I watched a short excerpt by Simon Sinek where, in recognising May as Mental Health Month, he advocated that the phrase “mental health” should be changed to “mental fitness”. Mental health is a term that has been used for a long time to describe the state of one’s mind, except that for most of us, it applies to other people rather than to ourselves. Our brains are working fine, right? Perhaps less so on certain days, or in certain scenarios, but we’ll get over it – and be back up and running tomorrow. Right? It’s everyone else that could use help. Not us.
The term “health” implies that there is either a state of being healthy or sick. It’s a binary approach that doesn’t reflect the complexity of the human mind, nor the journey of growth each of us is on. Mental fitness, on the other hand, is a more accurate term that reflects the fact that we need to work on our mental well-being every day, just like we work on our physical fitness. Simon notes that the term “mental fitness” speaks to a process as well as good days and bad days.
When we’re working on our physical fitness, we acknowledge that there’s a process over which we’re able to handle different loads and activities better and that our ability increases as we become physically stronger. Even on days when what we undertake makes our body sore, we’re able to gauge our own level of fitness and know that our body can achieve what we’re aiming at – and that the pain our body is in is temporary and not irreparable. Our physical health is something we work at incrementally, pushing ourselves on some days and resting to recover on others. We don’t go out and climb Everest before we’re ready, and when we do undertake something strenuous, we do so with the right support and knowing the limits of our body.
Mental fitness is something that applies to all of us. Not only does it affect our ability to process and achieve on a daily basis, but it affects our ability to progress through mentally tough moments, to find the joy and passion in what we experience, and to weather difficult experiences and come out stronger for them. We’re all at varying degrees of mental fitness all the time. It is an ebb and flow as we learn, exert ourselves, and recover. The idea is that, like physical fitness, we’re generally aiming to progress, even when we encounter the occasional setback.
Mental Fitness is not just the absence of mental illness or disorders. It’s the ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, and bounce back from setbacks. It’s the ability to maintain positive relationships and a sense of purpose in life. Mental fitness is about building resilience and developing a growth mindset.
We live in a world where mental health issues are on the rise. Depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders are becoming more prevalent than ever before. And yet, many people are afraid to admit that they are struggling because they don’t want to be seen as weak or broken.
Using the term “mental fitness” sends a message that taking care of our mental well-being is a normal part of life. It’s something that we should all strive for, just like we strive to be physically fit. It also sends a message that mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness, but rather an opportunity to build mental fitness.
Changing the narrative around mental health is not just a matter of semantics. It’s about changing the way we think about mental well-being and creating a culture of openness and acceptance. It’s about encouraging people to seek help when they need it and supporting them on their journey towards mental fitness.
Here are 3 ways you can improve your mental fitness:
1. Mindset, Mindset, Mindset
One of the most important factors that contribute to our mental fitness is our mindset. Our mindset is the way we view the world and ourselves. It’s our beliefs, attitudes, and expectations. Our mindset can be either fixed or growth-oriented. A fixed mindset is one in which we believe that our abilities and traits are set in stone and cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which we believe that our abilities and traits can be developed and improved through effort and practice.
Having a growth mindset is essential for mental fitness because it allows us to see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. When we have a growth mindset, we are more resilient in the face of setbacks and are better able to bounce back from adversity.
Another important factor in mental fitness is self-care. Self-care is the practice of taking care of our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It involves taking responsibility for the activities that feed and replenish our minds, as well as managing our own stress levels and other physical attributes that support our mental processes. Activities such as exercise, meditation, getting enough sleep, and engaging in hobbies that bring us joy.
Self-care is important because it helps us recharge our batteries and build resilience. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to cope with stress and challenges. We are also more likely to have positive relationships and a sense of purpose in life.
One aspect of self-care that is often overlooked is the importance of social connection. Humans are social creatures, and we need meaningful relationships in our lives to thrive. Social connection is essential for our mental well-being because it helps us feel supported and valued – as long as we are discerning about the people we choose to spend time with.
Social connection isn’t just about physically spending time with people. With the rise of social media and technology, we are more connected than ever before, and yet these connections are often superficial and lack depth. Many people feel isolated and disconnected despite being surrounded by people.
Meaningful social connection requires that we’re intentional about cultivating relationships. This means being present with others, listening deeply, and being vulnerable. It also means being willing to ask for help and support when we need it.
In addition to mindset and self-care, another important aspect of mental fitness is purpose. Purpose is the sense that our lives have meaning and that we are making a positive contribution to the world. Having a sense of purpose is essential for our mental well-being because it gives us a reason to get up in the morning and motivates us to pursue our goals. It is, very literally, our driving force.
However, many people struggle to find their purpose in life, or that purpose may wane or change over time. Continuing to hone our purpose as we grow and develop ourselves requires that we are introspective and reflect on our values, passions, and strengths. We also need to be open to new experiences and opportunities that may lead us down unexpected paths.
Once we have found our purpose, it’s important to pursue it with intention and focus. This may involve setting goals, developing new skills, and seeking out opportunities to make a positive impact in the world.
Mindset, self-care, and purpose are essential ingredients to the degree of power and focus that you generate. Those willing to give their own mental fitness the time and input it requires to continually improve are able to offer their clarity, focus, and drive to others.
One challenge that many people face in their pursuit of mental fitness is the stigma around mental health issues. Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, there is still a lot of shame and fear around mental illness and seeking help.
Creating a culture of openness and acceptance around mental well-being as a process; as something we may have good and bad days at, and as something we can continually improve and become stronger in helps to combat the shame and fear that many people feel around asking for help. Asking for help may be as simple as asking a colleague for input on a project, or an opinion on an email. It may be asking someone to physically help you shoulder a load you’re carrying, or merely admitting that you’re not strong today, and could use some backup. We need to encourage people to seek help when they need it and to recognize that mental health struggles are a normal part of the human experience.
By reframing the conversation from mental health to mental fitness, by shifting the focus from illness to wellness, we can help people see mental fitness as something that is achievable and desirable.
Mental fitness is not a destination but a journey. It’s a lifelong process of learning, growing, and adapting. It’s about developing the skills and habits that allow us to cope with the challenges of life and to thrive in the face of adversity. It’s a journey that each of us is already on – and being intentional and communicative about where we’re at, what’s working and what’s not working, and how we can help each other share the load and progression helps everyone get fitter together.
Developing mental fitness, resilience, the ability to cope with change and stress, and identification of purpose and drive are the building blocks that keep us all healthy. Not only that, but they’re the building blocks of healthy teams too, and each part of the recipe is worth ongoing development and discussion within a team.
by Christen Killick
May 8th, 2023