Exercising your mind requires patience and discipline, but it is a practice that will help you to feel more in control of your entire internal state
A few years back I wrote an article called Mind Yoga: Why and How to Bring Awareness to Your Thoughts. In the piece, I discussed how our minds are our most valuable asset. I also pointed out how we can decide whether we want to think a thought or not. This is a fact which most of us never learned as children; even as adults we still do not fully understand.
We know that physical exercise is important to keep our bodies healthy, but we were never told about the benefits of keeping our minds healthy.
Chances are your educational background didn’t teach you about your mind, but you were taught that if you exercise and eat right, you will increase your chances of living a long healthy life. As adults many of us try to abide by this philosophy. There is, however, one vital component I believe is missing from this equation that I’m convinced holds the ultimate key to our happiness: our mental health.
‘Mental Health’, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is…
“A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities to function in society and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life; a person’s overall emotional and psychological conditions.”
Unfortunately, mental health has a negative connotation to many people. We hear too many stories about people with mental health problems and few about people with a healthy mind. You may, upon hearing the words ‘mental health’, think of someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety or PTSD. We don’t associate the words ‘mental health’ with anything encouraging. We will without a second thought make a comment about a friend or family member who is in great physical health; yet we never notice or talk about anyone being in great mental health.
Mental health is approached very differently than physical health.
When someone is overweight, a doctor will encourage them to start eating healthy, and may suggest going to the gym or working out. If you are in shape and want to stay in shape, it’s common to have a weekly or even a daily physical exercise routine. But if you are at your doctors and you mention you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or you’re unhappy but you can’t put your finger on the reason why, you will likely be prescribed a pill or told to go see a therapist to help you with your mental health.
Why haven’t we incorporated a mental exercise routine into our lives? We track our physical exercise and the calories we burn with apps available to us on our phones, we monitor the calories in the foods we eat and drinks we consume, and we are able to compete against people from all over the world while we ‘spin’ and do other forms of physical exercises in the comfort of our own homes.
Do we really ever exercise our minds?
Maybe you spend time tackling the NY Times crossword puzzle each week or playing Words with Friends or another digital game with yourself or others. If you do, good for you. It’s always refreshing to challenge your brain. But the exercising of your mind I’m referring to goes beyond solving word problems or recalling facts you learned at school or beyond.
Mental exercise begins by taking a daily inventory of your thoughts in order to live a more peaceful life. I call this practice Mind Yoga — but feel free to call it whatever you want. The practice entails examining your thoughts and deciding which thoughts are helping you and which are not. Once this is done, you then decide to keep a particular thought or not.
It may sound simple, but it’s not. It takes patience and discipline to form a habit of taking time out of your day to do this, but it is so worth it.
You will start to feel less irritable and more in control of your life than you ever have before.
If you think your mental health is good, I certainly don’t want to tell you it’s not. But I do want to ask you a few questions:
- Are you angry or frustrated in any area of your life?
- Do you find yourself being short tempered or impatient with others or even yourself?
- Do you wish others would change in order for you to be happy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, welcome to the human race. You are not alone — we all get frustrated, angry, sad or confused at times.
Many of us rely on others for our happiness. I did for years and had no idea I was even doing so. I was literally giving away the key to my happiness to anyone around me. Why was this?
Look at it this way, have you ever been in a meeting and once it was dismissed different people had different reactions to what was said at the meeting? Some people were perfectly ok with what was said while others were upset? The same words were said to everyone in the meeting, but one person took what was said one way and another person took it another. That is exactly what happens to us all day long. We experience life and then our thoughts react to the situation and cause us to feel a certain way about it.
My husband is someone who doesn’t rattle that easily. He rarely takes offense to anything that is said to him. I admire him for this, although I used to get frustrated over it because I am a “recovering hot headed Italian.” I say that in jest, but I use that term to let you know you can change how you were raised, and you can learn to respond versus react to situations, comments made, etc.
When I get upset over anything someone else does, I now know I am handing them over the key to my emotions.
I’m silently saying to them: “Here is the key to my feelings, turn it to lock and I’ll be upset over what you said; turn it to unlock and I’ll be happy. You hold the power to my emotions.”
Doesn’t that sound silly? But people tell me all the time things like: “they hurt my feelings,” or “they were rude to me,” or “they made me feel bad.” I understand why the feeling, but I try to point out that it’s not the comment that is causing their hurt, it’s their own thought about it. I try to get them to understand they are allowing this other person to let them feel this way.
Usually, when we have a strong reaction to something someone says to us, it’s because they have triggered something deep within us. A mind exercise you could do to address this is, instead of trying to figure out why someone said what they did or what is going on inside of their head, focus on understanding what is going on inside yours. It’s so easy to point the finger at others for making us upset. You can blame anyone you want for your feelings and your circumstances, but when you do, you are turning your power, your key to your happiness over to them.
I had a friend ask me if meditation is similar to what I call mind yoga. While I meditate every day and I know firsthand the benefits meditation provides to me, mind yoga is different. Once you begin to strengthen your mind muscle (another term I totally made up), you will begin to understand more about yourself and others. You will start to listen more and be more engaged when talking with others. You will learn how to respond, instead of react, to situations.
So how can you learn to be more mentally fit? The answer is practice.
If you start exercising your mind, you will begin to feel more in control of your emotions because you will be more conscious of your thoughts. Try it and see; you have nothing to lose and so much to gain!
I have written a book titled Mind Yoga (Make Your Mental Health Stronger One Thought at a Time), coming out in August 2019, that is a compilation of my first year of podcasts with more reflection and exercises for readers to enjoy. You can pre-order it by going to my website annetteq.com and clicking on the “pre-order my book” tab.
You may also enjoy reading Radical Responsibility: The Key To Moving From Suffering To True Agency & Freedom by Fleet Maull