Thought Leashes

4 mind training tips for thinkers, dreamers, innovators, and intellectuals, to stay focused and use their thoughts well. 

The Border Collie Connection

Border collies are a Scottish, English breed of herding dogs, renowned for their intelligence, energy, curiosity, and stamina. Their love of challenge makes them some of the world’s best sheepdogs, and most loyal sporting companions. They do not, however, make for easy, docile household pets. Without a direction or task, border collies grow dangerously restless, and take out their energy by digging holes, barking at neighbors, or chasing cars.  While perhaps not obvious at first site, the personality of a border collie has a striking similarity to that of an active-minded human. In her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Elizabeth Gilbert illuminates the connection. As she sees it,

“possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do—and you may not like the job it invents.”

Indeed, for many deep thinkers and innovators, simply existing with one’s own company can be an experience, both as fun, and as challenging, as living with a border collie in a small house. Despite the inevitable difficulties, never resort to locking your imagination in a kennel for a lifetime of mental repression. Instead, use the tips below to train your mind like a border collie, and play to your strengths!

Tip #1 Feed the Beast
Why? Your mind is hungry

Border collies have big appetites, and sharp teeth eager to devour the food onsite. Without proper nourishment, they either wither into a state of depressed starvation or chew up the couch. As such, if you have a ravenous intellectual appetite, and a mind constantly hunting for something to tear apart, then you must feed the beast. Otherwise, you might start chasing your own tail, chewing on your own problems, or gobbling up trashy TV.

Be intentional about feasting your mind on good things. Devour books, discuss podcasts, study languages, learn skills, listen to clever song lyrics, observe art, or simply follow a curiosity trail as far as it will take you. Also, keep a bone in the back of your mind to gnaw on, for times of extended boredom. I find interesting quotes and new words a great way to prevent myself from getting “mentally hangry.”

Tip #2 Give it Something to Chase
Why? Your mind is active

For hundreds of years, border collies have been bred to chase. When focused, they will charge non-stop in a valiant effort to herd sheep and catch far-flung frisbees. Much to the dismay of many modern owners, however, the chase instinct cannot be trained out of their DNA. Lacking an outlet, they may attempt to herd cyclists, squirrels, cars, or even small children.

When it comes to chasing, most innovative, project driven people, have a similar instinct. That is, when we want something, we really want something, and we will work like a dog to get it. The catch, however, is that not all pursuits are positive. Sure, it’s possible you spend all your energy pursuing dental degrees, personal weightlifting records, and solutions to global health problems. But given your nature, it’s also quite possible, that you expend your energy chasing uber-EATS ice-cream trucks and troublesome members of the opposite sex. Or maybe you even chase the former with the latter.

Regardless, you will end up chasing something. To channel your instinct to charge, find a captivating project that stretches your limits, and then get after it. Build a treehouse, write a book, compose a song, train for a 10k, or launch a website. Whatever it is, once you set your mind to it, the options are endless.

Tip # 3 Get a Leash
Why? Your mind wanders 

Some dogs are tame enough to roam anywhere off leash and return whenever their owner calls. But border collies, even the friendliest ones, are curious creatures and notorious escape artists. Off leash, their curiosity can lead them to explore poison oak patches or water from impure sources. While they do need space to run free, at times they just need a short leash. And so do our own thoughts.

See, if left unchecked, the same imagination that allows you to create companies from scratch can also become self-destructive. Watch for the gradual slippery slope space out. Maybe your mind wanders back to the embarrassing work meeting, last week. Or maybe you start wondering why Tyler Tinder failed to show up for your second date. Then, before you realize, you sit captive as an audience member to a self-made mental movie with the tagline, “Unemployed and Unloveable”—the vivid motion picture autobiography coming to theaters in 2020.  These are dangerous rabbit holes to travel down, but thankfully, you don’t have to give up daydreaming and curiosity altogether in order to stay sane. Instead, identify your trigger territories and keep a thought leash at the ready. That way, you can let your imagination explore, and simply reign it back to the focus path whenever necessary.

Tip #4 Breed Responsibly
Why? Your mind is fertile

Responsible breeding is an important aspect of both dog ownership and creative mind ownership—especially for those prone to absorbing surrounding stimuli like a sponge.
The words and suggestions you internalize now will most likely give birth later, whether in the form of art, or a manifested reality. That said, if you have a particularly fertile mind, then be intentional about who you think with. Now, this does not mean we should all live in microcosms among those who share the exact same viewpoints. Actually, the ability to respectfully disagree and juggle opposing ideas can widen our perspective and sharpen our character. However, considering the law of averages, you will become the company you keep. The ideas, advice, criticisms, or comments, that others speak into your life, act like tiny seeds which bear fruit for good or for bad.

Choose your close pack wisely.

Alas, now that you have these training tips on hand, it’s time for your border collie get some exercise. Your mind is powerful, so use it well!

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