Five Ways to Improve Your Mental Fitness

Improving mental fitness. It sounds like a good goal, and last week I wrote about why that is so important, but I didn’t talk about how to do it. Today let’s get practical and specific, with some specific approaches and practices you can employ to reach the goal of improving mental fitness.

Leadership and Learning with Kevin Eikenberry.

I’ll start with a disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. If you have serious or chronic mental health challenges, please start with your experts. But if you know you could be more mentally fit and this idea intrigues you, read on, and take some action on what you read.

There are many things you can do to be more mentally fit, including getting more physically fit. What follows are a list of things you can do starting today (right now!) with the result of improving mental fitness.

Get More Sleep

Chances are, you need more. In 2016, the CDC reported that 1 in 3 Americans regularly don’t get enough sleep. If you are reading this, I’ll assume you are between 18-64. If so, you need 7-9 hours of sleep. Is that your average?

Have too much to do to get that much sleep?  Maybe but according to a pre-pandemic The American Academy of Sleep Medicine study, 88% of Americans reportedly lose sleep to binge-watching. You know that you are more effective and feel better when you get more sleep. Forget the statistics, lose your ego (“I don’t need that much sleep!”), and get more sleep.

This is an area I have consciously worked on.  Those who know me know I get up early – but I also go to bed earlier than I used to. I urge you to add more sleep to your routine and you will be improving your mental fitness.

Practice Gratitude

When you are grateful for things, people or situations, you feel better. Here are some substantiated facts to back up your personal experience – and to let you know that feeling has big benefits. Gratitude:

  • Releases toxic emotions
  • Reduces pain
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Aids in stress regulation
  • Reduces anxiety and depression

(Details on these five benefits and more about the neuroscience of gratitude can be found here.)

Using gratitude to build your mental fitness means creating a practice of gratitude where you are intentional about being grateful each day.  The list above should show you that the value of doing so is greater than you might have realized!

Serve Others

There is a paradox with this one.  If we are constantly serving others we can be draining our emotional and mental banks, and causing us to be less mentally fit.  If your life roles put you in service all day (as a parent, a caregiver or a health professional as examples), this one might not be where you need to focus.  In fact, if this is why your metal fitness is in jeopardy, and you know it, focus on the other four as ways to improve your mental fitness.

Having said that for many of us, when we look past ourselves to be helpful to others the psychological and emotional benefits we receive are substantial.  Choosing to be of service to others (beyond what we “have to” do) can be a powerful way to take the focus off ourselves and become more mentally fit at the same time.

Start (and Use) a Recharge List

At our recent Virtual LeaderCon event,  speaker Janice Chaka powerfully suggested creating a recharge list. She suggests making a list of things that recharge you in the moment or in short bursts. This could include doing a happy dance, taking a walk, calling a friend, reading few pages of a book, or working on hobby – the list is personal and potentially endless. Once you have the list (and you can keep adding to it), when you need a mental fitness break, turn to your recharge list, and do something on it – right then!

This is a powerful and instant way to recharge you and help you in improving your mental fitness.  Yes, a vacation will recharge you, but you can’t do that instantly, so it doesn’t go on the list. Do take that vacation, but don’t put it on this list.

Talk it Out

Another under-appreciated way for improving your mental fitness is by sharing your thoughts and feelings with others.  Keeping our emotions “bottled up” isn’t healthy.  While you might have a therapist, coach or mentor, the talk it out strategy doesn’t require them.  All it requires is someone who will let you vocalize your feelings as a way to clarify them and get them out of your head.  Ask for ears, not advice!  If you don’t have a person around, use your pet or even talk to yourself.  The goal is to put the negative or challenging thoughts into words as a way to help you process the and keep them from becoming a festering cancer to your mental fitness.

If your goal is improving your mental fitness, any one of these strategies will help.  Pick one and get started.  Each of them can be applied immediately and regularly!

If you would like a daily injection of powerful thoughts and ideas into your mental diet, join me for my daily email. Each weekday you will receive positive and practical ideas, inspiration and information to help you be more effective and productive, and help you in improving your mental fitness too.

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