You hear a lot about the need to remain physically fit, but have you ever heard about mental fitness? Mental fitness is not that different from physical fitness. Just as physical fitness relates to the health of your body, mental fitness relates to the health of your mind and emotions.
Mental fitness and emotional health go hand in hand. Research shows that mentally fit people are in tune with their thoughts and can recognize how their thoughts influence their emotions, choices, and behaviors. They tend to be more proactive and capable of choosing and directing their behavior to positively benefit themselves and others. As a result, mentally healthy and fit people are more open to experience a wide range of emotions that accompany the ups and downs of life and tend to recover better from stressful experiences.
On the other hand, individuals with poor mental fitness tend to have restricted cognitive and emotional experiences and struggle with understanding how their thoughts influence their emotions and behaviors. Such individuals experience anger, depression, anxiety, and can live with fear that prevents them from making healthy living choices. According to Aaron Beck (the father of cognitive therapy), the key to mental fitness starts by identifying your eight limited thinking patterns and changing them. These patterns are:
- Filtering: You focus on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
- Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There’s no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
- Overgeneralization: You reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. You exaggerate the frequency of problems and use negative global labels.
- Mind Reading: Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you have certain knowledge of how people think and feel about you.
- Catastrophizing: You expect, even visualize, disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me?
- Magnifying: You exaggerate the degree or intensity of a problem. You turn up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
- Personalization: You assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
- Shoulds: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty when you violate the rules.
The eight limited thinking patterns pose a challenge to most of us because every human being struggles with them. This list forces us to evaluate our own mental fitness and hopefully inspire us to change and improve. Just as regular exercise and attending the gym will improve your physical health, attending to your mental fitness will improve your emotions and overall health.