Monday 27 February 2017

Dr Eddie Murphy: 10 ways to build a strong mind

Many of us are starting the new year with the goal of doing more exercise and getting healthier - but it's also a good time to start focusing on your mental fitness, writes clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy

You can take steps to develop a strong mind
You can take steps to develop a strong mind

It's the new year, and no doubt you have set great goals to get fit. Indeed, we all know that regular physical exercise is important, so I invite you to put some mental fitness on your agenda for 2016. In this way you will live with wellness and move from a human 'doing' to human being. If the foundation blocks to physical health are nutrition, rest, cardio and strength training, then try these 10 tips to optimise your mental fitness.

1 The Power of Relationships with Ourselves and Others

Life is about relationships. The most powerful relationship is the one you have in your head! Is your internal voice a poisoned parrot or a nurturing coach? If you think you are unlovable, worthless, helpless, scared or flawed, then challenge these core beliefs. Don't accept the harsh internal critic. Work on this voice, it's what keeps negativity going. Tackling this critical voice will change your world. It will transform your low self-esteem so you become lovable, fearless, self-reliant, worthwhile and content. Imagine and practise your inner voice as a coach, and not as a critic, on a daily basis.

Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being part of community groups, church activities, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper. Check out volunteer.ie, where you will receive much more than you give.

2 Transform Powerful Emotions

We all get powerful emotions but some people struggle when their fear, sadness or anger is so powerful it overwhelms. Almost every time we have a strong emotion, it's driven by an irrational thought that we can change. Try this next time you have a strong emotion. Ask yourself, what am I feeling? What am I thinking? Stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself is there another way I can think about this? What would I say to a friend who had this thought? Will this really matter in a year's time? What would be the wise thing to do right now? How can I move from a mindless to a mindful response?

3 In 2016 Be Your Real Self

Be your real self. Accept who you are. In my practice, I see too many people who neglect their real self and put on a mask. In the gap between this front and your real self resides negativity, stress, depression and anxiety. If you close this gap and put your energy into your real self, you will lead a life of contentment, authenticity and happiness.

4 Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present. If low mood is about being stuck in a negative past, and stress and anxiety is about being stuck in the future, then mindfulness is about now. The present - it's the best gift we can give. There is growing evidence to support the use of mindfulness in many areas; stress reduction, chronic pain, anxiety, treating depression and, more significantly, in preventing depression relapse. However, we do not need an 'issue' to get the benefits of mindfulness.

When mindful, you work from the standpoint of compassion, curiosity and acceptance towards yourself and your experiences. Mindfulness offers many ways to deepen your awareness, insights that can anchor you in the present and help you to keep things in perspective. Courses are a great way to start. Check out the mindfulness based stress-reduction (MBSR) courses.

5 Develop an Optimistic Mindset

Significantly, optimism is linked with positive emotional and physical health, such that those who are optimistic live longer without cancer and heart disease than those who are pessimistic.

Optimism can help you cope with adversity and directly influence your quality of life. For example, research in a sample of women with breast cancer found that optimistic women accepted the situation, alleviated their condition with a sense of humour, and showed more positive quality of life than the pessimistic women who reacted with powerlessness, loss of hope and reduced quality of life.

Useful questions you can use to look at a situation more optimistically are:

• Where is my focus - on the past or the future? How do I get directly into the moment?

• Are there any resources and strengths in me that I am ignoring or that I might use?

6 Take risks, Say Yes and seize opportunities

Sometimes in life, opportunities happen and we have what I like to call a 'choice point'. What have you done at the 'choice points' in your life? Stepped back or stepped up? Reflecting over time you might notice a pattern. What is your pattern? This is why some people perceive their lives as being full of lucky circumstances, while others are riddled with regrets about roads not taken. Taking a risk means being more fearless about trying something new. Instead of giving in to worry about what could go wrong, they think, "Isn't that interesting? I'd like to give that a try". The more you do this, the more you open up the door to your confidence and on this building block other opportunities will emerge.

7 Practise Mindful loving kindness

Mindfulness is about being compassionate and loving to ourselves. Find a place where you feel secure, safe and warm. Notice your in-breath and your out-breath. Allow phrases to come from your heart about the things that you wish for yourself or another, for example: May I/you have compassion; May I/you be healthy; May I/you be accepting; May I/you be happy; May I/you be of sound body and mind; May I/you thrive.

Repeat the phrases over and over until they permeate your being. Allow your heartfelt expression to generate loving kindness towards yourself or another.

8 Life begins outside your comfort zone

Are you comfortable in your comfort zone? Too often, people surround themselves in comfortable prisons, and they are afraid. Afraid to express themselves, afraid to say no to the demands of others, afraid to take risks to meet someone and start a new romance, for the fear of a no, afraid to change career, afraid to end a relationship or friendship that is wrong for you, afraid to say no to a bully boss, afraid of illness, afraid to let their children grow up, afraid of their emotional life. However, your life will get stale or grow small as you are never really challenged. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. What are you afraid of? Remember, change is constant, so embrace it. Try using this question to motivate you in 2016: what would you do if I was not afraid?

Doing something out of your comfort zone - what you get when you break free and try new things:

• You'll be more productive. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.

• You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prepare you for life changes that force you out of it!

• You'll find it easier to push your boundaries in the future. Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, it gets easier over time.

• You'll find it easier to harness your creativity. Seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas all inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does.

9 Build Your Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity. Working on your resilience you will be able to have: a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities; a capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out; skills in communication and problem-solving and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

The primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.

Seek relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance, and help bolster a person's resilience. Reduce the dose of toxic relationships, they cause you to leak resilience.

Nobody is responsible for your life except you. Take control. By believing that you have some control, your confidence will shift in the right direction. This means taking control of all parts of your life, particularly your physical and emotional health. Tackle things straight on. Don't procrastinate. Don't ignore or wish away your problems. Just do things today. When we shift the stuff that occupies our mind, we are more at ease and can more easily move on to new demands.

10 Learn to say no

I bet there are many times you say yes when you mean no. It happens a lot. In 2016, develop your assertiveness skills and learn to say no. Saying no is an act of setting healthy boundaries while maintaining our integrity and often our sanity. Now I am not down on saying yes as this supports taking opportunities when they arise and allows an openness to life. But here is the thing, learning to say no allows us to say yes to more of the things you want for ourselves.

Too often, no is mixed up with negativity. However, they are two different psychological states. Negativity is like wearing glasses that filter discontent, unhappiness and are an energy sapper. Negativity will only lead to you being unhappy. Negativity is an attitude, no is an action of making choices that are good for you that says "this is not what I want", "my choices, plans and projects take priority", "I am not in agreement with you". Essentially, you are being your real self - a space that allows you to shine, grow and be authentic.

Finally, make 2016 a year of compassion, curiosity and increased awareness. Mental fitness is more than the presence or absence of mental health and like any new skill, it takes effort and commitment to master. Imagine the prize is a life where you are authentic, confident, thriving and emotionally well.

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