It’s one thing to keep your body fit in order to move with ease, feel good in your skin and clothing, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for disease and boost your mood but are you doing the same for your mind? When the going gets tough, a tough mind is the best tool to not only get you through but help you thrive.
Researchers and psychologists have been exploring mental strategies that are proven to boost performance and productivity, confidence and consistency for decades and some of the most tried-and-true approaches for developing mental strength are now used by business moguls, leaders and elite athletes worldwide to help them with more thoughtful responsiveness and mental flexibility and strength to navigate day-to-day challenges.
Here are 3 strategies for becoming more mentally fit that just might change your life.
What is Mental Strength?
The Cleveland Clinic defines mental strength—or resiliency—as “how effectively someone deals with challenges, pressures and stressors they may face .Working on your mental strength can lead to greater life satisfaction and help protect against future mental health issues.”
In sports, the attributes of mental toughness are self-belief, desire and motivation and the ability to deal with pressure and anxiety, dial in focus and work through pain and hardships.
The reason it’s so important to reinforce mental strength is because our brains are hardwired to think the worst. It sounds archaic and it’s often even unnecessary on a normal day, but our neural pathways are designed for survival—both consciously and unconsciously—which means our knee-jerk reaction to many of life’s events trigger feelings of protection, fear and negativity.
The National Science Foundation estimates that the average human has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day and an overwhelming 80% of them are negative. How that can play out in your daily life might look like an all-or-nothing attitude, low-self esteem, lack of motivation, negative self-talk and more.
In order to retrain your brain to be your friend and not your foe and reach your full potential, you must develop mental strength. Here are four science-backed strategies to try.
1. Practice Mental Imagery
Mental imagery, sometimes called visualization or mental rehearsal, is an improvement technique developed by psychologists that involves imagining positive outcomes using a variety of multi-sensory tactics— and it’s been shown to improve life satisfaction and outcomes.
There are a number of ways to start using imagery. It can be as simple as treating it like a guided meditation where you sit quietly and train your mind to focus on an upcoming project, event, life goal or desire and how you’d like to see it play out in specific detail.
Experts say to be as vivid and specific as possible and incorporate all your senses—see it, feel it, smell it, hear it and taste it. If you want to nail an upcoming presentation, picture yourself delivering your talk in the boardroom with confidence and enthusiasm. Picture what you’re wearing, envision the impressed expressions of your audience, the smell of the room, the snacks and coffees on the table and the clapping after you finish.
In addition, imagery should be well planned and practiced regularly. For example, if you’re working on a specific skill—let’s say it’s running—perfecting it in your mind before physically getting there will help you get there faster and more confidently.
2. Monitor Your Self Talk
Being aware of the way you speak to yourself and taking steps to improve self-talk is another tool for mental resilience.
According to research, the subconscious mind doesn’t recognize negatives such as the word “don’t”, so if you’re constantly telling yourself, “Don’t mess up” your brain only hears and visualizes you messing up. Learn to put a positive spin on self-talk, so instead say, “I’ve got this!”. This will help you work with your subconscious, not against it.
Another key aspect of self-talk is to not embody other people’s negative thoughts—don’t take comments personally and don’t make assumptions of how others perceive you or your skills. The majority of the time, they aren’t focusing on you at all and instead focusing on themselves —just like you are when you’re worrying how you’re being perceived.
Learn to talk yourself off the ledge and move on swiftly. If all else fails, a great affirmation to use is, “What other people think of me is none of my business”. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Finally, seek out positive affirmations and rotate through the ones that work for you depending on your current situation or dilemma. Affirmations are a scientifically proven strategy to help develop a more positive self view and become a better problem solver.
3. Try Breathing Exercises
Nerves and anxiety are a force to reckon with, especially when the stakes are high and learning to control stress is another way to develop mental strength.
Breath exercises—or breathwork—come with a surprising amount of benefits that can contribute to performance. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, boost energy and immunity, improve circulation, ease pain, strengthen lung capacity, boost confidence, support muscle growth, support quality sleep and enhance focus.
There are many ways to get started with calming breathwork—here are some easy ones to try:
- Box breathing or four-square breathing: In a seated position, sit tall and empty the air from your lungs. Imagine breathing in a square shape (each breath and hold representing one side of a square). Slowly inhale for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale slowly for another 4 seconds and then hold again for four seconds. Repeat the sequence as many times as you find helpful.
- 4-7-8 breathing: Exhale to empty lungs completely, inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat 4 times or more if needed.
- Alternate nostril breathing: From a tall, seated position, using your right thumb, block your right nostril and inhale fully into the left. Once you can’t inhale anymore, release the right nostril and block the left nostril using your ring finger and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Swap sides this time and begin inhaling through the right, and so on and so forth.
Learning to tame your mind is one of the most effective things you can do to take control back in your life and steer it in the direction of your choosing.
Whether you are looking to boost your performance at work, get into better shape physically, find love or improve your personal relationships or simply live life more confidently, it’s one of the best ways to stop spiraling and start succeeding. Try the proven practices in this article today.
By: Hannah Huesman
Mental Performance Coach
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