This is a guide covering mental fitness.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is Mental Fitness?
Mental fitness does not refer to tricks that can impress people at parties. Think of mental fitness as the outcome of activities that help your mind fight off stress and maintain an overall healthy mood.
We do not think of mental fitness in the same way as physical fitness.
Besides the fact that the mind and body are connected and reinforce as well as undermine each other on various levels, mental fitness is rarely given the kind of attention that it needs.
As a direct consequence of a stressful modern lifestyle, it has become even more important to learn about how to take care of yourself mentally.
Modern neuroscience has proven that the mind is more adaptable than we think. If I were subject my mind to a particular stimulus long enough, it would change shape to adjust to that particular stimulus.
The famous London Taxi Drivers experiment revealed that the London taxi drivers had higher levels of gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning, than ordinary people.
So we know that gray matter in our brain can be increased or new neurons can lighten the pathways in our brain, but the opposite of this is also true.
When we keep our mind inactive for longer periods, we can lose the neural pathways and gray matter in our brain.
Taking Advantage of Neuroplasticity for Mental Fitness
The understanding that the brain is dynamic and can change itself over time has radically transformed our thinking in terms of its development.
Neuroplasticity implies that if provided with a positive stimulus, our mental health can produce positive adaptations which can lead to personal development.
Think of your mind as a muscle that mental fitness training can whip up into shape. By deliberately making the mind face incrementally tougher situations, you can make it more resilient and strong.
Equally, when you put your mind through mental fitness activities that force the brain to produce neurons as a response or create or lose neural pathways, you are becoming mentally fitter.
Benefits of Mental Fitness
Once you realize that the mind is a muscle just like any other, and it can grow and get stronger, it opens up huge possibilities for self-improvement.
Physical fitness does hold a special place for improving health and fitness, but research into mental fitness and its importance for living a healthy life is also increasingly being recognized.
The following is a list of life-changing benefits that can be realized from pursuing mental fitness.
- Mentally fit people are less likely to get bogged down in stress
- Mental fitness will lead to emotional resilience
- A general sense of wellbeing accompanies you when you are mentally fit
- No matter what is happening in your life, you have a sense of confidence in yourself and the universe at large
- Improved cognitive performance
- Increased focus and concentration
- Get a more balanced life through mental fitness
The list of benefits is almost endless because once you start improving your mind almost everything in your life improves qualitatively.
It’s kind of like a domino effect, where your mental fitness can lead to instant improvements in other aspects of your life almost as side effects.
12 Tips to Stay Mentally Fit
Now that we know a little about mental fitness, its benefits, and its components, we will now look at mental fitness strategies and activities that can help us stay mentally fit.
Research suggests that exercise can not only forestall the onset of cognitive decline but it can also alleviate the effects of memory loss in older populations.
The connection between cognitive improvement and physical activity has long been established by Neuroscience.
Exercise also causes the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone, which can lead to a generally happier mood.
Apart from that, a moderate to low-intensity workout can improve your brain’s performance by supplying it with much-needed blood flow and oxygen.
Meditation has been in vogue recently and for good reason. Meditation has a calming effect on your emotions and mood.
But the benefits of meditation far exceed mere stress reduction. There is also a correlation between increased focus, concentration, and the ability to block out noise and distractions.
Recently, research studying the effects of meditation on the brain found increased levels of gray matter in the brains of long-time practitioners.
Sleep is underrated. Prioritizing your snoozes can not only help with muscle recovery after a strenuous exercise, but it can also improve your mental fitness.
When we sleep, specific cells in our brain are hard at work pruning the less used synaptic pathways.
This helps the brain function more efficiently. It is kind of like weeding the garden.
Multitasking is not only taxing on your mental fitness, it is also extremely inefficient.
Contrary to logic, doing more things at once does not produce productivity gains instead it can lead to a drop in the quality of your work.
Being focused on one specific task at a time is known as ‘unitasking’.
Distractions are everywhere these days, and they are all vying for your attention.
Therefore, your ability to give your undivided attention to the task at hand with Zen-like focus can be no less than a superpower these days.
5. Talk Positively with Yourself
You are your own worst enemy and best friend. Positive self-talk is a great way to change your perspective about things in your life.
The thing that makes mentally fit people stand out as more confident, exhibit self-efficacy is their ability to reinterpret events and talk positively about life to themselves.
In the words of Shakespeare, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The power of positive affirmations is undeniable.
6. Avoid Negativity
The opposite of positive self-talk is dwelling on negative thoughts. Positive thoughts require extra and deliberate effort on your part, but negative thinking is spontaneous.
That’s why cultivating a practice of positive affirmations has to go hand in glove with the practice of avoiding negativity as much as possible.
Negative self-talk will act as a self-fulfilling prophecy at times. Have you ever been so nervous about talking on stage that the mere thought of doing it makes you panic?
Usually, that level of nervousness feeds off of negative self-talk which is pushing your nervousness towards panic.
So a crucial part of your mental fitness journey will include recognizing the self-sabotaging effects of your negative thinking.
Books are like windows into the lives and thoughts of others.
Reading fiction can make you feel empathetic with the characters, you find yourself rooting for the protagonist, and meanwhile, you are also running wild with your imagination.
So the next time you feel down, open up a book. Reading is one of the best mental fitness activities since it will make you smarter, imaginative, creative, empathetic and calm et cetera.
Also, reading nonfiction can make you more opinionated and also make you better at arguing your points.
Books teach us to reason with logic and structure. An excellent mental fitness strategy is to combine reading with writing.
Check out number 9 (journaling) for more on writing.
The power of visualization is used by professionals in every field. Visualization requires a person to see themselves reaching their goals before they set to achieving them.
It lays down the roadmap to follow one’s action through to the finish line.
Techniques like affirmations and visualization have been used ever since they were first introduced by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich.
Among the mental fitness strategies that can boost your cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence and provide perspective is the act of journaling.
Writing about how your day went, your thoughts and moods throughout the day, what went wrong, or what interested you, can be introspective as well as an exercise in sifting and venting your thoughts on paper.
Journaling is also a brilliant mental fitness activity to gain perspective in life, account for your actions each day in respect to your goals, and calm your mind from the incessant chatter in your head at night so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
10. Cold Showers
Cold showers or cold exposure therapy has been found to alleviate depression, improve immunity against common diseases, and generally make you more productive.
Since taking a shower is the first thing you do in the morning, taking a cold shower can be a kind of an everyday challenge that can make you active and give you a sense of accomplishment throughout the day.
It is a highly beneficial mental fitness activity that can boost your levels of tolerance, resiliency, and grit.
Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline. People who isolate themselves more often are vulnerable to the increased risk of developing mental health problems later in life.
Socialization with fellow human beings can lead to better mood, empathy, ability to gain perspective, and cognitive benefits.
This is because humans have evolved as social animals.
12. Mind Games
Not those mind games, the kind where you are thinking of inventing ways to get back at someone.
As mentioned above, you should be steering clear of negativity altogether. The mind games referred to here are the ones where you solve puzzles by using your cognitive abilities.
Games like Sudoku, Chess, or Scrabble et cetera where you can flex your brain to increase mental fitness.
What are the Components of Mental Fitness
Mental fitness is a comprehensive term that includes different aspects of mental health and wellbeing.
The components of mental fitness refer to all the parts that make up mental fitness.
Missing any of the components would mean that the mental fitness training is not comprehensive enough.
A broader mental fitness perspective reveals the following components:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Creativity and Cognition
1. Emotional Intelligence
Mental fitness is closely associated with emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), which is the ability to put things into perspective when faced with difficult or intense emotions.
It is the power to keep your cool under pressure or stress.
We all have a story or two about how an emotional outburst can cost you your career, relationship, or self-respect.
Therefore, mental fitness training should include activities that address a lack of this component.
2. Creativity and Cognition
A popular maxim in Neuroscience says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Mental fitness also encompasses the cognitive and creative aspects of the mind. By properly utilizing mental fitness activities, you can boost connections within your brain, improving cognition and creativity.
The same is also true when you want to deliberately lose certain memories or pathways by using them less often.
We are familiar with the feeling of giving up 5 minutes into a jog, but when we commit to the run and slog our way through the pain, we push the boundaries of our tolerance.
Running is one way to challenge your mental resiliency.
There are numerous other ways that we can go about building this extremely crucial component of mental fitness.
Lastly, mental fitness should provide for a sense of balance in your life.
By taking up mental fitness strategies that improve your work-life balance, we can avoid unnecessary stress or even burnout.
Balance is the often neglected component of mental fitness that can bring fulfillment to your life and work.
Mental fitness is often misunderstood as related to mental illness. That cannot be further from the truth.
We are all in need of mental toughness and mental fitness training from time to time because our lifestyles are geared towards giving us increased levels of anxiety, stress, depression et cetera.
Given such circumstances, it is always better to be prepared for whatever life may throw at you.
We take care of our physical health to prevent the onset of disease; it is equally important to realize the important role that mental fitness performs in preventing mental health issues, in particular, and, in general, increasing mental resiliency, cognitive competence, and defusing stress.
Sikandar is opinionated on a diverse set of topics that include, but are not limited to, Productivity, Health, Fitness, Motivation, and Career. He is in love with the written word and writes mainly to help others on their self-actualizing journeys. A journalist by education, getting to the bottom of things is his modus operandi. Often, he finds himself moonlighting as a life coach to his family, friends, and colleagues. He can be reached at his LinkedIn for collaboration.