There’s been a lot of talk about Mental Health in the media. It surfaces in stories related to suicide, addiction, mass shootings, homelessness, disease and so on. The truth is - whether we suffer from a mental disorder or not - we ALL need to take care of our minds. We’re naturally vulnerable beings, capable of falling into bad habits if we’re not diligent about keeping good ones.
However, with healthy minds, the ocean of possibilities runs deep! For we are created out of goodness, and there is only One who truly knows our greatest potential. (And it’s probably beyond your wildest dreams.)
So how do we care for our minds? Health equates to strength. Finding practices that strengthen us - physically, spiritually and mentally - can be incorporated into our day-to-day.
“Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength. Doing 50 push-ups a day would only take a few minutes of your time, but doing it consistently would help you build a tremendous amount of upper body strength.” - psychologytoday.com
I’ve selected 5 daily mental exercises that experts recommend and that I personally use. I hope they benefit you, too! Remember, only YOU can keep your mind healthy & strong! Let's get started.
#1 Practice Controlling Your Thoughts
You can't prevent a bird from landing on your head,
but you can keep it from building a nest. - Unknown
“In 1995, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published a book introducing most of the world to the nascent concept of emotional intelligence. The idea--that an ability to understand and manage emotions greatly increases our chances of success.” - inc.com
Perhaps nothing influences our minds more than our own thoughts. We become what we think. Yet, how many times have your emotions, rather than logic, driven a decision? (Yeah, me too.) Emotions are powerful forces, and necessary ones. But when we don’t have control over them, they can prevent us from realizing truth and success.
“By striving to control your thoughts, you resist becoming a slave to your emotions, allowing yourself to live in a way that's in harmony with your goals and values.” - inc.com
Being conscious of the runaway train that lives in all of us, is a good first step. The second step is learning how to stop the train before it runs away. You can read more about this in the article 13 things emotionally intelligent people do.
#2 Build Focus
That’s been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity.
Simple can be harder than complex:
You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. - Steve Jobs
In a world with so many distractions, it becomes increasingly hard to focus. According to this website, 89% of us have an attention span of 10 seconds or less. The main culprits: stress and work overload. The good news is we can get our focus back. “Fortunately, focus is a lot like a mental muscle. The more you work on building it up, the stronger it gets.” 7 Useful Tips for Improving Your Mental Focus
One way to practice focusing is to use a journal. Force yourself to write things down. St. Ignatius’ Daily Examen is an excellent tool for recording your reflection of the day’s events. You can find it here.
#3 Express Gratitude - Daily
Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness.
It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.
– Amy Collette, The Gratitude Connection: Embrace the positive power of thanks.
Why is being thankful important? According to happify.com the reasons are abundant.
“The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. And gratitude doesn't need to be reserved only for momentous occasions: Sure, you might express gratitude after receiving a promotion at work, but you can also be thankful for something as simple as a delicious piece of pie. Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.”
Expressing gratitude is a simple exercise that can be done in just minutes. Best of all, studies consistently confirm it’s powerful effects! So if you don’t already have a Gratitude Journal, you might want to get one.
#4 Offer & Ask for Forgiveness
Forgiveness is unlocking the door to let someone free,
and realizing you were the prisoner. - Unknown
Holding on to negativity is like running a race in water-logged shoes. Your mind and soul are not free if you’re weighed down by the past. Jesus calls us to cleanse the soul. Repent. Start anew. We have this awesome opportunity to do it, to shed our layers of regret and baggage, not just by seeking forgiveness, but also by GRANTing it to others.
Confession is our opportunity to receive forgiveness directly from God. It's a sacrament that requires deep contemplation. Pope Francis gives us 30 questions to reflect on as part of making an examination of conscience and being able to “confess well”.
After receiving forgiveness, it’s equally important to keep a good conscience. Be mindful when negative thoughts emerge, and immediately ask God to squash them. It’s an ongoing battle but our minds are a battlefield worth protecting.
#5 Get used to feeling uncomfortable
When considering the characteristics of a strong person,
you are most likely thinking about qualities like resilience and perseverance.
This is exactly what mental strength is all about – the ability to remain calm and composed
under pressure. - 8 Proven Exercises that Boost Your Mental Strength
The Saints are excellent examples of staying composed in uncomfortable, often dire, situations. They are the heroes of our Christian faith. We too can expose ourselves beyond our sheltered walls to those who may need us. We can volunteer to help the homeless, disabled or elderly; spread hope and love to those at the fringes of society; evangelize to those who have fallen away. By getting to know the Saints, our minds and spirits can be strengthened by their stories, so that we too may not shy away from what's uncomfortable, but face difficult situations with resilience and perseverance.
Perhaps, make it a weekly habit of going outside your comfort zone and trying something new or rare for you. Get a few bonus points by writing about your experience afterwards and measure your growth!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my favorite mental exercises. I highly recommend putting a pen to paper, making a plan and journaling about your experiences. Let me know which exercises work for you! I'd love to hear back. Wishing you all good mental health!