“What can I do to increase my brainpower?” someone said to me the other day. What he meant, he clarified upon my asking, was how to be more creative and realize one’s full potential.
His question reminded me of Plato’s allegory of the cave. In Book VII of the Republic, Plato compares the world and its inhabitants to a cave and its prisoners. They can only see what’s ahead and can’t look around. In the words of Chris Wilson from The Books That Saved My Life in Prison:
Plato talks about a group of people chained in a cave, where all they can see are shadows on the wall. They believe those shadows are the whole world, and they argue over those shadows, and they make those shadows their lives. Then, one day, a man escapes, and he goes to the surface, and he sees the real world: blue sky, green trees, warm sun. He’s so blinded by the beauty and possibilities that all he can do is cry.
It’s possible to master any skill with a great deal of effort but that does not necessarily lead to an expansion of one’s consciousness. Becoming good at what you do does not always equate with the realization of your full potential, for that requires a more holistic approach. In other words, we can master the art of talking about shadows with other prisoners but to liberate ourselves, we must be prepared and courageous to step out of the cave. That is what I consider a genuine gain of brainpower. And, there are three factors that play a crucial role in building this strength:
The greatest prison is our limiting self-belief. When we believe we can’t do something, we are already right. One common mistake is to believe that I can overcome my self-doubt just by affirmations or positive self-talk. That doesn’t really work beyond a certain point. What really helps us get past our limiting self-beliefs is an acquisition of superior knowledge and mastery of the skill or subject matter at hand. If I am appearing for an exam, for instance, and I’m not prepared, I can talk about or listen to all the positive things in the world, it won’t calm my nerves or make me more intelligent.
True mental toughness, something that’s essential to breaking free of the shackles of mind, comes from challenging my beliefs about what I think I can do and then decimating them by doing more or better than what I ever thought I could do. And, to accomplish such a feat I must be prepared to train my mind. Meditation, yoga and numerous other spiritual practices are aimed at that. On their own, however, they are never sufficient. Look around at you and you’ll discover a world where we have plenty of meditators, spiritual and religious people and yet they aren’t any calmer, better or more competent than the average Joe Blow on the street.
Here’s the golden question you can ask yourself to accomplish just about anything in life. Whenever you feel you can’t do something, simply ask yourself:
How can I do it?
Relentlessly ask yourself, “how can I do it?” and let it brew till your mind agrees to spill the answer to you. Whatever it is that you are struggling with in your life, any mental, physical, emotional, social or spiritual barrier that you can’t seem to cross, keep asking yourself, “how can I do it?” and be amazed how incredibly powerful your mind is in coming up with answers to difficult questions.
No matter how challenging a field you might be in, whether you wish to own that glorious mansion or attain self-realization, nearly everything is possible with self-discipline. I am yet to meet any successful person who isn’t self-disciplined. If you ever get a chance to work with someone who’s really at the top of their game, just observe them. You will notice they are so self-disciplined that they don’t need anyone else to watch over them. They can oversee themselves and that’s just about the only yardstick of self-discipline, that is, can you supervise yourself and work as planned? It requires mindfulness and determination. It is easy and tempting to get distracted or procrastinate but it’s rarely worth the price, for every time, we veer off course, we doubt ourselves even more.
What always worked for me, particularly during the days of my intense sadhana in the Himalayas, was a simple reminder. I used to say to myself, “The clock is ticking anyway. You’ll be performing some activity regardless, and since you are here to meditate, you may as well do exactly that.” Just remind yourself that why to do anything else when you can do what you should be doing.
Self-discipline is the wisdom to know that if you won’t do it, it won’t get done. Whatever “it” maybe.
You might be wondering what has righteousness or a virtuous life got to do with increasing your brainpower? The truth is: almost everything.
Each one of us has only one brain (or less…) and it can only do so much. If it has to constantly cover lies or defend its position, if this powerful little organ has to battle inner demons, it is left with no time or energy to focus on the big picture. For your brain to be your ally or the agency of self-transformation, it must be free from the petty shackles of undesirable thoughts and actions. And, living a virtuous life alone can give someone that freedom. When we consistently do the right thing, our brain not only derives strength and power, but also energy from the universal consciousness. For, truth, shortens, if not eliminates, the gap between individual and cosmic consciousness. When we lead simple and transparent lives, we have much less to worry about; and that is always a good thing.
To cut the long story short, it would help to see the brain as power, a force (and not just an organ). This power is harnessed and multiplied by shedding self-limiting beliefs, building self-discipline and leading a righteous life.