Let’s talk about mental fitness – with REMiND.
Physical fitness creates healthier human beings – that much we can agree on. We’re all familiar with the concept of exercise, and whether it’s boxing, running, hiking, HIT class or a vigorous boogie, most of us have one or many ways of keeping ourselves fit. We know working out is good for us, and thus, it’s ingrained in our society.
It hasn’t always been this way, though. Back in the 40’s, if you told a friend you were going for a run, they’d look at you like you were nuts. Who were you running from? And what on earth would you wear? It wasn’t until scientists started showing that running and other forms of physical exercise were good for our health that attitudes started to change.
Word spread fast: working out would strengthen our muscles and support our lung and heart health. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and it’s now well established that this practice gives us increased energy and endurance to function at a higher level in our everyday lives.
But what about working out for the brain?
We can actually build our mental fitness in a very similar way. Yep, bicep curls for the mind – it’s a thing. And just like physical exercise, mind training has been shown to improve our brain health, mood, energy and the way we function on the daily. It can fight disease, help us to experience more joy, and even improve our sex lives. Curious yet?
What is mental fitness?
Being mentally fit basically means we’ve strengthened our ability to stay in the here and now: to be present. Being present means we’re more aware of what’s going on with our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and this awareness is powerful. Life can be intense and hard sometimes, and increased awareness gives us more choice about how we react or respond to life’s inevitable stresses.
So basically, training the mind lets us assess a situation before acting impulsively or automatically. Autopilot is activated, a state some of you might be familiar with. Thanks to evolution, this autopilot is on when we are not present and has us constantly scanning for threats. A message left on ‘read’ might escalate into an elaborate mental story about how a friend no longer likes us. An urgent email might send our heart racing. These emotions from our threat defence were once needed to keep us alive however, we now live in a very different world, and freaking out about emails and conversations and money keeps us far more stressed than we need to be. Mental fitness helps us to deactivate this auto-pilot, which, let’s be honest, is pretty uptight and not that much fun.
Mental fitness gives us the ability to pause. It gives us the choice to respond more effectively, to consider the argument we are currently in with some of the wisdom which might otherwise have only dawned on us an hour later. The fitter we are, the better we can maintain mental clarity when we’re consumed by emotion, and the less reactive we’ll be. It also gives us the mental capability to know when we need to respond for survival, and what threats actually pose physical danger to us. In other words, we’ll start to avoid unnecessary suffering.
Our brains are full of neural pathways, which is basically how we process the world. The more we experience a thought, feeling or practice, the stronger these pathways become. They’ve also been dubbed superhighways, because as our thoughts, feelings and habits travel along them in a particular direction, they get stronger – like any muscle. As this happens, these pathways also become more automatic, and we pretty much form habits as we grow up based on input from the people and environment around us.
The more mental training we do, the more we can re-route our pathways in directions which bring us closer to the person we want to be. It requires some mahi; imagine trying to cut a path for the first time through dense bush. It can be challenging, but by walking the same way every day, bit by bit it gets easier. By following this path every time, it becomes the obvious way to go. Mental training (like a sharp axe, some solid shoes and a strong set of biceps) improves our ability to create new pathways in the brain.
When we rewire the pathways in our brains, we:
- Are present in daily tasks
- Have stronger relationships
- Have more choice in how we respond
- Perform better at work
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Better decision making
- Increased social confidence
- Greater self-worth
- More energy
- Better sleep
- Better problem solving
- Better creativity
- Higher functioning on daily tasks.
What does mental fitness training look like?
So, when we work out the mind, we are activating our prefrontal cortex. This is the region at the very front of the brain, which is linked to focus, concentration, emotional awareness and management, personality expression, connection and social behaviour. A concentrated powerhouse of wisdom, if you will, all tucked into our foreheads. And just like making gains at the gym, the more we train it, the more useful it will be, and the better our mental performance will become.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the tools which helps to train the brain and bring the prefrontal cortex online. This in turn strengthens our neural pathways to be in the present moment – we practice presence.
Introducing you to Practice Presence™
Practice Presence™ is a six-week mental fitness programme training. This audio online programme is designed to give you the practical tools to develop your own practice and unlock clarity and productivity in our modern world.