How to Exercise Your Brain for Mental Fitness

By Ann Elliott

Brain being dusted with a feather duster

Holding the belief that the brain is fixed and not capable of growth, hampers many people. A fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, the well-known Stanford psychologist, holds people back. Successful people are not set apart because of Intelligence, talent, or education. The way they approach life’s challenges, their mindset, sets them apart.

The mind is the switchboard that directs thinking and action. Your mind gives the directive, and your brain executes the command. They work hand in glove.

There is great news here! Based on neuroplasticity, well-used pathways in the brain (ruts in layman’s terms) can be changed. New pathways can be created well into adulthood. We can develop mental fitness.

People who have a death grip on a belief, for instance, can adopt a new belief when new facts are discovered. A project leader in a company I worked with believed firmly that her beloved project must be offered every year. The audience steadily decreased as fewer people signed up for the event. The number of resources to provide the offering did not justify the return on the effort and on the expense. When confronted by her boss, she was adamant about keeping the project. Her rationale: “But it means so much to the ones who are there.” With an emotional attachment to her pet project, she demonstrates a fixed mindset that hampers innovation to create new events to attract a bigger audience. 

Uncover the Cost of a Fixed Mindset

When you rely solely on familiar thinking patterns, life is harder than it needs to be. The usual way of processing a situation often leads to seeing intractable circumstances. This approach drains you emotionally and mentally.

Creativity suffers because most of your effort goes to solving a problem. Anxiety and creativity cannot exist in the same mental space.

Facing a disagreement with someone triggers ways to blame someone or a situation. A lose/lose viewpoint assumes it is 100% right and or 100% wrong. 

You lose sight of what really counts in the end. For example, reaching a goal may pale in comparison to nurturing a relationship.

Personal as well as professional relationships suffer because compassion takes a backseat to getting what you want at all costs.

The Root Cause of Poor Mental Fitness

We have subscribed to the notion that life happens to us and there is little we can do to transform everything into an opportunity. Another false belief is that by a certain age, your brain is developed, and you can do nothing to change it. 

Those mental ruts created by familiar thinking patterns served us at one time. Now these saboteurs cause stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, and more. It is understandable that we have sleepless nights, health issues, and failed relationships. These saboteurs are running the show. To discover your saboteurs, take this free assessment

How to Develop Mental Fitness to Meet Life’s Challenges

Mental Fitness: the ability to meet life’s challenges with a positive mindset instead of a negative one

1. Find a simple system to identify your saboteurs. 

The three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, for instance, combined in a multitude of ways makes thousands of colors. The PQ methodology for Mental Fitness is an example of the power of factor analysis to get to the root cause so you can identify your saboteurs.

2. Recognize them when they show up. 

You can rest assured that any negative feeling indicates your saboteurs have taken over your mind as they are accustomed to doing. These negative feelings are the well-worn mental pathways that are familiar but not helpful in developing mental fitness. 

3. Acknowledge the negative feeling as a signal. 

The negative feelings such as anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, revenge tell you that you are living on the left side of your brain where negative feelings dominate. Would you keep your hand on a hot stove that signals you with pain? Of course not, this is a sign that something needs to be addressed.

4. Be willing to look for the gift in any challenge. 

Even the most painful situation has a gift embedded in it. If the event evokes deep pain, the gift or opportunity may take time to see. Depending upon how invested you are in seeing it from the painful viewpoint, it might take days, weeks or even longer to see the gift. A willingness to release it makes finding the gift or opportunity much easier. It is never too late to find the gift.

5. Develop the mental muscle to shift your mind to your positive inner resources. 

With the simple technique to command your mind to focus solely on a physical sensation such as touch, sound, or sight, you are training your mind to engage a different part of your brain. With a mere investment of 2 minutes at intervals throughout the day, you can change your brain in as little as 21 days and MRIs prove this. The power of compassion, curiosity, innovation, exploration and activation exist on the right side of the brain.

6. Enjoy the ability to do more with less effort. 

Without the mental clutter of energy draining negative thoughts, you focus clearly on the most important action to take now. “Jedi focus” creates the biggest return for the least effort. This is ease and flow.

7. Understand it takes time and consistent effort to develop mental fitness. 

Embarking on the journey to improve your physical fitness takes time. Expecting to lift 30 lb. weights at the beginning, for example, sets unrealistic expectations. Over time with consistent practice, you become stronger, and you see results. Mental Fitness improves with consistent effort over time so that you recover faster from the setbacks you experience.

8. Be willing to release familiar, old ways of thinking. 

Does it feel familiar to believe that the only way you can get the results you want is to control others? When you have a strong stickler saboteur, everything must be perfect, in order, and predictable.  Control and perfection may be familiar but require significant energy to manifest something that is not possible. These old ways of thinking no longer serve you.

You will be glad to know that the simple operating system, Positive Intelligence, developed by Shirzad Chamine has helped thousands of participants worldwide achieve Mental Fitness. The outcomes people experience includes working at peak performance, improving relationships, and enjoying better health/well-being. Because of its simplicity, the operating system is easily applied to all situations at any time. 

Personally, while my saboteur assessment confirmed what I knew at some level, I have learned to intercept my saboteur who likes to control things, my saboteur who likes to have everything perfect, and my saboteur who loves logic at the expense of emotion. I affectionately refer to them as Sarge, Li’l Ms Perfect, and The Professor respectively.

In a nutshell, anyone willing to do the work can develop Mental Fitness by strengthening these three core mental muscles:

Saboteur Interceptor—recognize which saboteur is hijacking your thinking

Self-Command—focus your mind on a physical stimulus (sound, sight, touch)

Sage—engage your right brain to get your motivation from positive emotions

One Final Note

In only seven weeks of practice at 15 minutes per day, you can change your life by developing your Mental Fitness. Unlike physical fitness, there is no sweating or labored breathing involved in improving your Mental Fitness.

The good news is that you can see immediate results as you call out your saboteurs and switch to a more productive way of thinking and doing. You’ll wish you had discovered the PQ model of Mental Fitness sooner.

Consider how you could benefit by being with a small group of fellow travelers who are committed to their own growth and willing to help you on your path. Short, weekly POD meetings on ZOOM, provide encouragement, appreciation, and accountability in a safe environment without judgment. 

Reach out to me at [email protected] to learn more. You may qualify for the next POD to develop your Mental Fitness. We’ll review your results from the free assessment and explore how this seven-week program benefits you.

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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