In our ever-changing world with constantly increasing work demands and 24-hour information delivery, how does one build mental resilience and increase capacity? Although I do not claim to be a mental health professional, I am happy to share my own personal strategies.
You may already be performing many of the following activities or you may have seen similar lists in various periodicals. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list nor do I feel it is necessary to begin implementing all of the activities immediately (or even simultaneously). The following list represents the things I do in my personal life to help increase my mental resilience.
It has taken me the greater part of my adult life to discover all of the following strategies and there are still times today that I struggle with accomplishing any or all of them in one day. Life is not static; it is always changing and fluid, which allows us the opportunity to change, thus improving as we move through life growing into better human beings.
You may wonder what I mean by mental resilience. To me, mental resilience is the ability to effectively cope and even thrive amidst the daily barrage of change, demands, negativity, uncertainty and internal emotional struggles. Mental resilience is what allows me to increase my capacity.
Again you may wonder what I am referring to when I mention capacity. In my life, capacity is my ability to continue to add tasks or goals to my already seemingly overburdened list of demands while helping others and generally making positive contributions to the world around me. Those demands could include family, work, relational, leisure, financial or educational to name a few. We all have different demands which we prioritize according to our values. Simply put, mental resilience allows me to accomplish more with less stress.
The following list includes 14 activities which I strive to accomplish daily:
1. Sufficient sleep
2. Rise early
3. Journal daily
4. Meditate daily
- You can be guided via a meditation app—I use Calm
5. Exercise daily
- Raise your heart rate for at least 20 minutes
6. Avoid the news
- You don’t expose yourself to the negativity, fear and anxiety
- 7. Read daily
8. Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption
9. Limit caffeine consumption
- A stimulant, it increases anxiety
- 10. Leave work at work
- 11. Recognize and control negative “self-talk”
- 12. Celebrate small and large victories daily
- 13. Do not attempt to control the uncontrollable or predict the unpredictable
14. Lean into your formal and informal networks as well as your coaches for support
Again, many of the aforementioned activities may already be included in your daily regimen. However, you may be looking at this list and wonder where to begin. My suggestion is to seek the path of least resistance and start with the easiest tasks.
The best part about this approach is that the easiest tasks may also be the most beneficial for you. By no coincidence the top five activities on my list seem to be the most impactful in my life. The one item that stands out to most people is rising early. Yes, I get out of bed every morning at 4:15 a.m.
Many people ask me, “Why so early?” When I was a young man I served in the military. At that time, one of the slogans used frequently by the United States Army was “We get more done before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” That notion has stuck with me. I can actually attest that I do accomplish more in the early morning than any other time throughout the day.
But what do I do from 4:15 a.m. until I arrive at the office at 8 a.m.? The primary reason I rise so early is that practically nobody else is up. My wife does not normally get up until 6 a.m. The early morning is my time. My time is those precious minutes before the hectic world owns me. I am greedy and protective of my time. During that time I do the “easy tasks.” I journal, meditate, exercise and think. That is the time when I set the stage for my entire day ahead.
I begin my day by memorializing a couple paragraphs in my journal, focusing on what I am grateful for in my life. This directs my thinking to the positive, improving my whole outlook on the day before me. It has been scientifically proven that mediation physiologically reduces stress and anxiety while also improving mood and attitude.
Finally, before work I exercise daily. That doesn’t mean I have to go to the gym (although I usually do). One can certainly exercise at home. The key is engaging in physical activity that raises the heart rate for at least 20 minutes each day.
By the time I arrive at the office I normally feel accomplished, ready for the day ahead, stress-free and I have a positive outlook.
Although I explained in detail the first few steps, I am not discounting the importance of the remaining activities. For instance, recognizing and controlling negative self-talk. There is a famous quote by Henry Ford that states: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” and it speaks eloquently to the power of self-talk.
The human mind is the most powerful driving force in increasing capacity. You may recognize that all 14 of the suggestions revolve around nourishing the mind. Whether that be through restful sleep or the hormones released to the brain during exercise.
In today’s hectic world, it is important to take care of yourself. During your most recent airline flight, you may have heard a flight attendant say “If the oxygen masks are released as a result of loss in cabin pressure…secure your own mask before helping others.” Obviously you can’t help others if you pass out or become incapacitated. Such is the case with life. I believe that you cannot increase your capacity to do well or help others, if you do not first help yourself.