It's common knowledge that people should exercise to stay physically fit and operating at peak performance. Without regular exercise and activity, our bodies will literally shut down. It can also be used to change your physical condition. If you are obese, running every day will cause you to lose weight. If you are skinny, lifting weights every day will cause you to gain muscle mass.
The brain works in a similar way. It needs constant conditioning, but is also malleable to how you want it to be. That means if you have qualities you dislike, such as anxiety or depression, there are things you can do to combat these feelings. Similarly, if you'd like to be more calm or 'in the moment', you can gain these positive qualities that you want.
Like physical exercise, your mental exercises will differ based on what you want to accomplish. If your goal was to gain muscle mass, going for a daily jog will do nothing to get you there. It's not to say that jogging isn't beneficial. It's just that it's probably not what you should be focusing on.
Think critically about your mental and emotional state. What would you like more and less of? Keep in mind that stress is different from anxiety, and both are different from depression. Similarly, being more positive is not the same as being more happy, and being more empathetic is not the same as being kinder.
- Positive outlook
- Mindful / in the moment
- Negative interpretations
This may take a little research and development, but it's a fun process. Most mental health techniques are pretty well researched. You can take concepts you find and alter them to match your goals.
Just make sure they are:
- Repeatable daily
- Are at least somewhat proven to work.
Goal: stop negatively interpreting events, and start interpreting them more positively.
Exercise: Reframe your negative thoughts into positive spins.
- Write down 1-2 sentences in a notebook about what is bothering you the most
- Reframe those sentences in a positive light
- Write 1-2 systems about how things could be significantly worse.
Example: A: There are too many tasks for me to do this week. I won't even finish all of them, and the ones I will finish will be poorly executed. B: While you do have many things to do, most don't take that long and are actually fun. Just focus on what is the most impactful. C: Imagine if you had a role with no essential responsibilities. Or imagine you didn't have a job or career you love.
Goal: be more grateful for what is going well instead of focusing on what is or could be going wrong.
Exercise: List out things you are grateful for.
Instructions: 1. List out 5 things you are grateful for. They must be concrete, but can be small.
Examples (good and bad)
✅ → "I made an amazing cup of coffee this morning"
🚫 → "Life is good"
Goal: set positive expectations for the day.
Exercise: consciously invent a narrative for the day.
- Write a simple sentence about how you'd like the day to go from a personal level.
- Reflect throughout the day to make the narrative stick.
Example "Today I will be positive and helpful during my day of meetings, and then disconnect and recharge after work."
Goal: become more mindful.
Exercise: meditate for at least 10 minutes every day
Go through the following sequence over 10 minutes of silent meditation with a timer:
- Focus on surroundings
- Body scan
- Focus on your breath
- Count your breath
- Let the mind free and relax
- Come back to the breath
Note: if this sounds vague it's because I'm not a meditation expert, but have been doing it for almost a decade and have found what works for me.