At this time of ever-growing COVID-19 anxiety, conditioning our mind for mental vigor and fitness may be more important than many other steps we are all taking during our heightened awareness of disease transmission. At the very least, it will lead to less hand wringing and could lead to more hand washing. Now before you think this column is about physical exercise and muscle growth, I’m talking here about another type of being F.I.T., one that I’ve been writing and speaking about for many years. This F.I.T. has to do with being a “Fundamentally Independent Thinker” and requires no exercise equipment. Oh, right, the link is what you think, remember? Let’s delve into this a bit and see how being an independent thinker, not hooked into external events, can help you through the COVID-19 upheaval.
Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, often credited with laying a foundation for what we call “Rational Emotive Behavior” or “Cognitive Behavior” coaching, observed, “Men are disturbed NOT by (external) things, but by the principles and notions (the beliefs and thoughts), which they form concerning things.” He also noted, “Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, what are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
Indeed, Richard Davidson in “The Emotional Life of Your Brain,” wrote “I would go so far as to assert that of all the forms of human behavior and psychological states, the most powerful influence on our physical health is our emotional life.” That’s the power of your mental fitness on your mind-body wellness.
And William James, one of the most noteworthy psychologists throughout the ages, wrote, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” Again, that’s the power of your mental fitness on your overall wellbeing.
This awareness isn’t new. Clearly, a stressed out, erratic, impulsive survival mindset can lead to an unhealthy, truly ill, body. So, to keep yourself fully healthy, it’s required you begin by being inside of your own mind.
Mental fitness, according to Dr. Davidson, consists of cultivating an upgraded emotional style, that is comprised of six dimensions:
- Resilience: how long does it take you to spring back from misfortune?
- Outlook: how long are you able to uphold a mindset of optimistic sentiment?
- Social Intuition: how adroit are you at discovering social signals from those around you?
- Self-Awareness: how well do you recognize bodily sensations that reveal your emotions?
- Sensitivity to Context: how skillful are you at adjusting your emotional responses to others?
- Attention: how precise and well-defined is your mental concentration and your mindful focus?
A first step in upgrading these six areas is to become a Fundamentally independent thinker (F.I.T.). A fundamentally independent thinker understands that nothing outside of an individual makes a person upset, angry, or depressed; rather, what a person thinks about things determines how they feel. As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” There is no motivation without this important “inner game.” Rid yourself of thoughts of inadequacy, predictions of failure and assuming others are reacting negatively to you especially in the gym or while working out on your home Total Gym. Remember that Marcus Aurelius in his “Meditations” noted, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
To boost your mental fitness and become F.I.T., delete these words from your vocabulary:
- “It/you/they make me feel…”
Nothing, nobody, outside of you “makes” you feel or do anything. Be FIT! When you catch, challenge and change those words and no longer say “It makes me so angry, worried, sad” you will be on the road to becoming a fundamentally independent thinker. A client told me, “The size of that dumbbell scares the heck out of me…I can’t lift that!” This is a form of “makes me.” How can a dumbbell climb into your noggin, sort through your brain chemistry, and result in an emotion? It’s not possible. Delete “makes me.”
- “I get, I got…”
No, you don’t “get,” an emotion, rather you create your feelings. Emotions aren’t like a little bug that suddenly lands on you when you aren’t expecting it, takes a bite out of you and “gets” you upset or even happy. Emotions are entirely from inside—from your own thoughts. You don’t “get” angry, concerned, upset, but rather you are your own script-writer, producer and star in your own emotional show.
- “I escaped from feeling…”
You didn’t “get” anxious and you don’t need to “escape” from it. You actually discard an emotion you don’t like because it’s within you to begin with, in your perception, vision, view, of something outside of you. Escaping is victim talk. Discarding is victor talk. Marcus Aurelius once again, “Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”
Delete these externalizing, dependent, blaming words and you’ll create an unconquerable mind, the F.I.T. mindset, and the victory you genuinely desire to grow healthily through COVID19. To do otherwise, to keep these words in your vocabulary, to continue to give your power away to the news, things, events, conditions, circumstances and outcomes, is to fill your thinking with victim thinking while hoping to be a victor. You won’t become physically fit thinking like a victim.
The biggest obstacle we face at this time is deep within us…our mental fitness, being F.I.T., is the answer. We limit ourselves in our everyday life, in our quarantine mindset, in our diets, in our accomplishments, and in our relationships.
Having difficulty growing mentally F.I.T.? Struggling through quarantine? Give these tools a try:
- Stay in the present
- Expand your unconditional self-acceptance and self-compassion
- Serve others and ask for others to help you when necessary
- Take a learner’s attitude towards every adversity that comes across your path, “What can I learn from this?
- Stay in a positive mindset – your mental fitness requires it and your physical wellbeing depends on it. Being quarantined leads you to feel rejected by the world? No, you haven’t been “rejected,” but rather “redirected.” Instead of complaining, try exclaiming the positive in these seemingly negative circumstances. Can you be happy even though this unhappy event took place? Sure, you aren’t happy about the negative event, but you can remain positive about life regardless, right? That’s the kind of mental fitness that leads to healthy physical wellbeing.
- Finally, follow the DALPO recipe for mental and physical wellbeing:
- Avoid demanding that anything in your life be different than it is. Prefer it to be, desire it to be, but stay away from shouldhood.
- Avoid thinking that occurrences are “awful” when they’re just unfortunate or too bad. They may be hard, but not too hard.
- Avoid low frustration tolerance, believing that you can’t bear or tolerate an adversity in your life.
- Avoid personalizing events and labeling yourself negatively. Cultivating habits of positive thinking with mindfulness will help you develop a more compassionate and resilient approach to life.
- Avoid overgeneralizing, thinking erroneously that negative things “always” happen to you and good things “never” happen to you.” This will help you to more fully enjoy your journey through life, regardless of outcomes or destinations, consequences or costs.