Could this be MORE important for your health than physical exercise?

I think it’s safe to say that unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years (in which case, welcome to the internet) you are aware of the benefits of physical fitness.

I imagine it’s also safe to say that regardless of what your personal routine is, you would agree that, in the pursuit of that physical fitness, exercise ought to be a habitual practice.

Physical fitness is a booming industry, as everywhere we are presented with opportunities to consume gear, clothing & memberships to make it easier and more enjoyable. (Or at least to signal to others that we are hip and fit and cool.) Say what you will about the marketing and consumption angle, I think we can agree that overall, it’s a good thing that routine exercise for physical fitness has become a cultural norm.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the same were to happen with routine exercise for mental fitness?

Mental fitness begins with your thoughts

I was listening to a podcast yesterday with a panel of medical, legal and investment professionals discussing the possible future use of psychedelic drugs in treatment for mental illness and addiction. I heard a description which struck me. A panelist referred to hypothetical beneficiaries of such treatment as being stuck in a narrow mental repertoire of thinking and behavior.

I am neither a doctor nor any sort of medical expert, and you will not find me pretending to know what it’s like to suffer from severe, debilitating depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. So please understand that this not me suggesting that those who suffer should go without medication in favor of a do-it-yourself mental exercise routine.

And yet, when I heard that phrase stuck in a narrow mental repertoire of thinking and behavior my first thought was:

What if we (as an entire society) promoted and celebrated the benefits of practicing different ways of thinking, and that can lead to different ways of behavior?

What if mental health had a re-branding campaign?

In thinking about this, I realized that the practice of mental exercises for the purpose of changing thinking (and subsequently behavior) is the basis of an established mental health treatment process called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

Upon first reading, this definition sounds fine. And then I ask myself why doesn’t our society endorse this type of practice for everyone? Wouldn’t it be simple to incorporate mental fitness exercises and practices into our daily lives?

Reading the definition again, I begin to wonder if the Mayo Clinic’s definition of CBT is intrinsically off-putting because of the stigma that we continue to hold in our society about mental health, and the idea that it’s only for people who hold the unfortunate (and unhelpful) label of mentally ill.

I mean, if you and I were having coffee, and I suggested that you try something like CBT, would you be offended?

Would you think I was suggesting that you are somehow not right in the head?

In fact, MOST of us have times in our lives where our habits of thinking are insufficient to support the behaviors that would lead to reaching our goals. This is why Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, and all who have come after them in the tradition of personal development emphasize a focus on discipline in our THINKING.

What would the benefit be to our world if mental fitness exercises were taught and encouraged by parents, teachers and friends, right alongside physical fitness exercises?

Will the day come where we will have mental fitness studios? One might find something beginning to approach that with yoga and meditation centers, yet we don’t describe them this way, and I don’t see a connection being made on a large scale between practices of thinking, mental fitness, and a healthy, satisfying life.

Furthermore, has there ever been a day when you intended to exercise, yet did not do so? Every waking action is preceded by a thought. When you change your thinking, it will affect your actions. And when you change your actions, you will change your life.

There are many who argue that we must dismantle the social stigma of mental illness, and I agree. Yet this line of inquiry causes me to wonder: rather than fighting against something, (stigma) what would happen if more of us advocated for the expansion of beneficial mental fitness practices for everyone?

What do you think?

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