bring your attention back and try not to judge yourself or your thoughts. Some ways to practice mindfulness are:
- Keep a gratitude journal and write down what you are grateful for.
- Really listen to people during conversations and don't worry about forming the perfect response before they're even done talking.
- Savor all of the good aspects of your day, and let yourself fully enjoy them.
- Turn the TV off whenever it's meal time.
Meditation is a practice that has been around for thousands of years that helps you to identify and refine your mind and body connection. Research suggests that it provides many health benefits, such as reduced symptoms of depression or anxiety, as well as a decrease in physical pain. It involves a mental focus on visual images, mantras, or sensations in the body, such as the breath. Just like with mindfulness, whenever your thoughts wander, bring them back to your point of focus. Some meditations to try are:
Yoga combines mindfulness, breathwork, and movement. It's a form of exercise that can relieve stress, help with sleep, and improve a person's mental and emotional health. It integrates body movement with the breath so that each movement is accompanied by an inhale or an exhale. Since yoga requires simultaneous focus and control, it can be used to refine your mind over matter practice. Try an online yoga flow or sign up for a class in-person. Other types of 'meditative movement' you might want to try are Tai Chi and Qigong.
Anytime that you practice self-regulation or attention control, you're practicing a mind over matter technique. Over time, these practices can help improve emotion regulation and self-awareness, all of which can be beneficial and help improve your day-to-day life and social relationships.
Remember, refining your mind over matter technique takes time. When you start to meditate, your thoughts will wander, and that's okay. Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are all called 'practices' for a reason. There's no clear-cut finish line because they are meant to be practiced consistently over periods of time. They can always be improved and you can always take something new from them. The mind is powerful, and by practicing these techniques, you can help it get just a little bit stronger every day.