When I think about mental health, I often, if not always, compare it directly to physical health. How we take care of our bodies should be a leading indicator of how we feel mentally.
Consider some of the worlds highest performing athletes: what do you think they put in their bodies?
World class athletes consistently consume high quality macro and micro nutrients. Foods that are nutritionally rich and hydrating with vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and healthy fats, to ensure that their bodies predictably operate at peak performance. These individuals who are eating better will inevitably jump higher, skate faster, lift more weight, and recover more quickly from rigorous training than their competitors.
This level of vigilance about consuming only the highest quality nutrients and avoiding tempting junk food, while difficult, is one of their greatest advantages.
I strongly believe that there’s so much that we can learn from how athletes, and healthy eaters, treat their bodies that will impact the way that we focus on our own mental health.
But first, imagine the opposite of the athlete and healthy eater, Jack the Junk food addict.
Jack doesn’t pay too much attention to what he puts into his body. He lacks discipline and as a result he caves frequently into his cravings. Because he eats so much fast food, he’s constantly consuming refined sugars, unhealthy trans and saturated fats, high sodium foods, and processed – low nutritional value, empty calorie – junk!
But wait… We can’t forget the sugar loaded sodas and juice concentrates he grew up loving, too! And with all of that, it still remains a mystery to Jack as to why he has low energy. Why he always wakes up feeling groggy, sluggish and mentally foggy. Why every day he has to rely on coffee and stimulants just to make it through his work day. Why he’s lost his zest for life.
Let’s help remove the blinders of the oh-so obvious mystery perplexing Jack and junk food eaters alike.
Garbage in, garbage out.
How could we expect anything other than to feel like garbage if the only thing we put in our body is garbage!
And if what we put in our bodies unequivocally impacts our physical performance, how could we ignore that what we put in our minds, our thoughts, and our beliefs about ourself and our circumstances, will also clearly effect our mental health and performance.
There are multiple pillars that drive a healthy mind, but I fundamentally believe one of the most powerful and reliable is focusing on a consistently healthy diet of external inputs into our minds. In almost identical fashion to our physical health, we either set ourselves up for resilience, health, and joy, or anxiety, stress, and unhappiness based on our chosen mental diets.
Here is our greatest challenge to ensuring a proper mental diet.
Our biggest challenge is that controlling what our brain consumes is especially difficult. On a day to day basis, so much of what we take in is unconscious. Although it’s true that we can eat without thinking, it’s easier to pay attention to what we put in our bodies because food doesn’t leap into our mouths!
We need an extra level of vigilance to prevent our brains from absorbing irrelevant, counterproductive or downright destructive input. It’s a never-ending battle to be selective and stand guard against any information that will derail your mental health.
To understand this challenge at our cores, the only thing we need to remember is that the brain has only one agenda: survival. It’s always watching for signs of “lack and attack.” We’re programmed to seek out the negative from our jobs, studies and our lives.
Unfortunately we can’t change our DNA, but we can change our behaviour. We can teach our mind to look beyond the negative by protecting and feeding it positivity.
Now, please enjoy 2 focuses and 6 actionable take-aways that you can apply, today.
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler
I’ll start with your associations because I believe it is the simplest and quickest thing you can change to make an impact on your mental health.
Over the past decade, researchers have made fascinating discoveries about a phenomenon called “clustering”. They found that behaviours, attitudes, and health outcomes tend to form in social clusters. The people around you even even affect how you sleep, the food that you eat, and how much you save. This of course, can have both positive and negative repercussions.
On the negative front, bad behaviours and outcomes such as smoking, obesity, loneliness, depression, divorce, and drug use tend to grow in social clusters. If your friends smoke, you probably will, too. Likewise, positive things such as happiness and positive social behaviour can spread within groups. If you want to get rich, you should spend more time with rich people. If you want to lose weight, it’s practical to hangout with people who spend a lot of time at the gym. Social contagion, as the researchers call it, is a powerful force that you can now use to your advantage. Use these tips to level up your squad and make a positive impact on your mental diet.
- Play Sports- Join that intramural league. Visit that ping pong group. Get that golf membership. By putting yourself in a competitive position, especially in team sports, not only will you learn more about yourself, but you’ll have the opportunity to connect and be vulnerable with new people. Competition is one of those unique scenarios we don’t get enough in life. It makes you elevate your game, prepare and work harder, and interact with people who’re doing the same.
- Volunteer- This should be your first move if you’re someone who feels like you’re surrounded by negative influences. Volunteers by nature are spirited, positive people. They are givers. People that are generous enough to put others before themselves are the type of people we should strive to spend more time with. When you meet people who are trying to make a big difference in the world, it makes a big difference in yours.
- You don’t need to drop all of your negative friends – Not only is the conflict associated with burning bridges not worth it and disempowering for both parties, there are many more appropriate ways to better your associations. Instead of focusing on spending less time with negative people, simply decide today that you will spend more time with positive people. By proxy, you will have less time for negative associations and you’re much more likely to maintain that relationship. Think add, not subtract.
Imagine how much better your life would be if you got better people into your social network. Choose to surround yourself with the people who have the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in congruency with the person you’re committed to becoming.
Personal Junk Filter
“The book you don’t read won’t help.” – Jim Rohn
The junk food equivalent today for what we put into our minds sounds like this: negative news, unrealistic body images on Instagram, and fake entrepreneurs on social media flashing fancy watches, cars, and beautiful women. Where the news equals a can of Coca Cola, Instagram equals those fried funnel cakes people love, and fake entrepreneurs selling $30,000 mastermind courses equals a Big Mac.
Exposed to all of this garbage, we can’t realistically expect to constantly feel positive emotions and thought patterns about ourselves and the world. It’s all too negative or revolves around what we’re missing. How much better life could be, not how good it is. Just like the body needs quality nutrition in order to sustain your positive mental health long-term, you need to focus on quality inputs that will lead you in the right direction.
I’ll share with you what I do to safeguard my mind. But I warn you, I have a rigorous mental diet. You’ll want to adjust this to your own preferences, but it’s worked beautifully for me over the last 4 years.
- Avoid the news– As you may have guessed, I don’t read or watch any news whatsoever. Not only is 90% of news the most scandalous, negative, and disturbing things that are taking place in the world right now, virtually none of it has any bearing on my personal goals, dreams, and ambitions anyways. While most people wade through hours of irrelevant garbage that hampers their attitude and dampers their spirits, if you really need the news, set up an RSS feed through Google or another provider. That way you will get the news that’s relevant to your primary field of interest in less than 15 minutes a day.
- Enroll in “Commuters U”– It’s not enough to eliminate negative inputs. We also need to flush out all the bad by filling up on all the good. “Commuters U” may have been one of the most transformational habits I’ve ever adopted. It stands for Commuters University and means that any time you’re moving – whether it’s going for a walk, riding your bike, or driving/ taking transit – you pull out a book, podcast, or some educational tool, and start learning. Think about it… How long is your commute? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? 1 hour? Regardless of how long, the time we spend commuting every day is a prime opportunity to fill ourselves up with quality mental nutrition. Over the last year I’ve developed new skills in sales, leadership, relationship building, and maintaining a positive attitude in tough times, all because I took advantage of Commuters U. You should taste multiple different influencers and see what you like but here’s a short list of some of my go-to’s: Jim Rohn, Les Brown, Gary Vaynerchuck, Tim Ferris, Jocko Willink, Tony Robbins, Napolean Hill, and many more!
- Remember the three action items from associations– As we’re now well aware, one of the easiest and most effective ways to adopt new behaviours and attitudes is to hang out with the people who already have them. Therefore, if you want to develop a better junk filter and protect your mind from the garbage that’s constantly pulling at your attention, remember the three action steps from associations; play sports, volunteer, and think add not subtract. If your peer group spends less time watching the news, you will too. If they subscribe to Commuters U and focus only on positive, educational, and uplifting inputs, so will you!
That is a lot of information to chew on… See what I did there? But information is not enough to impact your mental diet and as a result, your mental health. You can however, make the choice, no matter how challenging and dire your circumstances look, to take one step in a positive direction, today.
Choose 1, yes, only 1, of the 6 takeaways above and apply it today. Whether you start volunteering, avoid the news, or pick up a new book for your commute tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make the decision to do 1. 1 will lead to another, and soon, your mental diet will be just as clean in comparison to the foods Olympians eat.
Make your mental diet a priority right now! Because after all, garbage in, is garbage out.
Ps. If supporting mental health is important to you, I’m currently raising money for Canada’s largest youth led summit on mental health. We need your support! Please donate here or share this link with someone that would like to support mental health in Canada.
Till next time, stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “You cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change the direction”