Mental Fitness

When I started working out years ago, I bought myself a set of rubber bands and a few dumbbells and got the latest fitness book from Barnes and Noble. I don’t think I actually made much progress, but there were still benefits, such as learning how to do certain exercises that I hadn’t learned from high school gym class.

But when my wife convinced me that we should both go to a fitness trainer, and I agreed, I found out that there is a real benefit to having a coach vs. going it alone.

For one, the coach can give you on the spot feedback. Sure, you’ll get some feedback working alone, but it will mostly come in the form of pain/injury a few hours later. Instead, it seems to make sense to be told, in the moment, what you’re doing incorrectly. Maybe it’s form or maybe it’s how you’re actually performing the exercise, but either way, you end up being more efficient when you exercise.

And mental fitness is quite similar, I believe. A lot of people will do meditation alone with an app (or not), the way that I bought rubber bands and a book at first for my fitness regimen. But just like physical fitness, having a coach really helps.

A therapist, for instance, can help you recognize negative thought patterns and teach you new ways to wire your neurons to overcome these negative thought patterns. Because this is mental work, and the brain is really good at trickery, it is even more beneficial and effective to work with a professional.

Mental fitness is just as much about form as is physical fitness. I’ve been trying to use the type of thinking outlined in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy guidelines. I’ve created an automation for it on my phone and everything. The idea is to challenge your negative beliefs, which causes a brief moment of calm, and over time this will result in new patterns of thinking.

But I was doing it wrong. Instead of appreciating the moment of calm, I’d assume that my dispute with my negative beliefs would lead to the negative beliefs being removed my brain immediately and forever, which my therapist described as wishful thinking. I’d then get mad that I still had negative thoughts, feeling like I was failing and starting all over again. When I found out that the “effect” of disputing your negative beliefs is that you have brief moment of calm, and that you have to dispute those thoughts again day after day, it changed how I viewed my mental fitness practice.

That is, I now see it as just that: a practice. And practice makes us more efficient, but a coach supercharges our progress.