Is Your Mind as Fit as Your Body?
Achieving and maintaining physical fitness is hard, vital to a good life, and everyone talks about it. Mental fitness is harder, crucial to a successful life and career, and not enough of us talk about it.
The good news is we can learn to improve our mental fitness just as we can our physical fitness.
A healthy, fit body fueled with balanced nutrition and regular exercise can easily perform daily activities, adapting as necessary.
The same is true for our minds. Mental fitness is likely the single biggest area of potential life improvement for you or for someone you love. A healthy, mentally fit mind can develop and maintain a state of emotional wellbeing able to deal with life’s challenges with equanimity and resilience. It can accurately assess situations, respond thoughtfully, see opportunities, and confidently make things happen.
“We can learn to improve our mental fitness”
Poor mental fitness leads to consistent negative thought patterns that leave us merely coping and surviving rather than thriving and experiencing life to the fullest. Repetitive negativity ranges from persistent feelings of doubt, shame, and guilt to fear, anger, and blame. All of these increase our levels of anxiety and decrease our self-esteem – making us less able to live happy, fulfilling lives.
Having negative thoughts and feelings are not the root cause of the problem for most of us. Even those born with an innate positive outlook on life deal with “negative voices” in their heads. We are programmed with a “fight or flight” instinct to protect ourselves against danger. However, the way we deal with those negative thoughts and the overall proportion of negative to positive thoughts determine our level of mental fitness.
Again, the good news: We can learn to improve our mental fitness through exercises and practice. Our brains, like our muscles, have the capacity to change and grow as we respond to new experiences. Brain scientists refer to the “neuroplasticity” of our brains, or the ability to be “rewired” over time. Through training, we can enable our brains to move away from negative thought patterns and adopt new, more positive ways of thinking.
The Positive Intelligence program, developed by Shirzad Chamine, is one powerful way to improve mental fitness. Chamine suggests that having high levels of IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) are important; however, a third, more foundational and core intelligence is the concept of positive intelligence (PQ).
Chamine argues that our mind can be our ally or can be an enemy that regularly self-sabotages. To illustrate, when our mind tells us to prepare for an important event, it is acting as our friend, helping us take the necessary steps to be successful. However, when it disturbs our sleep with anxiety and repeated warnings about all that could go wrong, it is acting as an adversary. In that case, it is exhausting our mental resources without adding any real value.
Chamine’s Positive Intelligence (“PQ”) program teaches us to successfully fight the negative voices, called “Saboteurs,” while strengthening the wisdom and insights born in all of us, or “Sage Powers.”
Three primary steps are required to build our mental fitness:
First, identify the Saboteurs by learning how to detect and label those thoughts before they move into action. This short assessment will give you an idea of how you self-sabotage and which of the nine Saboteurs are the strongest ones for you. The master of them all is the “Judge.” It works with a range of “Accomplice Saboteurs,” including the “Avoider,” the “Controller,” the “Hyper-Achiever,” and the “Pleaser,” among others. The PQ assessment identifies the Saboteurs that rank highest for you and how to expose their hidden beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
The second step is to weaken the inner voices intent on sabotage, first by pausing for just a few minutes, taking deep breaths, and then doing meditative or visualizing exercises. This enables you to clear your brain, give it a chance to be “rewired,” and find a new way to respond to the discomfort caused by the negative thought or emotion. You may be able to simply let go of them or find a way to reframe the situation.
The third step is to strengthen your ability to generate positive thoughts and emotions instead of negative ones. Chamine refers to this as strengthening our “Sage Powers,” including empathy, for ourselves and for others; exploration, to use curiosity as a way of understanding a person or situation in an entirely new light; innovation, to find new solutions and ways forward; navigation, to focus on our purpose and values by listening to what our older, wiser selves might advise us; and activation, to lean into a positive course of action.
The simple truth is that an easily learned discipline and a known set of good habits can transform a life from negative, vicious cycles and merely surviving, toward positive, virtuous ones and genuinely thriving. Just as with the first stages of a physical fitness routine, the early part of a mental fitness program can be exhausting. But soon, the practice becomes easier and eventually enables our brains to develop more positive neural pathways. That can profoundly change our lives for the better.