Professional athletes do it. So do the Navy Seals and other elite military units. They know that one key to excellence is unlocking the power of the mind.

Your thoughts – the words and images that seem to spring spontaneously to life – impact your life in greater ways than you might imagine. And these thoughts can be controlled to a great extent, reducing stress and enabling fluent leadership performance.

Some of the ways our minds trip us up include:

Expectations. Having unrealistic expectations can exaggerate frustrations and disappointments. You expect your vacation to be 100% relaxing, involving sun, surf and sand. It rains, the kids bicker and you come back to work more stressed than ever. If you’d started the vacation assuming that it would be a mixed bag of fun together with the typical family dynamics, you would have enjoyed the good times more and been prepared to roll with the punches.

Thinking amplifies feelings. How you think affects how you feel. You may not be aware of the scripts running in your brain. Many of us operate, for example, with the presumption that life is fair and bad things happen to bad people. Logically, we know this isn’t true. Yet,we stumble and feel victimized when life deals us a bad hand. You cannot avoid feeling frustrated, but you can keep those feelings calibrated to reality by examining your patterns of thinking regularly. Replace your “poor me” thoughts with “I can handle this.”

Thoughts bleed from one situation to another. You leave a meeting absolutely fuming about the way your boss dismissed your ideas. At the next meeting with your team, someone comments that the last project could have run more smoothly. You explode with rage, giving her a piece of your mind. You’d like to believe that the first meeting had nothing to do with your reaction in the second. Unfortunately, few people have the capacity to wall off their feelings, and they often seep from one interaction to another. Remedy this by taking a break after an emotional encounter. Come up with a plan to deal with the event. If you can’t do anything about it, choose to think about it differently. “I know that my boss doesn’t appreciate my contributions, but that makes them no less valuable.” If no action seems possible and you can’t alter your thinking, put those thoughts on hold. Compartmentalize them for a time, so that you can move on productively. (Don’t forget to deal with them later!)

Disciplining your thoughts requires some work. You must be willing to spend some time understanding the ways your mind typically operates. The next step is to replace old habits of thinking with new ones. Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively, replace it with a more positive thought. If you imagine yourself failing, replace it with a picture of success. Experts recommend visualizing yourself not only at the finish line, but triumphing in the midst of the hard work too.

Recognize that the messages in your head are not only real, they are powerful. In the final book of J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore talks with Harry after the two were reunited in the next life, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Want to explore more productive ways of thinking? Contact Humanergy.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.