Mind is everything. Muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.
Paavo Nurmi (1897 – 1973)
Finnish distance runner and Olympic legend
You see it all the time, popping up all over the place in articles, publications and even app games. ‘Keep your mind active,’ ‘Ways to keep your mind sharp,’ ‘Stimulate your brain to combat early Alzheimer’s.’ ‘Try brain games for the perfect mental workout.’ I’m sure you’ve seen or heard it before. Doctors strongly advise to keep your mind active and challenged to keep the gears well-lubricated. There’s good science backing the theories and the cool thing is that all ages benefit from it, whether you’re 5 years old or 95 years old. Something as simple as playing a game of Sudoku during lunch hour or doing a daily crossword puzzle with your morning cuppa can have a substantial impact.
The key is to create a challenge for the mind without stress, and it’s a fun and gentle way to start, end or break up the day. Stress actually has a counterproductive effect on the brain, so that’s why playing games make for a good choice. If you’re getting stressed out during a game, you might want to take some deep breaths and re-group yourself. Maybe it’s not for you, and that’s fine. I can’t stand Sudoku for example, but I know people who relish their number-time. It just stresses me out and I don’t like numbers to begin with, I have however, recently enjoyed learning to knit, and I feel the benefits already.
This sweet and simple list of suggestions will act as mind-strengthening tools when put into action. How many of them do you already do, if any?
Nº1 – Ask away
Asking questions and thinking for yourself can sometimes be considered socially ”annoying”. Whether it’s true or not, people seem to refrain from being blunt and asking questions because they don’t want to stand out, come across as rude, weak or stupid. When in actual fact, asking questions only make you look eager to learn and understand properly the subject and possibilities at hand. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I don’t know why so many of us tend to keep quiet (especially the British) when we’d be so much better off acquiring all the information we need to move smoothly forward. Mental strength is ours for the taking. Information and knowledge is power. Give your mind the power, ask away!
Nº2 – Your mind craves variety
It can be easy to get stuck into comfortable routines. Get up, do whatever it is that you do, go to work, work at whatever it is that you do, come home, etc, etc. You get the drift. Week in and week out of basically the same ol’ same old. Spice things up once a week by doing something completely out of the ordinary. Seeing new places and experiencing different sides of life will activate all sorts of different emotions, and expand your perception of things. Never go up the mountains or to the beach? Take a trip. Wanted to visit a museum or a different town? Go there for the day. It might sound simple, but we are often tired and just want to relax at home at the weekends, keeping within our comfort zones and catching up on sleep. That’s perfectly fine, and by all means, a weekend without a sleep-in is no weekend at all if you ask me. Just remember that for your mental srength, and your soul, a little variety every now and again works wonders.
Nº3 – Crafts & brain games
Crafts that require a certain level of concentration and puzzle-solving skills are wonderful for mental strength and levelling out emotions. Knitting, crocheting, jewellery making, model building, carpentry, painting, colouring or any medium to high level crafting is both stimulating and satisfying. You learn patience and perseverance during the beginners phase, then relief and delightful eureka when you master the techniques. Soon it’s a highly rewarding effort as you are creating an item which can be used and appreciated by yourself and others. As you become more experienced, you’re able to try out higher levels and the cycle begins again. Patience, perseverance, relief, delightful eureka and finally, a beautiful result. All the while your mind is sharpening, memory improving, stress releasing and overall emotional health bettering.
Brain games are similar. Often slightly more intense as they come in shorter bursts, but there’s nothing wrong with that. To each their own. Sudoku, cross word puzzles, scrabble and Tetris are popular ones. These days, the possibilities are endless. Just type in ”Brain Games” into google or the Apple Store. You’ll be spoilt for choice!
Nº4 – Take your lunch break seriously
Who’s guilty of eating their lunch at their desk, grabbing a quick on-the-go bagel and rushing to get errands done or even skipping lunch completely? That’s not fair to yourself! Of course, we all have those days where it’s just go go go! But don’t make a habit of it. Taking your lunch break seriously gives you time to properly nourish your body and brain with vital nutrients and calories that they need to work optimally. Neither are any good running on empty. Not only that, but taking yourself completely out of your work environment (i.e lunch and then a 10-15 minute walk, or visa versa) will help shake off stress, give your inspirational juices time to stew again and let your mind wander for a while – essential for mind strength. Especially if your job requires a high-level of physical effort or mental concentration, you’ve got to treat that lunch break like it’s golden!
Nº5 – Have fun and don’t feel guilty about it
Negative emotions deplete mental strength, and while I’m not going to tell anyone to ”stop feeling anxious,” or ”snap out of depression” (because that’s both ridiculous, ineffective and insensitive) I will say this: stop feeling guilty about your ”pleasures.” That’s why life is worth living, for the fun times and the pleasures, and the reasons that keep us motivated. Time and time again I hear people talking about feeling ”guilty” for indulging in a late-night chocolate treat, or that extra glass of wine, or sleeping-in too late, or not following through on their daily exercise, or a party on a weekday, or not conforming to social norms (whatever they really are anyway.) Whatever it is, as long as you’re doing it in moderation, not destroying anything or hurting anyone in the process, it really is not a big deal. Life is for living! Just remember that, and don’t let anyone shame you into thinking otherwise. You do you buttercup!
As well as these small steps, such practices as Meditation, Mindfulness and Yoga can hugely improve your mental strength and your general ability to cope with anything that this life can throw at you. Incorporating these practices into your daily life will give you power and strength you never imagined possible!
Further Reading: The Huffington Post ran a brilliant article last year entitled: “The 9 Essential Habits Of Mentally Strong People” – read it here.
Follow through with your mental health
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