Take Your Brain to the Mental Gym

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.

Click here to download my free mental gym workout planner!

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.

Click here to download my free mental gym workout planner!

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.

Fierce Faith Friday: Just do it

Pastor Craig Groeschel says this routinely:

Everyday Do something

When the Pastor who has built the largest church in the country from the ground up gives you very clear clues on how to make your own success, you listen.

When’s the last time you did something that required faith? That required you to depend on God or lean on God to get through it?

Personally, I know exactly when that is something I’m doing. It’s when you’ll hear me blaring Chris Tomlin in my radio. I have the physical need to sing out:

I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always on my side.

Yes, if you hear me belting that out it’s because I need an injection of faith for what I’m about to do.

On the secular side, jumping outside of your comfort zone is always worth it. Growth is always worth it. It doesn’t make it easy. And that first step can be terrifying.

But just think about what’s come next each time you did it?

  • Landing in the pool after jumping off the diving board.
  • Making a lifelong friendship that started with you awkwardly striking up a conversation
  • Getting the job after that sweaty-palmed interview.

I remember the first day I taught PIYO (choreographed fitness class). I was literally shaking in fear. That was new for me, I’m not normally nervous. Or maybe I had just got used to being in the comfort zone.

Teaching PIYO was one of the greatest gifts ever though! Some amazing friendships began in PIYO, the skills I developed, the muscles I toned. It was totally worth that first shaking, heart pounding step!

When you add the element of faith in to stepping outside of your comfort zone, it gets really interesting. While stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that requires complete and utter faith is scary, it’s also gold. That’s because on the flip side, your faith grows. It’s like this awesome cycle of…awesomeness. Hear. Do. Survive & thrive. Faith grown. Then, the next time you hear, you have a little bit more faith to take that leap. Before you know it you’re doing incredible things for GOD! You’ve gotten kind of used to living in faith rather than living in fear.

I’m here to tell you friends, it’s an addictive feeling. It’s exhilarating. It’s rewarding because you are growing as a human and in your relationship with God. You’re also confirming what you’re hearing from God which, oh by the way, also grows your faith.

Recently, a few things I’ve done that required faith have been:

  • Starting a new business career.
  • Moving across the country when I was totally and completely all set professionally, personally and family-ly.
  • A job interview.
  • Meeting with someone who would say yes or no to the vision I believed God had cast for my business.
  • Paying off all my debt.

Today I took another step. I spoke to a group of women about willpower. Now, I talk about willpower all the time. But this was different because it was a group of women I’d never met, a group of women who might not even care what I had to say. But, the vision God’s given me requires refining my speaking skills. And the doors have opened with little effort, even though I could’ve stood a little more delay. So here I am. Rather, there I was. Again doing something I wasn’t good at or comfortable doing.

But I did it anyway. Christy Wright says we should “Do it scared.” The bible puts it this way:

mountains (3)

So, tell me, what can you do today that requires faith? It certainly doesn’t have to be public speaking. Maybe it means giving in on an argument you know you’re right about but you’re hearing you should probably just let go. Maybe it means talking to that person who you can tell is down even though you don’t know them and you’re afraid you’ll look like some kind of creepy stalker. Maybe it means tithing at church. Whatever it is for you, I challenge you to grow your faith by using it today.