Finding your true purpose and living with confidence are goals we can all get on board with, but they can prove frustratingly elusive, even to those who are outwardly very successful. Mindset coach and former Special Forces soldier and co-founder of The Natural Edge, Simon Jeffries works with his clients to help them become more aware of the mental blocks holding them back.
Here, he tells RSNG.com about the daily, time-efficient mindset hacks we can all use to break out of negative thought patterns and ingrained behaviors, while finding our true purpose…
Check In With Yourself
Want to find your true purpose? When I hear that I am immediately put into the mode of someone going on an epic quest, where the stakes are huge, and the obstacles almost insurmountable. Sure, this would make a good story, but does it really have to be so dramatic, and take such effort?
For Simon Jeffries the answer is: no, absolutely not! The life experiences of this former UK Special Forces warrior have taught him that if you are not finding your life meaningful, even if you are outwardly very successful, then you will not be happy, and your mental health will suffer. But many people live this exact scenario, sometimes for decades, without even beginning to find a solution. This is a shame, says Jeffries, because the path to your purpose is very easy to find, and it’s almost as simple to take the first step along it…
“It comes back to treating it like a mindset, because you're not going to stumble on that answer. It takes consistent work but it really is as simple as getting a notepad and just asking yourself: ‘Who do I see myself as? What do I value? What's important to me in my life, and how do I want to live my life?’”
The next thing to ask yourself is how you are actually acting and actually living. “And then, once you have identified the discrepancy between the two, it's a case of ‘Ok, these are the areas I need to work on – how can I put a plan in place to start changing that?’”
Becoming self-aware and overcoming baked-in mental blocks can be managed within those passing moments in our day-to-day lives
Don’t Skip The Intro
There are times when your brain needs to spool up before coming fully online. It needs to run through the metaphorical intro, like the boxset of your life. It’s a mechanism that is embedded in the neuroscience of how the most complex known object in the universe (your brain) operates, says Jeffries, and it means that most of us are getting mindset wrong with the very first thing we do each day.
Time for a confession: most mornings I reach for my smartphone almost as soon as I’m awake, and I know I’m not alone in this… “The problem with doing that is that it skips past two stages of the brain waking up,” Jeffries reveals.
When we begin to wake up in the morning our brains switch from delta waves, which occur in a deep sleep state, to theta waves, which occur during a sort of daydreamy state. From there, our brains start to produce alpha waves when we are awake, but relaxed and not processing much information.
“By grabbing your phone first thing and immediately diving into the online world, you force your body to skip the important theta and alpha stages, and go straight from the delta stage to being wide awake and alert – the beta state.”
This is an excellent way to trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Between social media scrolling, your emails and news headlines, you are almost guaranteed to fall into a pit of negativity, which can hijack your awareness and put you on edge for your whole day.
“In addition, by skipping these states and checking your phone right after waking up you are priming your brain for distraction,” says Jeffries.
The 60-60 Sandwich
A simple lifestyle hack following on from this is the idea of taking back control of the hour at the start and the hour at the end of your day. “In the first hour, ideally get outside even if it’s just for ten minutes to get some natural light and wake your body up… and just be present with yourself, with your partner.
“You will get bonus mindset points if you do some deep breathing on your walk – which can be as simple as breathing deeply in and out through your nose and using your belly rather than just your diaphragm.
“These all sound like simple things, but we find that they actually have a big effect for a lot of people – they start in a much more calm, kind of collected manner, in charge of the day as opposed to the other way around,” says Jeffries.
As you’ve likely guessed by now, screens of any sort are not called for in these 60-minute bookends to your day. That said, reading in bed has been shown to promote good sleep so you can probably get a pass for an e-reader in flight mode…
Optimize Junk Minutes To Meditate
Meditation and breathing exercises have been shown to make us calmer, less likely to suffer from anxiety, and more able to develop self-awareness. This is all well and good, but how many of us have the time to sit cross-legged on the floor for an hour a day, really?
For Jeffries, becoming more self-aware and overcoming baked-in mental blocks through simple meditations, doesn’t have to be such a mountain to climb, and can be managed within mundane moments in our day-to-day lives. “How many times have you stood in a queue and automatically reached for your smartphone to scroll through crap?” he asks. Instead, spend those two minutes doing some simple breathing exercises, or just quietly checking in with yourself and being present in the moment.
“That is absolutely still meditating, even if you’re doing it while you’re sat waiting for the lights to change. And if you add up all of those times when you either choose to scroll through your phone, or choose that two minutes of breathing, over time that's going to have a massive cumulative effect, and impact on your life.”
But you don’t have to make this change all at once. The first step is to actually recognise and become aware of moments that you can choose to put to better use. “And then it’s gradually practicing those choices so that your default choice or behavior becomes more the one that's going to help you, as opposed to the one that really doesn't serve much benefit,” says Jeffries.
People think because I’ve been in the Special Forces I must have more willpower but that’s bullshit – I'm just very good at systems and habits
A Workout Program For Your Mind
Jeffries gives his clients a 10-week program of daily, and weekly, actions to help them work towards their mindset goals, and find their purpose. If it sounds like a personal training plan for the mind, rather than the body, then that’s because it is.
You can’t build a new body in one workout, one week or even one month, and it’s the same with building a new awareness of yourself, and new neural pathways with which to think and act.
Likewise, with a mindset training plan, you can afford to miss a workout so long as you make sure you do the next one in the program. The analogy even works when you get down to sets and reps, says Jeffries.
Don’t Fight Evolution
As Jeffries points out, the last two hundred years of human history only makes up 0.03% of our evolution, which hasn’t adapted to having food on tap combined with sedentary lifestyles and clever marketing. “Snickers is the ideal combination of sweet, salty tastes, and textures, it's going to hit every reward circuit in your brain. And then you have supermarkets that lay them out at optimal points to make you want to buy them.”
So it's that understanding that grabbing unhealthy snacks isn’t about laziness, or lack of willpower – you're simply fighting your own biology in a modern environment. “It’s about things as simple as: don't go to the supermarket hungry.”
The same applies to exercise, because we are hardwired to avoid unnecessary exertion, even when exercise is vital to our mental wellbeing, long-term health and a host of personal goals. Jeffries is a former special forces soldier but even he has days when he is less than enthusiastic about the gym.
In these situations he falls back on his habits: “I've been training for 20 years. I like going to the gym, I like exercising. And yet, when I get to the end of the day, and I'm tired from working in front of a screen, my initial desire is not to go to the gym.
“But because the session has been planned out in advance, because my kit is always already packed in a bag, I don't have to make decisions, and I bypass all of those excuse points.”
He’s quick to point out that military training isn’t the difference here. “People think that because I’ve been in the military with Special Forces, I must have more willpower and motivation but that’s bullshit. I'm just very good at systems and habits.”
It’s so simple and subtle but that's the important point – it's the small decisions that you make every day
Take Control Of Your Own Identity
When it comes to wellness, the physical and the mental can’t be separated, and for Jeffries this provides a useful route into hacking your own perception of yourself, of your core identity. If that sounds radical, then know that a lot is possible with very small changes.
We all have parts of ourselves that we want to improve upon, or develop, and Jeffries has the usual advice about taking the stairs rather than queuing for an escalator, but he’s not coming from the angle of calories burned. “It's what you're telling yourself, about who you are at that moment – in that decision you are reaffirming your identity.
“And you're either reaffirming it as someone that wants to take the opportunity to move; I'm someone who is healthy and fit who will choose to take the stairs as opposed to standing there.
“It’s so simple and so subtle, and yet people miss that. That's the important point with it – it's the small decisions that you make every day.”
Catch The Snowball Not The Avalanche
Faced with a setback or triggering event, it’s easy to get trapped in a loop of negative thoughts, which lead to negative actions. How to break this cycle? For Jeffries, how you see the world is reflected in how you see yourself, and becoming self-aware is crucial to make the change you want to see.
“Our belief systems interact with the world to elicit thoughts, emotions, and actions. And so until you change that inner identity, to allow you to see things and understand why you're thinking certain thoughts, and are behaving a certain way, then you're never going to change.
Jeffries likens making a big change in yourself as trying to force change at the end point. “You're basically trying to stop an avalanche, so what we need to do is see where the snowball is, and change the direction of the trajectory from there.”
Practically speaking, Jeffries says the first step is to become self-aware of ‘bound nature’, which is any negative thought pattern or behavior. “And rather than just inhabiting it, so you get angry, you get frustrated, or you act in a certain way, you're able to stop and step back.” If you can feel the emotion coming on, then you can put into play whatever tactic you are using to change it.
“Every time you do that, that is like a rep in the gym, sometimes you'll win, sometimes you won't, because they are ingrained behaviors, it's not gonna happen overnight. But the more consistently you apply that, what happens over time is things that triggered your bound nature before become less triggering.” says Jeffries.
And even when you don’t catch the snowball, just being aware of what is happening makes you less likely to get caught in your own avalanche.
Breathe In A Box
One tactic you can use to catch yourself when you feel negative emotions coming on is to use a box breathing exercise. Jeffries has seen this used in the Forces, as a way for soldiers to stay calm and focussed. “The science says it works because you're triggering your parasympathetic nervous system. Breathing is your key into your autonomic nervous system.
“And it's powerful – if triggering happens, maybe something at work, just by taking a minute to do a couple of rounds of box breathing suddenly gives you the space to then step back, and react in a much more constructive way as opposed to just being wrapped up in the emotion.
“Respond versus react is probably the best way to put it. Do we fail to step back and just react? Or do we respond?”
Box breathing at its simplest is just to visualize a box, then breathe in through the nose for three seconds; that’s the first side of the box. Now hold your breath for three seconds; that’s the second side of the box. Then breathe out through the nose for three seconds; that’s the third side of the box. Now hold for three seconds; that’s the final side of the box. Then just repeat until you feel calm and collected.
A Moving Average Beats Perfection
Jeffries has the mantra of keeping a moving average, rather than striving for perfection and the big win. “I don't need perfection, I just need to find those small 1% wins that consistently edge my moving average into a positive trajectory instead of a negative one.”
His own path has taught him that this is also a valuable reminder to just come back to the process. “It just resets me – it stops the worry, it stops that projection forward to obstacles that may or may not happen. And it seems to work for a lot of other people, too.”
“That's what I always hammer home to people: just come back to the moving average. You don't need that perfection.”
WHAT NEXT? Living in the moment is essential to personal growth, but so is seizing the day – read my RSNG.com interview with mindset expert Gavin Oattes to find out how to redirect your energy and live better.
Find out more about Simon Jeffries and The Natural Edge here
Photos: Adobe Stock