When I think about pruning, my mind surfaces a pleasant thought of Mr Miyagi masterfully removing weed, broken branches, and excess leaves from his bonsai trees. The aim is to remove excess parts of a plant to help it grow and make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Not so long ago, I bought an unkempt plant and spent days pruning it – it was a part of a marketing strategy I was working on for a company in London. I wanted to metaphorically simulate an idea using the delicate and satisfying art of pruning. Little did I know, I would ponder the process so profoundly that it would offer me a deep understanding of my thoughts and so many other corners of my existence. The marketing strategy for my client was no longer as important to me as to how I felt about pruning and how I could use the process to help enhance my living experience.
The first facet I thought to prune was my mind. Our minds can get noisy – and this noise can become so loud that we cannot think clearly. Thoughts are hoarded and cause so much clutter that we can no longer focus. Although the mind is a processor with unmeasurable power, it is also a wild beast, and if a wild beast is not tamed, it can never serve you properly.
I have read numerous studies on meditation and think it is a wonderful way to silence the noise, but what if there was a way to reduce the noise and keep the noise continually reduced? Would this improve how we think?
Just the way Mr Miyagi prunes the bonsai tree, can we prune our thoughts to reduce the clutter to encourage growth? After reflecting on this concept, I gave it a try.
I was already familiar with the technique of cognitive diffusion (deliteralization), whereby you look at your thoughts instead of looking through them. When looking through your thoughts, you often make decisions based on numerous different factors, including using emotions rather than reason. And choices made while under the influence of extreme emotions can have disastrous consequences.
Using the cognitive diffusion method means identifying negative thoughts and trying to disrupt cycles of destructive emotions.
We can use this method to prune the thoughts that do not help us in any aspect of our lives or are contributing to our mental suffering and misery.
Pick your battles
With our minds congested with all sorts of thoughts. We must intercept and work out what thoughts are worth thinking about and which pollute our minds. These can be either useless thoughts or thoughts about past events that we cannot change.
We must identify what we value and channel our thoughts to focus on our values. Then, prune the rest (excess) because, just like the unkempt bonsai tree, they are only holding us back.
You can live your life getting annoyed at people’s opinions online, other drivers on the road. You can even complain about what someone said, or bad weather, or how long you had to wait in a queue. And if you try hard enough you can find a way to get offended by pretty much anything. But most of these thoughts only add clutter to the mind and get in the way of essential thoughts and values.
Ask yourself: do you really care about an opinion of a stranger online who you will probably never meet? Do you actually care that the idiot in the car behind horned because you didn’t notice the traffic lights turning green straight away? Is the thing that so and so said important enough to get angry about?
When these events are happening, you don’t usually ask yourself whether they are worth your time and effort; instead, your emotional reactions kick in. Trying to suppress your emotions is complicated, but training your mind on how to react to them can be incredibly powerful. Much of this is symptomatic of your values.
For instance, are you infuriated if you give another driver way, and the driver does not acknowledge your kind gesture with a wave of appreciation or a quick flash of the headlights? Is one of your core values that everyone you do anything for should visibly appreciate you? If so, you might get angry at the audacity and rudeness of the driver. And because of your core values regarding appreciation, you may not be able to control getting angry – but if you acknowledge your anger and intercept your thoughts in time, you can control what you are going to do next. Remember, anger doesn’t necessarily lead to aggression – aggression is a choice you make due to your anger. And it is here that you need to take siege of the ship and not allow it to hit the iceberg.
Does this require a reaction? Must you now show the driver that you are offended and angry that they didn’t express their appreciation? Is that even important? Did you give way because you wanted appreciation, or did you give way because it was a helpful thing to do?
Get angry. You’re allowed to. Sometimes, it’s necessary to get angry as not getting angry might prevent you from acting when action is required. But the idea is not to allow it to take control of how you react. Your reaction needs to be in tune with the thoughts of anger. They need to be appropriate and in a rational proportion. Yes, you might consider a rude hand gesture as an appropriate reaction to someone not giving you way, but is it necessary? When you start challenging your thoughts and holding yourself accountable before you make emotional choices, it makes all the difference.
This isn’t, by any means, easy. It takes time and patience to catch yourself and then extreme measures of determination and restraint for it to work. But once you have mastered it, you can change the way you react to any situation without too much thought. You can train yourself to question your thoughts and feelings and prevent yourself from making regrettable choices.
Prune your thoughts for efficiency
We all have a lot on. It’s part of life, but you sometimes find it isn’t that much when you get into the nitty-gritty details. We often merge all our little tasks into one mammoth task that we cannot chew through. As a result, we get stressed and always feel snowed under. This is where the art of pruning comes in again. We prune all the unnecessary tasks, then prune the not so important ones and are left with the core tasks that need immediate attention. We then focus on getting the priority tasks done in a manageable fashion.
Use the pruning method to see if you can declutter your mind. You’ll be surprised at how effective it is.