These days most people are across the fact that if you train your body physically, you are far more likely to prevent physical illness, and enjoy great mental benefits as well. And let’s face it, prevention is often a far better option than dealing with a cure for physical illness. For example, I really hate needles so best I keep fit and do what I can to avoid diabetes. Of course exercising is no guarantee but it certainly increases my chances of preventing diabetes.
So what about mental illness?
Well the great (and slightly lesser known) news is that we can also train our brains to avoid mental illness and maintain good mental health, which is defined by the World Health Organization as:
“a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
So given that challenges of life seem to be getting more complex, it makes sense that we want to train our mental fitness so that we can enjoy mental health and perform better. And thanks to the intersection of neuroscience and psychology, we now know that we can train our mental fitness to avoid mental illness, just as we can train our bodies to avoid physical illness.
The mental illness spectrum
In normal circumstances, mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression don’t just appear overnight without warning. There is a spectrum and these issues develop over time. Interestingly, high performers are very susceptible to these due to the high standards they place on themselves, so no-one is immune.
Don’t wait until you see signs of mental illness to start training your mental fitness
Just like I don’t wait for race day to start my running training, or wait until I have diabetes to start my fitness regime, the same can be said for mental fitness. So many people wait until they see the signs developing, in other words waiting until they are somewhere on the illness spectrum before doing anything about it, and given that most people are unaware or in denial that they are moving along the spectrum, we often see that people are trying to take action once it’s harder to actually take action. Again, prevention is way easier and cheaper than the cure.
So what’s the one thing we need to train for our mental fitness?
Hands down, the biggest super power you can have in your mental fitness training is the ability to choose your thoughts. Unfortunately, the more negative thoughts we have, well, the more negative thoughts we have. And our emotions impact our thoughts and our thoughts impact our emotions so it’s a vicious spiral downwards if you haven’t trained yourself on how to choose your thoughts. Interestingly, worrying and rumination also take up cognitive load, so that means that the time we want to choose to think more positively is the very time we don’t have the cognitive energy to do it. Well that’s an annoying little conundrum now isn’t it!
So the time to start training your mental fitness is before you think you need it. Don’t wait until race day to start your training, make sure you are prepared so that when work and life throw you those extra stresses, you are already fit enough for the race.
Now of course training mental fitness is not quite as easy as telling someone to “choose their thoughts”. It depends on how mentally fit you are in the first place and sometimes we need to take a step back and start with some easier exercises. This is an area where we are getting great results with clients. Want to know more for you or your team? Contact us for a complimentary no-obligation consultation.
If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.