5 ways to increase mental strength
We all know the importance of keeping fit to maintain our physical health, but recent studies have focused on exercise and its ability to increase our mental strength, too. In fact, research has shown that a fit brain can help us perform better in all aspects of life—our work, relationships, creative pursuits and of course, our overall health. So, the big question is, how exactly do you train your brain? Here are 5 strategies to start flexing your mental muscle.
1. Adopt an optimistic outlook
Did you know that adopting a more optimistic outlook can boost intelligence, creativity, productivity and performance? Psychologist Shawn Achor explains in his book, The Happiness Advantage, “that brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best when they are positive”. A quick and easy way to boost optimism is to write down 3 new things that you are grateful for and elaborating on a positive event you experienced that day. Achor’s research at Harvard University has found that these activities can rewire your brain to be more optimistic in just 21 days.
2. Focus on one thing
Multi-tasking is out and mindfulness is in. This is not a fad. Mindfulness, or the act of focusing on the present moment without trying to change it or judge it, regulates your emotions, thoughts and behaviours. It heightens self-awareness, acceptance of self and others and leads to a sense of peace and contentment. The best thing about mindfulness is that you can do it anytime, anywhere, while doing anything, and you can do it for as long as you want. Even 2 minutes can help you feel more centered, less stressed and can train your brain to focus more effectively on what you are doing.
3. Learn a new skill
Building mastery is just another way of seeking ways to challenge yourself, learn new skills and feel accomplished. Ultimately, the act of challenging yourself and the act of practicing a new skill until you nail it is good for your brain! Your brain actually changes as a result. It’s called neuroplasticity – the ability your brain has to create new neural pathways. These changes in your brain, in turn, help you to adapt to the environment and become more skillful. In other words, if you change, your brain will change too!
4. Practice visualisation
Visualisation is the act of imagining a scenario in detail and it is something that has long been used to improve individual performance. Research has shown that imagining a situation is almost the same as being in the real situation itself as far as your brain is concerned. In fact, this has been an effective tool to prepare elite athletes for competition, to prepare people with anxiety disorders to face their fears and even reduce the experience of chronic pain, as outlined by expert in neuroplasticity, Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain’s Way of Healing.
5. Train your brain
Want some concrete mental exercises to challenge your brain while helping to improve your memory, information processing speed and ability to focus? There are a number of websites that help boost your brain’s fitness through the use of brain games backed by neuroscientific research with popular sites including: NeuroNation, Fit Brains, BrainHQ and Lumosity.
Written by Dr Lillian Nejad - a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist who specialises in helping people achieve long-term improvements in mental health, quality of life and overall well-being.