Resilience, or bouncing back from adversity, is a crucial skill for wellbeing. Google searches for the word “resilience” spiked in mid-2020, likely a result of the pandemic. We were all struggling and needed strategies to handle negative emotions.

But, there’s something more effective than resilience. It’s called Mental Fitness.


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Mental Fitness is a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to managing life’s adversity.

What if instead of coping effectively in response to bad things, we thought about our brains as muscles that we need to take to the gym daily in order to foster mental strength? Think of it this way. If someone said, “You need to be able to do a hand stand one year from today,” would you wait 365 days and then just try your best? Absolutely not. Most of us would not be successful just winging it. In order to succeed, you would practice and build your muscles every day, lifting weights and practicing wall hand stands. With regular practice, your likelihood of success increases exponentially. When we think of our brain as a muscle to strengthen, we can rise to meet life’s challenges with more of a positive, proactive mindset.

Here’s what to do to increase your mental fitness:

1. When you feel something negative, stop and label that emotion.

So, for example, if you’re having a difficult conversation with a colleague and you suddenly get flooded with a tight feeling in your chest, stop. Ask yourself, “what do I feel and where is it located in my body?” You may feel anxious, and perhaps it’s located in your stomach or chest. Labeling makes you an observer of this negative emotion, and therefore more removed from it.

2. Engage in mini-mindfulness.

You do not have to go into a dark room and chant “om” for 30 minutes to have a fruitful mindfulness session. All it takes is a few seconds of focusing on your breathing and your body to decrease cortisol and adrenaline levels. Try apps like Calm, Positive Intelligence or Headspace.

3. Reframe the situation.

After you’ve engaged in mini-mindfulness, ask yourself: What are some potential gifts in this situation? You can also ask, why could this be happing for me? Brainstorm some answers. Even an answer as simple as, “Well, I can laugh about this later with my friends!” is a perfectly reasonable gift. Reframing will shift your thinking and make you feel lighter and less controlled by your negative emotions.

The trick to building mental fitness is this: Do not just practice these three steps in bad situations. Practice in neutral or mildly uncomfortable situations every day to build up your neural muscles. Then, when the time comes to do the work conflict equivalent of a handstand, you’ll be ready.

By Julia Wuench, Contributor

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