While many people strive to become more physically fit, it’s easy to neglect mental fitness.
People tend to think of fitness as categorical, meaning you’re either fit or you’re not. This is especially true for mental fitness. We hear terms like “fit for duty” or “fitness as a parent.”
In some cases, a psychologist is asked to determine whether a person is considered “suitable” for a specific task or role. In fact, there is still a common misconception that those seeking mental health treatment must have an illness, while the rest of the population is mentally healthy.
The truth is that there are many variations of mental fitness, just as there are variations in physical fitness levels.
No matter where you are with your current mental fitness, here are some simple ways to incorporate mental fitness exercises into your daily life:
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Mindfulness exercise – Mindfulness is the practice of letting thoughts go while fully engaging in the current activity.
Mindfulness is referred to as “practice” because no one ever perfects this activity. Our brains are wired to constantly think and process information. This leads to obsessive thinking, worry, disengagement and dissatisfaction.
Mindfulness practice provides an opportunity to train your brain to release toxic thoughts and intentionally focus attention.
Mindfulness can be practiced while sitting still and focusing on breathing or a peaceful image. Mindfulness can also be practiced during a physical activity such as walking or yoga.
The key is to consistently bring your focus back to the present when a thought enters your mind. Even if you are interrupted by thoughts every two seconds, consistently letting the thoughts go and refocusing on the present means you are effectively practicing mindfulness.
Avoid negative thought patterns — When a worry or negative thought pops into your head, what do you do? Do you plan what you will do if the worry comes true, or do you imagine the worst case scenario?
Maybe you’re trying to talk yourself out of this worry, but can’t quite convince yourself that there’s no need to worry. Holding onto and entertaining negative thoughts is bad for mental health.
It’s hard to avoid the negative thinking trap all the time. To increase mental fitness, it is important to learn ways to avoid getting stuck in negative thought patterns, recognize when this thought trap occurs, and disengage from obsessive thoughts.
Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk — Do you criticize yourself when you make a mistake, or do you compare yourself to others who seem to be better? Rather than being motivating, such negative self-talk is discouraging and unproductive.
To improve your mental fitness, try to stop that self-criticism and even offer yourself some praise for what you do well.
Instead of making negative comments about yourself as a person, try to point out specific actions that you would like to improve on.
Make time for friendships and other self-care activities — Friendships and fun are not just for children. Research shows that mentally fit adults have fulfilling relationships with others and engage in activities that bring them joy.
Think about the choices you make daily that help support your physical fitness. Some of these may be habits that require little thought or willpower. Physical fitness activities can include:
- Weight lifting
- Avoid the candy aisle in the grocery store
- Replace fries with a salad
- Prioritizing sleep
Each of these physical fitness activities has similarities to mental fitness activities. For example:
Weight lifting is like meditation. Each weight repetition builds strength and exercises the muscle.
Likewise, every time you bring your attention back to the present, it trains the brain and strengthens positive neural pathways.
Avoiding the candy aisle is like avoiding negative thought patterns. You may feel the urge to worry about something, try to predict the future, or think through a problem from every angle.
Just like candy, such thinking can be tempting, but it ends up not providing nourishment and can even make you feel sick!
Replacing fries with a salad is like replacing negative with positive self-talk. Fries are quick and convenient. They easily go with a hamburger, but with a little effort, a healthy change can be made.
Self-criticism can easily follow mistakes, but disconnecting those two and substituting healthier thoughts will lead to better mental fitness.
Prioritizing sleep is like prioritizing friendships and other self-care activities. Taking the time to nurture yourself through sleep, meaningful activities and relationships is not a waste. This investment of time will pay off, leading to improved mental fitness.
Are you ready to improve your mental fitness? With discipline and consistency, it is possible to make great gains in mental fitness. Let 2023 be the year to strive for optimal physical and mental fitness!