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How to Break Mental Chains and Unlock Your Mind’s Full Potential

Subhajit Banerjee

June 30, 2024


A cushy job as a mid-level manager in an IT firm. A successful side-business.

A beautiful wife and an adorable little daughter.

From the outside looking in, you’d think my buddy Paul (name changed) is living the dream.

But peel back the layers just a bit, and you start to see cracks in the façade.

You see, Paul is a workaholic.

He uses his work and his business to numb himself. He works impossible long hours—sometimes even on weekends.

He has, at best, a surface-level relationship with his wife. He is moody, glum, and sulky. He often snaps at his daughter.

His anxiety makes him chew his nails down to the knuckles. He is always glued to his phone – doom scrolling. Being separated from it triggers mini panic attacks.

He finds it impossible to switch off his mind. It leads to constant exhaustion and sleepless nights filled with racing thoughts of past failures, upcoming challenges, and a growing sense of hopelessness.

Driven by fear, he’s always planning, strategizing, and worrying—keeping himself on edge.

Yet, despite all this, he makes impulsive decisions that erode his self-confidence and respect among friends.

He rarely exercises and suffers from high blood pressure, cholesterol, and chronic body pains. His immune system is compromised, leaving him frequently ill and exhausted.

He finds solace in junk food and alcohol, which only complicates his health issues.

Overall, he’s a ticking time bomb. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.

Paul is a slave to his mind.

He is stuck in a prison of his own, eternally chasing ghosts of future problems – like a dog chasing its tail.

He struggles with relentless negative self-talk that erodes his confidence and motivation. He finds it difficult to silence his inner critic, which amplifies every mistake and flaw.

He’s consumed by self-doubt, questioning his worth and capabilities. He struggles with decision paralysis, second-guessing every choice and fearing the consequences.

His mind is a war zone, constantly under assault by intrusive thoughts and worries.

This leads to an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, so it is no surprise he keeps his loved ones at arm’s length.

In his mind, if the people who depend on him knew the enormity of the battle he’s fighting every day, it would scare them away.

And he fears it would break him if they resembled his inner critic. Better to stay safe and distant at the cost of happiness.

But he feels a deep sense of lack of appreciation and resentment. He Struggles with a sense of hopelessness, fearing that he will never break free from these mental chains.

No relationship feels fulfilling to him.

Do you see a bit of Paul in yourself?

Then, you are not alone. Few in this world can claim freedom from this inner turmoil.

But that’s the tragedy.

Because when harnessed properly, your mind can be your most potent weapon.

It’s like heavy machinery that can break through all obstacles and pave paths toward every dream you’ve ever had.

But before that can happen, you must learn how to become its master instead of its slave.

You have to make your mind a potent ally instead of an enemy.

How do you start?

You begin by learning about this enemy…

The Nature of the Mind

It’s not an easy task, though.

The mind-body problem remains a core philosophical challenge.

Where does the body end and the mind begin? What exactly is their relationship?

For millennia, brilliant thinkers like the Buddha, Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, and Kant have explored the nature of the mind.

Several theories attempt to address this issue: dualism, monism, idealism, panpsychism, emergentism, and parallelism. Despite these efforts, the divide continues to widen.

I don’t claim to have the answers these great minds did not find.

However, I believe two frameworks describe this relationship well:

The 4 Layers of Consciousness

According to the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, there are four layers of consciousness:

  1. Mind Consciousness (Manovijnana) – This is the active layer of “working” consciousness. Known as System 2 in neuroscience, it involves planning, judging, worrying, and analyzing. The physical brain is just an aspect or dimension of this consciousness. It consumes a lot of energy, and when it gets caught in a loop of worry and rumination, it can lead to depression. Mindfulness helps keep you present and curbs this energy-draining rumination.
  2. Sense Consciousness (Vijnanas) – This level of consciousness arises from our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
  3. Store Consciousness (Alaya-vijnana) – This third layer of consciousness has various names such as alaya (store), bhavanga (always flowing), and sarvabijaka (all the seeds). It acts as a storehouse that takes in and preserves all information like seeds, which grows into new insights and knowledge under the right conditions. Neuroscientists refer to this as System 1, which handles instincts, habits, and wisdom. It’s always at work – collecting, preserving, and processing information whether you want it or not. It’s metabolically efficient. It often collaborates with sense consciousness without going through mind consciousness – for example, when you drive a car while lost in some other thought, yet don’t get into an accident.
  4. Manas (Klistamanas or Defiled Consciousness) – This layer is tainted by ignorance—delusions, anger, and fear. It clings to the notion of a separate self like a vine embracing and encircling the tree trunk of the store consciousness. It is the seat of the ego.

Ken Wilber’s Quadrants

Ken Wilber’s four quadrants model offers another insightful explanation:

  1. The Individual Interior Quadrant – This quadrant covers life’s internal, subjective aspects, such as thoughts, feelings, and moods. It’s everything subjective in your life that cannot be touched, dissected, or measured objectively.
  2. The Individual Exterior Quadrant – Everything in the first quadrant correlates with Q2 — the quadrant of the external individual. If you’re curious enough to stay under observation under an fMRI machine, you will see that every thought or feeling in your mind lights up a few areas in your brain. Of course, it’s not just about the brain — the release of hormones, the depth or shallowness of your breathing, your heart rate, all of these things mirror the psychological experience you are having. Everything that happens internally happens externally.
  3. The Collective Interior Quadrant – Q3 is the quadrant of language, culture, value systems, and worldviews. Take the example of loneliness, for instance. People feel lonely today, and they have done so for millennia. But a few decades back, you would have gone to a religious or social gathering or invited someone to your house. But today, you get on a social media site or open up Tinder on your phone, depending on the company you want. The subjective feeling remains the same, but the actions couldn’t have been more different. This is how culture and language dictate and shape your subjective feelings and thoughts.
  4. The Collective Exterior Quadrant – Q4 is the empirical side of the Q3 collective experience. Wilber’s example of going to a foreign country explains the difference between the Q3 culture and the Q4 society. You go to a country where you don’t speak the language, which is entirely different from your culture. When you first arrive, you are in the Q4 society but not the Q3 culture. You can observe the architecture, the population density, the relative wealth and poverty, and the demographics. You can see what technologies they have and how their society is structured. But you don’t know what people’s worldviews are, and you don’t know what they value or why they do what they do. You can’t truly understand the Q3 of a country until you learn the language and talk to the people.

Why does combining these two schools of thought make sense?

It describes the physical properties (cells, molecules, neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, the brain itself) and the internal properties (thoughts, emotions, judgments, goals) as two aspects or dimensions of the same thing. They are inseparable. Social structures and culture help put all of that into context.

As you mature, you learn how much your mind is primed with what you’ve picked up from your parents, our culture, and our society. You understand how much of it is colored by biases and prejudices. And then you learn to see and think beyond them.

Combining them also gives an inventory of the functions of the mind:

  • Receiving stimuli and interpreting them into emotion
  • Creating plans of action
  • Learning concepts
  • Using those concepts to develop insights
  • Seeking solutions to problems
  • Judging
  • Planning, strategizing
  • Assigning value and meaning

When you have a clear idea of the functions of the mind, you know better where you can focus, take charge, and correct course.

Taking Charge of Your Mind (Instead of Fighting Against It)

But taking control of your mind is easier said than done.

Why so?

Because most people don’t realize the true potential of their minds. They set artificial limits around themselves and don’t even bother testing them.

I’m not saying that mind is just like a clay putty. Genetics are a thing. OCEAN (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) traits are a thing.

But they shouldn’t be used as excuses. Passing quick judgments or labeling yourself as incapable does no good.

And more importantly, it isn’t the truth either.

Your mind is far more malleable than you might believe. Here are a few ways you can harness this superpower:

  1. Nutrition, Exercise, and Rest Think of your mind as a garden. What you consume plants the seeds. Good habits, exercise, and proper nutrition fertilize your mind’s potency. Whatever Jedi mind tricks you’re willing to learn – they won’t even be 10% effective if you don’t take care of these big 3.
  2. Neuroplasticity Tons of studies have proven the neuroplasticity of the brain — the ability of the brain to change structurally based on environmental demands. What you repeatedly practice helps build new pathways in the brain and makes you proficient. So, it’s your sacred duty to push your brain’s boundaries to see what it’s truly capable of.
  3. RAS (Reticular Activating System) The RAS is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information, letting only the critical stuff through. For example, if you start noticing a specific car brand everywhere after researching it, that’s the RAS at work. You can learn to hijack this system to your advantage and attract more of what you want.
  4. Visualization A study in Neuron revealed that imagining a threat can trigger almost the same brain response as experiencing it. Visualizing success activates brain areas associated with actual success, fostering neuroplasticity, reducing stress, and increasing motivation. Vedanta says that the world is a lie, an illusion—Maya. When you look through the lens of visualization, neuroplasticity, and RAS, you see how much truth is there in this age-old teaching.
  5. Reframing Reframing is another powerful technique for reclaiming your mind. Ask yourself: Are you someone who accepts the default mental frames? Or are you the guy who invests energy and reframes thoughts into kind, empowering narratives?
  6. Gratitude Finally, gratitude stops you from the wild goose chase of perfection. It helps you accept that good enough is good enough. It enables you to be more discerning and appreciative of what you have, attracting more blessings.

You leave a lot on the plate if you’re not utilizing these mental power-ups.

Traps of the Mind

While leveraging these mental power-ups, beware of the cognitive traps. Your mind is strewn with them, like forgotten landmines from past wars.

Here are a few to be aware of so that you don’t lose an arm or leg:

  1. Biases and prejudices – Everyone has them, and it’s impossible to eliminate all of them. However, being aware of their existence gives you an edge. How do you become more aware? Reflect on your biggest regrets and identify the biases that influenced your decisions. Examples – Self-Serving Bias, the Halo Effect, and the Bandwagon Effect.
  2. Cognitive distortions – These are faulty thought patterns embedded in your brain, like mind reading, black-and-white thinking, and predicting the future. Awareness and knowledge are crucial to uncovering these. I’ve personally struggled with comparing myself to others and negative self-labeling. With mindfulness and journaling, I now catch these distortions early instead of letting them affect my actions and thoughts.
  3. Careless questions – The mind takes things literally and seeks solutions. Be mindful of the questions you ask, even unconsciously. When you pose a question, even if it’s not in your conscious mind, it sinks into the store consciousness. Then, it connects the dots and comes up with a solution. Questions like, “Why does this always happen to me?” or “How can I be so stupid?” can lead to unhelpful answers. Then, your ego claims the answers as the truth and runs with them, making things even more complicated.
  4. Early conclusions – Avoid jumping to conclusions and defining your status too quickly. These premature conclusions can harden into rigid beliefs. Strong opinions, lightly held, are the way to go.
  5. Chasing perfection – Minds often make the chase more attractive than the outcome. It generates dopamine when you envision a perfect outcome and then keeps you unhappy chasing that illusion. The sunken cost fallacy also triggers at this point – keeping you chasing perfection rather than settling for good enough. Be aware of setting this trap.
  6. Emotions clouding judgment – I’ve struggled with this in the past. I used to feel helpless and powerless because of my lack of assertiveness, and then I compensated for that by either people-pleasing those I didn’t know enough or shouting and sulking with the people close to me. Yeah, I was not too fun at parties in the days.
  7. Not able to handle stress responses – Stress triggers a generic response, whether from exercise, an infection, or a perceived threat. Much of what you regret comes from operating when your stress response is activated. As soon as you become aware of your arousal, take a break to calm yourself down. Nothing good comes from engaging with people when you’re this riled up.
  8. Ego taking control – The ego thrives on differentiation and judgment. Train yourself to recognize when judgments occur. It’s your ego at work. Wrestle the control back before it gets too ahead.

Become aware of these mental traps, and you will master your mind miles ahead of others.

The Eternal Dance of Order and Chaos

Whether you exploit your mind power-ups or avoid the traps – you can’t escape the true nature of the mind.

What am I talking about here?

I’m talking about the push and pull of order and chaos.

Most people try to deny this, but chaos will always breed in your mind if left to its devices. In a closed system, entropy always increases. It is one of the fundamental aspects of the universe that has stood the test of time.

However, chaos shouldn’t be feared. While order provides stability, chaos brings emergence, beauty, evolution, and life.

Order is the tree planted on the sidewalk. Chaos is the wildflower that sprouts through the cracks.

The store consciousness discussed earlier is free-flowing, transformative, and chaotic. It might surprise you with unexpected developments. Rather than rejecting chaos outright, keep an open mind.

Left unchecked, chaos will dominate, but you can cultivate growth beyond your imagination with intentional nurturing.

Use order to form a structure and invite chaos to thrive within those boundaries.

Without chaos, order becomes lifeless. But when you embrace chaos with openness, you allow yourself to evolve, transmute, and eventually transcend.

Is all of this Worth the Effort?

All of this is a lot of work. I can understand the aversion to putting in effort.

Because I was in your shoes even a few years back.

I had a fixed mindset. Persistent self-doubt used to erode my confidence.

I had negative thinking habits that were hard to break. Stress and anxiety used to keep me on edge and keep my judgment and decision-making clouded.

Staying in the present moment was a struggle for me. My mind was always racing with anxious thoughts of the future or regrets of the past.

Add a lack of energy, clarity, purpose, a tendency to procrastinate, and perfectionism to that mix.

I hardly made any progress in goals that mattered and was perma-frustrated.

Overcoming all of those barriers feels like a Herculean task.

But the critical thing to remember here is that – any slight improvement you make here acts as a positive loop. It leads to chain effects and reduces the impact of the other mental barriers.

And it gets progressively easier as your momentum builds.

Soon, all of these would be so ingrained that you won’t even feel any effort in maintaining them.

If you want accountability and help installing them – I’m just a call away.

What happens when you start incorporating these changes?

When you invest in understanding the nature of the mind, exploit its leverage points, and learn to avoid its traps, you cut through noise and distractions to gain absolute mental clarity and focus.

You overcome self-doubt and start experiencing genuine happiness. You break free from perfectionism and embrace imperfections.

You become more resilient, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and bounce back more quickly. You feel present, empowered, and in control. Guilt and shame lose their grip on you as you develop greater self-compassion and learn to silence your inner critic.

You develop the ability to stay calm and composed under pressure, handling stress with ease. You learn how to relax when you have the opportunity.

You enjoy enhanced physical and mental health and increased energy and vitality.

And you develop unshakeable confidence and a deep sense of inner peace.

So, you tell me—do you think it’s worth investing your effort?

How to Unlock Your Mind’s Full Potential

Okay, let’s get down to the brass tacks now.

Here are a few habits I’ve cultivated, encompassing all I discussed earlier.

Feel free to adopt them as they are or put your spin on them:

Morning Routine

Mindfulness Meditation

I’m not a fan of traditional sitting meditation.

Instead, I prefer to focus on my thoughts, body sensations, and breathing throughout the day.

But I do a quick, mindful walk in the early morning while brewing my coffee. I close my eyes, open my other senses, and walk around the room like a bat, chanting Daimoku. This routine grounds my mind and gives me a good acetylcholine boost for my morning deep work.

Gratitude Journaling

Next, I do some gratitude journaling.

I open my daily page on Notion LifeOS, a system I plan to introduce to all my clients. I note something I’m truly grateful for from the previous day in the gratitude section. This practice consistently lifts my spirits.

Mindset and Identity Sculpting

My mindset is how I view the world, and my identity is how I see myself.

I spend a few minutes revisiting my collected wisdom and a distilled version of my values and principles. This boosts my focus and clarity.

Visualization

I emphasized the importance of visualization earlier. I imagine myself completing the day’s most important task with ease and confidence.

I picture every detail, including the setting, people, environment, emotions, and clothing. This habit has quickly become a cornerstone of my productivity.

Setting Intentions

I prioritize my tasks the evening before to know what needs my focus.

I set my intention for the day—defining what makes today successful and what I should avoid. Then, I dive into my deep work, aided by a cup of pour-over coffee.

Throughout the Day

Pattern Interrupt

I practice mindfulness throughout the day, bringing my focus back to my thoughts and breathing.

If I feel lost and unaware – a quick pattern interrupt helps me reset my circuit, engages the rational side of my brain, and gets me back to the focus work of the day.

I learned This simple but effective trick from Mel Robbins: Count 5-4-3-2-1 backward.

You won’t believe how effective it can be. Give it a try.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion is creating a gap between yourself and your thoughts.

It helps you identify less with them and become less impulsive. It also enables you to choose the helpful ones and let go of the ones that are not.

Become an observer of your thoughts.

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.”
— Steve Jobs

Walking

Inspired by Dan Koe, I’ve made walking an essential habit.

I walk 4 km to drop my son’s bags at daycare, enjoying the morning sun and listening to an audiobook.

This gets me a healthy dose of the morning sun, expands my mind, and keeps me lean.

Intermittent Fasting and Calorie Deficit

I follow intermittent fasting (16:8) to maintain focus and health. This, coupled with a protein-heavy diet and a 1500 Kcal limit, keeps me lean and healthy.

Journaling

Journaling is a transformative habit for me.

I use bullet journaling for daily tasks and actions and capture ideas throughout the day.

Long-form journaling helps me untangle and reframe my thoughts, uncover biases and prejudices, plan my course, and clarify my emotions.

It’s a crucial practice for me.

Evening Routine

Reflection

In the evening, I reflect on my day, noting lessons learned.

I also review my step count, critical actions completed, calorie intake, and daily goals. All this data contributes to my weekly reflection.

Planning

Finally, I plan the next day to ensure clarity in the morning.

 

These habits touch on every aspect of the mind we discussed earlier. They leverage its strengths and help avoid its pitfalls.

Incorporate these routines into your life, and you will be almost unrecognizable in a few months!

 

So what happened to Paul?

Is there a happy ending to his story?

I’m afraid not—not yet, anyway. And if he continues like this, there won’t be any.

I’ve tried to help him, but he is unwilling to let go, open up, or change.

Everyone needs to cross a certain pain threshold before deciding enough is enough.

Maybe Paul isn’t there yet. I pray he reaches there soon – because he’s a dear friend despite his struggles and shortcomings.

But you don’t have to be like Paul.

If you want to stop being a slave to your mind and become its master instead, you know what to do.

Start with daily habits. Do them as if your life, future, and health depend on them—because they do.

The initial fight is an uphill battle.

Then, once the momentum hits, you will be amazed at how much mileage you get out of these habits.

If you still find it challenging to hold yourself accountable – book a call here. I can help.

It’s never wise to keep something as important as this on chance.