Physical fitness gets a ton of attention. And for good reason. Being physically fit helps reduce risk of heart attack, helps you build stronger bones and muscles, lowers your blood cholesterol level, and gives you more energy on top of a myriad of other benefits. It’s easy to see when you’re physically fit.
What doesn’t get as much attention is our mind. More powerful than our strongest muscles, our minds are what shape everything we do and how we experience the world around us. In fact, when we talk about what we’re experiencing, 80% of it is generated from the information that’s inside of our brains. Only 20% of our experience is from the actual external circumstances and events. In other words, how you’re experiencing ‘your reality’ is really a perspective. Your perspective. Which means you have a choice to change that.
As Plato once said, “Reality is created by the mind. We can change our reality by changing our mind.”
Just like exercising your physical muscles, you can exercise your mental muscles to boost your mental fitness. With greater mental fitness comes greater mastery over your mind to tackle your greatest challenges with calm, clarity and creativity. You’ll be controlling your mind rather than letting your mind control you.
What is Mental Fitness?
Mental fitness is your capacity to respond to life’s challenges with a positive mindset rather than get upset and stressed.
Consider the challenges you’ve encountered throughout your life. Which ones feel like tiny hills? Which ones feel like giant mountains?
Most of us are of average mental fitness. This means we can handle the tiny hills of life with minimal stress. But life brings us giant mountains from time-to-time.
The question is: What happens when these giant mountains turn up in front of you? Are you able to climb the mountain or do you tend to stand at the bottom overwhelmed by what’s in front of you? As you climb this mountain, how much emotional and mental stress are you experiencing?
Mental fitness is your ability to handle these challenges, both the tiny hills and the large mountains, with greater ease.
Why Mental Fitness matters.
Have you ever wondered why two people can be in similar circumstances, yet they respond completely differently?
We all know: $hit happens. Sometimes unexpectedly. At times, the $hit hits with such force that our lives feel completely upended by it, like the COVID pandemic. The impact of such circumstances not only pose a significant threat to people’s physical wellbeing, but their mental wellbeing as well. Especially for those who are not mentally fit.
When you’re not physically fit you are more prone to getting sick. The same goes with your mind. Your mind can make you sick, or make you well. It can drive you to seeing a circumstance as only bad or it can help you see the gifts and opportunities in it.
Just like the top athletes, top musicians, and top dancers in the world, the key is to train your muscles before game time; before those big mountains show up at your doorstep. The stronger your mental fitness, the more ease you’ll have at handling the Mount Everest sized obstacles.
The level of your Mental Fitness is the best predictor of how happy you are.
With greater mental fitness you’ll be able to:
- Observe your mind, rather than be controlled by your mind
- Recover more quickly rather than sit in the negative emotions from disappointments whether it’s not getting a promotion, losing a client, or receiving lower scores than you want
- Respond with calm, clear-headedness rather than get emotionally hijacked (i.e., fight, flight, freeze) from external stressors
- Stay present rather than ruminate about the past or worry about the future
- Grow from challenging circumstances rather than simply trying to cope
Not only is the level of your mental fitness the best predictor for how happy you are, it is also connected to how well you perform relative to your potential.
The good news? You can boost your Mental Fitness through training and practice!
Training your mental fitness isn’t as challenging as training for the Olympics, but similarly, it does require consistency and commitment.
There are many ways to practice building your mental muscles. Three easy, introductory experiments you can try today:
1) Train with Breath.
Before a big interview or presentation, take five deep breaths to train your focus. As you’re breathing, feel the rising and falling of your chest or stomach with each breath. Take notice of the temperature of air as it enters and exits your nostrils.
2) Train with Sound.
While engaged in a conversation with someone, command your busy mind by listening intently to the sounds associated with the person speaking. Hear the different sounds of their voice–the volume, the pitch, the tone. Listen intently to the words they say rather than thinking about what you want to say next.
3) Train with Visual, Taste and Touch.
As you enjoy your next meal, practice your focus by observing every visual detail of the food on your utensil. Notice the textures and the colors. Avoid analyzing and just see the visual details without thinking! Then taste each bite with such attention that you notice the different flavors, textures, temperature, and consistency.
A few tips as you embark on this journey towards stronger mental fitness.
Experiment to see what resonates.
Try on the different exercises to see which ones work best for you. Just like physical workouts where you might prefer kickboxing over running or yoga over Pilates, you’ll need to try them out to determine which ones you like more.
Be kind, compassionate and patient with yourself.
You will mess up. And that’s ok! Similar to how you can’t sit on the couch for months and expect to be able to lift a 200lb barbell after just a few gym sessions, neither can you handle the Mount Everest sized life challenges after just a few mental muscle training sessions. Allow yourself the grace to fall down. Then get back up and try again.
Celebrate your wins no matter how small it might feel.
Every little step is progress. Imagine if you just improved 1% each day. Where will you be a year from now?
Practice early and often.
Just like athletes and artists who spend upwards of 80% of their time in practice and training, it requires consistent repetition and training to build your mental muscles for handling game day.
Find an accountability partner.
Research has shown that there is a 500% increased likelihood of establishing positive new habits when supported by accountability partners. So find a buddy. Practice together. Stay committed together.
Tie mental fitness exercises to a strong existing habit.
We’re creatures of habit. Stack this new habit to an existing habit to set yourself up for success. For example, connect it with your morning cup of coffee: take notice of the temperature and smells of your coffee as you slowly sip it. Or, while you’re brushing your teeth: feel the sensations of the brush against your teeth and gum. The stronger your existing habit is the greater ease and flow you’ll have of instilling mental fitness into a daily habit.