When it comes to your mental health, physical exercise is proven to provide some real benefits. It’s well-documented and well-known that an active body helps your mind reach its full potential.
But what about mental exercise?
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise for keeping your mind and your emotions fit. You’ll build your well-being and have a happier, more productive, more fulfilling life with these mental exercises.
1) Practice Gratitude
Thankful people are happier, according to just about any study you can lay your hands on. Gratitude is linked to better sleep, better physical health, lower rates of depression, and a host of other benefits.
When you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed, it’s a good time to think about the things that you’re most thankful for. You might even consider writing them down—some Harvard studies found an overwhelming positive correlation between this habit and a healthier mental and emotional outlook.
Gratitude benefits the other people around you, too.
When you express thanks to employees or coworkers, they’re much more likely to both work hard and feel appreciated. You can help your company run better. Relationships are the same—when both partners are working to express gratitude to each other, they’re more likely to stay together for the long term, and more likely to be happy in the relationship they have.
There are both internal and external benefits to the mental exercise of writing down the things you’re grateful for, or even just taking the time to think about them. You’ll be more mentally and emotionally fit if you incorporate this habit in your life.
2) Manage Your Time
If you’re not managing your time, it’s probably managing you. Most Americans—a shocking 80 percent—say that they routinely deal with stress every day. Surprisingly, almost 60 percent say that they have enough time.
It seems like most of us have a hard time managing our time so that we deal with things in a timely manner. Stress comes on us harder when we’re overloaded, but keeping our time scheduled out and well-paced will help us mitigate the effects of stress.
One of my favorite exercises for managing stress is called the Pomodoro technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, this technique helps you manage your time and your stress more effectively and not give in to the pressure that can drag your emotions down.
It’s simple: choose something to work on, then set a timer for twenty-five minutes. Work hard on that thing for the full duration of the timer, then take a short break (five minutes or so). Once you’ve done four of those cycles, take a longer break (twenty or thirty minutes).
That’s it. That’s all it takes.
But you’d be shocked how much you can lower your stress. This one simple step can help you get past the stress and pressure that drags your emotions down and create a better mental pattern moving forward. Try it—it’s simple, and all you need is a timer.
Meditation is starting to trend among people with stressful careers, and there’s a reason for it. One Harvard study indicated that meditation improves areas of the brain involving “memory, sense of self, empathy and stress”. Clearing your mind of all the tasks that you have for the day and just focusing on nothing for a little bit has a way of sweeping the cobwebs clear.
Set aside some time during your day to completely remove distractions. Lock the office door, walk to a park, whatever it takes. Then clear your mind and meditate. You’ll reap the benefits in increased clarity of thought, emotional steadiness, and lowered stress.
4) Turn Off the GPS
This one might seem like a bit of a curveball. What exactly does Google Maps have to do with your emotional or cognitive health?
Well, it turns out that as we’ve turned to GPS to tell us where to go, we’ve lost out on exercise that our brains used for other functions.
In one fairly extreme example, London taxi drivers were found to have very enlarged hippocampi, the area of the brain that’s responsible for spatial awareness. London is an extremely complex city, and very few people are likely to get close to this—it’s like comparing Olympic gold medal winners to regular people. But the benefits are there whether you need to find Piccadilly Circus or not.
When you have to navigate your way to a destination, you exercise the part of your brain that helps you build out spatial maps. This also has ties to decreased incidences of mental health issues.
That spatial recognition doesn’t just help you figure out where to go. It helps you study, as you place things into areas where you’ll remember. It helps you navigate your daily life, remember what you need to do. It helps you manage the stress of complex tasks. And if you let it atrophy, you’re cutting out a part of your thinking that could help you get through your day with less stress.
So next time you’re headed to that new place, try looking at a map. Put the phone away and see what happens. Your brain will thank you.
No matter what you do, managing your happiness, emotional stability and cognitive functions is essential. You can use these four tips to create a happier, healthier you. Build up that emotional well-being with these handy exercises.