Welcome back to another edition of the Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow with me, Dr. Sharon Grossman. And today we’re going to talk about psychological or mental fitness. Now, you may have heard this term or maybe you haven’t, but what I really want to do today is help you understand what it is and how it can help you so that you can be more resilient and sometimes it just takes our understanding of a new concept to wrap your mind around it enough so that we can start implementing it. It gives us an understanding of what is possible.
So let’s start with the definition. Mental fitness is psychological well-being. And I would say it is more than just that. It is that resilience that we have on a mental level that allows us to be in difficult circumstances and deal with them well. So when you are faced with challenges notice how you’re coping with them. Is your coping more along the lines of getting wasted because you don’t want to deal? Is it procrastinating or avoiding and running away from things, or is it dealing with it head-on where you manage your emotions and your problem solving and you’re able to get to the other side of it without crumbling? That, in my opinion, is true mental fitness. Sp today I’d like to talk to you about how you can become more mentally fit.
In my experience there are a number of different ways in which you can improve your psychological well-being. The first is really working on your attitude. One of the things we do know is that when you are more positive in your outlook, in your interpretations, then you cultivate more positive emotions and the more positive you feel about things, the more quickly you can bounce back from things that are difficult because you’re able to dive into those situations and maybe find the silver lining, right? You’ve all probably met someone like that who is constantly optimistic, who is able to maintain hope even in challenging situations. That is really a mindset and the more that you work on yourself and the more that you really challenge yourself to find positive learning, some things that have happened in the past or stay hopeful instead of doubtful and fearful of things that have yet to happen, the more you are cultivating that mental fitness.
The other way to develop this muscle, if you will, is by working on your physical well-being. And the reason I say that is because our mind and body are clearly connected and so when we are doing well in one area, typically we reap the benefits of it in the other. So some of the things that you already know are good for you, things like getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, exercising — even though those work on your body, you know that you feel better, you have less stress in your life, you are less depressed and anxious when you engage in those activities. So I want you to use that as not just a way to be physically healthy in your body, but recognize how much that can actually help your mental health.
Now let’s come back for a moment to that positive attitude and that mental resilience that I mentioned earlier because sometimes people are like “I get the concept but I’m not really sure how to cultivate that for myself.” So I have three things I want to share with you that I think can be helpful.
The first is: learn to be present. It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of being stuck in the past things that have happened, things that we regret, things that we are upset about. We get stuck there and we also get stuck in the future worrying about things that haven’t yet happened, worrying about all kinds of bad things, and as some of my clients will say — for that other shoe to drop, that we actually miss this moment right now. And it is really a skill, I have to say, to be able to be present. It is not something that comes easily to us. Our brain is not necessarily designed to be able to do this on its own. It is something of a skill that you have to train your brain to do. And so you might wonder, “How can I train my brain to be more present if this is really was going to help me be more psychologically fit?” Well as you probably know meditation is a tool that allows you to increase your mindfulness muscle. When we talk about mindfulness what we’re saying is, by definition, it is being more in the present moment without any sort of judgment. So what it allows you to do if we’re going to take a step back, is to be in the Here and Now, notice what is happening and removing all ideas about what that means — good and bad. You’re not telling yourself, “Oh it’s so great that this is happening” and you’re also not saying to yourself, “Oh, this is so awful.” You’re just with it, experiencing it, and allowing it to be. So there’s a level of acceptance there and there’s a level of just letting go, of just embracing what is.
Now this is easier said than done which is why it really is a practice but imagine if you were somebody who could totally embody this mindfulness where you notice good things happening and you can be grateful for them but you’re not getting swept up by them.
So a great place where this can benefit you is let’s say you’re at a casino and won the jackpot or you’ve just won a hand. What people typically do is they function on an emotional level and so they’re like, “Well maybe I can win even more. Maybe this is my lucky streak.” What do they do? They then take all of their earnings and they plant them into the next round and then they lose everything. And if you were in the Here and Now perhaps you would just kind of be grateful for what’s happened and you be able to walk away. You wouldn’t get emotionally caught up and what’s happening and get all into judging it, “Oh, this is a wonderful and I need more of it” and that’s where the greed really comes in. And you don’t also have to get into the “Well now I can’t help myself and I have to keep gambling but I’m really anxious about possibly losing it.” You would just be happy and grateful for what you have and be able to walk away.
Another example is when something bad happens. So we all experienced tragedies and losses in our lives and we can easily get stuck with all this negative emotion. We might become really depressed when we’ve lost a pet or a person in our lives that we love, or if we lose our job not only do we grieve the loss of that job but we might become super anxious about never finding another job or not finding a job soon enough and not being able to pay the bills or you might actually have a job and not yet have anything bad happen, which is what I see a lot of. When you have an anxious mind we tend to then just imagine bad things that could happen and so you might say to yourself, “What if I lose my job” right? So you can have total job security but live in a place of total insecurity in your mind. And all this does is create a lot of drama in your life and this is not what mental fitness is about. In fact, mental fitness is the exact opposite of this, especially as we’re saying because it requires you to be in the moment. So for the person who has experienced the loss, it would be accepting that loss. It would be grieving that loss, and then it would just be about being with those emotions and letting them pass through you so that you can get to the other side however long is going to take. When we allow this to happen naturally, what we usually find is that it doesn’t take as long as we imagine. It may feel long but when you really take a step back, you realize that all emotions are transient. And so so much of the time we’re so afraid of our emotions. That’s why we’re running away, but we really don’t have to be that afraid of them. We recognize that they’re just a natural process, something that we have to go through, and if you believe in your ability to be resilient, which is another really interesting aspect of mental fitness, then you are more mentally fit.
So let’s let me explain what I mean by that. It’s one thing to have cultivated mental fitness. It’s another thing to embrace the fact that you actually are capable of being mentally fit. Which means that when you go into meditation you might, if you’ve ever had a difficult time meditating, say to yourself “It’s really hard for me to meditate. I can’t control my mind.” Or you could go in and say, “This is something that I am doing because I am here to cultivate this mindfulness muscle and every time I notice that I stray, that I’m not in the here and now, I bring myself back.” And notice how that second definition or that second way of approaching meditation is really not about trying to control it. It’s not about trying to do it perfectly. It’s just about making a decision ahead of time that this is something that you want to do and that even when it’s hard you keep bringing yourself back. You keep flexing that muscle and coming back for more until it gets easier. That is also a huge thing that’s going to contribute to your mental fitness and that perhaps is what some people call grit, is that thing that keeps bringing you back to stay the course even when things are difficult.
So we have the importance of being present and we have other ways of cultivating that mental fitness that have to do intentionality. So let me share this as well. What I mean by that is that you start everyday with some idea of what you are shooting for. Often times you hear people talk about setting goals. And goals are super important, don’t get me wrong, but in and of themselves they aren’t super helpful because it’s not enough to set a goal and just walk away and hope for the best. You really have to be strategic about how to go about making that happen.
So for instance if your goal is to make $1M, you’re not just going to set that call but you actually have to break it down and ask yourself, “What do I need to do? How do I need to do it? When do I need to do it?” You have all these questions that you need to answer.
Same is if your goal is to lose 20 lb or if you want to have kids. I mean anything that you have that you want, you need to be really strategic about what to do, when to do it, and so forth.
When I talk about intentionality it’s about now I have this goal and I am going to be really clear on what I need to do today to move me forward with this goal. So think about why you’re doing what you’re doing when you show up to work. Or when you sit down and read your kids a story, why are you doing that? Or if you give them allowance, why are you doing that? Or if you go out dating, why are you dating? Or if you’re starting a business, what is behind that? What is your purpose? The more you are clear on that, the easier is going to be for you to stay focused on what you need to do. And then what I want you to do is set an intention each and every day so that you know that all of the actions that you’re taking aren’t just to keep you busy. You don’t want to get distracted. You want to be super focused and that comes from clarity.
So setting the goal, setting your expectation for that day which is your intention, and then getting to action mode so that all of the actions that you’re taking are aligned. All of these things, notice, are about focusing right now on what you need to do. When we become distracted it’s because we’re not focused. That means that we need to tighten that muscle of mindfulness. And again, meditation and it’s one of those tools that.
So I want to with a quote that I found that I thought was really relevant to what we’re talking about. It’s by Maxwell maltz and he says, “Happiness is a mental habit that can be cultivated and developed.”
We’re talking today about mental fitness, not necessarily happiness but I think they’re not that different. They’re both a mental habit and they can be developed and cultivated when we are intentional, when we focus on our well-being, when we don’t shy away from challenges, and all of these things are going to allow you to create not just that mental fitness for the sake of mental fitness but in order for you to really thrive in your life.
Now if you want to get started, check out the Mindset Mastery Starter Kit on my website at DrSharonGrossman.com and I’ll see you next week.