About steveacho

Business Geek, Musician, Lover, Fighter, Writer, Delusional Optimist

Mental training

We all know that physical exercise is healthy, easier to maintain than regain, and that despite diverse innate abilities we can all dramatically improve from our baseline.

Seeking a trained psychologist only in severe distress is like considering gym memberships and nutrition programs only after becoming a dangerously obese diabetic. Or like taking up meditation only when neurosis derails your life.  But like physical attributes, mental well-being can be monitored, maintained, and enhanced.

Mental states we crave (joy, focus, calm) are available to us.  Ground-breaking science (e.g., epigenetics) is confirming what many wise contemplatives throughout history noticed: the powerful insight that these positive states are not unchangeable, factory  human settings.

 

When bad things happen

I find it valuable to do this post-game analysis after unpleasant events:

Ask myself if (a) I was part of the cause, or (b) something actually happened “to” me.
– If (a) I decide what I’ll do or stop doing so I don’t repeat mistakes.
– If (b) I recognize some things as out of my control, and move on.

Easier said than done.  But so are most things that enhance our mental lives.

Measure what matters

This is the easiest time in history to measure anything – your popularity on Instagram; your weight; last month’s sales; average miles per gallon; the number of people you helped last week.

Since “what gets measured gets managed” (from Peter Drucker), perhaps our top priority before moving on with our week should be to decide WHAT should get measured.

How much more accomplished would we feel if we focused on these vital few things, versus the trivial many that are easily measured but don’t matter?

Guilt and shame

A psychology study in a prison revealed that about 90% of those incarcerated were told by their parents that they would end up in jail.

Guilt comes from remorse for something we’ve done.  Shame appears when we believe we ARE “bad”. This is the difference between thinking you did a bad thing and believing you are a bad thing.

The distinction between admonishing a child’s behavior, versus equating bad behavior with their identity may be the difference between raising a respectable human and a criminal.  Same truth applies to adults.  Let’s be careful how we talk to one another, and how we talk to ourselves.

Self first is not selfish

The “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others” airplane instruction is a strong example of how we can best be of service to others.  The analogy applies to unrelated and non-urgent scenarios.

Sick, sleep-deprived moms won’t be their best selves.  “Selfless” people who donate all their money are promptly in a position where they can no longer help anyone.

Drowning people make lousy lifeguards.

Caring for your own well-being is a prerequisite for being useful to those around us.

Give bleakness the boot

While some of us have unlucky wiring that makes us predisposed to depression, no one on earth is immune to it.

A simple tactic can reliably help improve your mood and well-being. It doesn’t have to cost money.  It’s a practice that gets you out of your head and almost always immediately upgrades your mental condition.  Psychological and even physiological evidence supports this.  Are you ready for the “secret” (I can’t stand that word)?

Find someone less fortunate than you and help them.  Right now.

Maybe you’ll only move from a 2 to a 5 on the well-being scale.  But trending in the right direction is a strong start.

Simple vs. Easy

Some exercises (Turkish getup) are complex and require coordination.  Others (sprinting uphill) can inspire results, and while simple, are far from easy.

We tend to overlook habits and practices that can bring us disproportionate value, because they seem too “simple” to be valuable. Deliberately creating a mindfulness, anger management or compassion practice requires very little time and nothing complicated.  Simple, but not easy.

Don’t underestimate the significance of simple tools and habits, used consciously, properly, and with intent.