But just like your quadriceps, abdominals, or any other muscle, to keep your brain fit you need to exercise it properly. This means building on ways to make it stronger and better able to perform its tasks and avoiding conditioning it in ways that don’t serve you. In other words, focus your brain fitness on positive thinking—thought patters that uplift you and make you more capable—rather than negative thoughts that drag you down and keep you from performing your best personally and professionally.
We all slip into a negative thought now and then, particularly when we’re tired or having a rough day. The danger is when these negative thoughts outweigh the positive, when you find yourself more focused on what you think you can’t do, aren’t worthy of, or don’t have than the things you’re capable of, blessed with, and that make you strong. A few negative thoughts can bring you down, but habitual negative thinking can put you at risk for depression and missing out on great opportunities and beautiful experiences.
This is where the mind-as-muscle concept comes in: by exercising your mind to strengthen positive thinking patterns, you can build your capacity for supportive, uplifting thoughts and avoid negative patterns. Here are some tips for a positive mental workout:
- Surround yourself with happy people. Seek out positive people who lift you up and see the world for its beauty and opportunities. Even when challenged, truly positive individuals will find good in the experience. Just being around these people will influence your thinking, and they’ll also reinforce and encourage your own positive thoughts.
- Pay attention to your thoughts throughout the day. Just as incorrect exercise form can lead to injury, negative thought patterns can be harmful. Plan to check in with your thought “technique” at certain times during the day; even set a reminder. Are you using your mind to build strength with good thoughts? Or are you fatiguing it and stressing it with bad ones? It the answer is the latter, take a moment to focus on something positive.
- Look for humor. Even when you’re really down, a little laugh can do wonders as a pick-me-up. Do this for yourself—call a friend who makes you giggle, send a funny text, or watch a quick silly video.
- Exercise positive thoughts. Hate to do push-ups? You may make yourself do them because you know they’re great for upper body and core strength. The same goes for positive thinking—even if you’re low and happy thoughts seem like a huge effort, you’ll get stronger by making yourself practice them regularly. Plan a few times a day, or whenever it occurs to you, to encourage, congratulate, or honor yourself. Something as simple as taking a moment to acknowledge a job well done, at home or at work, can go a long way toward positive mental strength.
- Choose a healthy lifestyle! We’re discussing the mind as a muscle, but the truth is that all of your physical body—muscles, organs, cells—is interconnected with your with mental health. This means that a nutritious diet, plenty of rest, and regular exercise will help keep you looking on the bright side.
- Begin one step at a time. Just as you wouldn’t start to train for a marathon by running the entire 26 miles, don’t aim to turn around all negative thinking immediately. If you’re troubled in a few areas—say finances, work, family, or relationship—start by focusing on changing your thought patterns about one subject. Try the one on which you think you can most easily put a positive spin. Learn what works and continue addressing the other areas until you have the skills and mental fitness to tackle them all.