Like any muscle in the body, your brain grows stronger as you use it. That’s the concept of the mental gym which suggests you treat a “brain workout” as seriously as you would a workout at the gym. That means employing the same intensity, discipline and the same process of stepping outside your comfort zone to get results. Two practical ways you can do this is to intentionally put good stuff in and to intentionally practice being quiet.
Our brains are bombarded with information these days, constantly. More than ever before. Unfortunately, most of it is noise or it’s negative. You have to make the conscious decision to put in good stuff. On purpose. What kind of good stuff? Well, there’s all kinds of choices out there from good music to podcasts to audiobooks that you can get in while driving, working out or even folding laundry.
I remember the first time I considered reading a personal development book “for fun.” I remember rolling my eyes thinking, I don’t even read for fun, let alone for “development.” Mom of three and running two part time businesses! No way Jose. So, I decided to listen to those books instead. I did that while driving the 11 hour drive to see my parents and I did it while setting up for workouts. I did it while doing dishes and I did it while folding laundry. As you might have guessed, I got pretty addicted. It was pretty incredible. It required me to think and question things I’d had on autopilot. It was a way better use of my time than many of the other things I’d been doing or listening to. It set me up to be a better mom, wife, coach and simply a better human. It certainly built the brain muscle.
Then there are these things that usually come in rectangular shapes and are stuffed with rectangular pieces of paper that have lines of ink printed across them. Books! I say that in a funny way because as adulting sets in, reading can be one of the first things to go. And yet, reading is by far one of the oldest and best ways to exercise your brain. After doing the mental work to improve myself and my brain, I suddenly found space in my life to read again. Which was great because while listening is good, reading has that awesome textile element. I like feeling the pages. It also forces you to indulge in some you time, and it probably has to be quiet. Which brings me to my next point.
Make it a point to be quiet sometimes. Personally, I have to get up really early in the morning or go to the library to get that around here. I do that because getting quiet, specifically praying and meditating are habits both the most successful and the the most happy people have in common. If you consider Grammys to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Carrie Underwood a success.34 If you consider Superbowls to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Tom Brady successful.35 If you consider wealth to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Mark Zuckerberg to be successful.36 If you consider Oprah successful, then you’re human.37 They’ve all spoken about their daily habits of praying and/or meditating. It’s not a coincidence.
Scientists have an entire field called neurotheology that looks into the changes in our brains when we pray and meditate. And they’ve made a lot of cool findings like increased dopamine and serotonin levels (happy hormones!).38 BUT! They’ve also found that these can develop into permanent changes in your brain.39 Guys! That’s a mental workout, and those changes are the muscles you’re proud to show off now! Moreover, we know that prayer elicits the opposite of the stress response called the relaxation response.40 Most of us have way too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
Thinking it’s a good idea is one thing, doing it is another. Personally, I like to begin the day with time at the mental gym. I like to start the day with prayer and silence for as long as possible. That’s why I get up at 4:30 or 5 am sometimes! Beginning your day quiet, with gratitude and intention is a game changer. Likewise, meditation is simply taking the time to calm your mind and become inwardly focussed. That’s huge in today’s crazy, chaotic, rushed and zoned out world. To change the mindset, to truly change the way we think and believe and speak and see ourselves, we have to work for it. You have to work to get your mind right.