We hear a lot about physical fitness. Every town has at least one gym. You see people jogging around, and television infomercials are filled with the latest workout program or gadget to help you get into shape. There is no question that physical fitness is important.
But what about psychological fitness?
Physical fitness can be measured in terms of weight, body fat, muscle tone, strength, flexibility, stamina, endurance, etc. How does one measure psychological fitness?
Psychological fitness — or mental health — can be measured by assessing levels of anxiety, depression, stress, self-esteem, satisfaction, positive relationships, responsibility and competence. A person with high anxiety levels and poor relationships is not as psychologically fit as someone with low anxiety levels and rich relationships. And like ‘workouts’ that improve physical fitness, there are exercises that improve psychological fitness.
Our psychological fitness is largely determined by how we think. Thinking is often the basis of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, violence, posttraumatic stress, low self-esteem and poor interpersonal relationships. Learning how to think accurately and effectively is one of the major components in psychological well-being or fitness. Effectual thinking can promote psychological flexibility, adaptability resilience comfort, ease and composure, all of which are ingredients of mental health.
But what is “thinking”? And how do we exercise it to become more psychologically fit?
The first thing to recognize is — to quote Albert Einstein — “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Psychological fitness requires a different kind of thinking than the kind we might be familiar with, especially if we are not psychologically fit.
Secondly, we can understand thinking by remembering the words of Plato: “when the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself.’”The first task in any
psychological fitness is to listen to yourself talking to yourself. This might seem silly, but it becomes important because those simple sentences of our internal dialogue [self-talk] allow us to find psychological issues.
The content of our internal dialogue is often terribly illogical, irrational, inaccurate, invalid and faulty. But that doesn’t matter. As the mind hears itself talking to itself in these ways, it accepts what it hears, factual or not.
It is up to our critical consciousness to question what we might be telling ourselves and to then make adjustments to more reality-based thinking. We have to begin talking to ourselves more realistically, more accurately, more truthfully. If we happen to fail in some endeavor and then start telling ourselves we are no good, the mind says “OK.”
But those generalizations are not accurate. We may have failed in one specific task, but that in no way means we are a complete failure in life!
To fail at one thing does not equate to failing at everything.
Just as being overweight is often a springboard to get physically fit, depression, anxiety, stress, anger and generally poor interpersonal relationships can be a springboard to get psychologically fit. And, just as a coach or trainer is helpful in starting out with a physical fitness routine, so too is a counselor or therapist conversant in psychological fitness a good idea.