We all know how important physical fitness is to our long-term health but mental fitness is just as important, if not more so. Mental fitness is your ability to respond to challenges in life with a positive rather than negative mindset. It is similar to physical fitness in that you have to keep building your muscles to stay in shape. You may feel that you are in shape enough mentally to face the up and down hills of life. What happens, however, when you face a problem that is more like a mountain? Once you build up the muscles to conquer a mountain though, all the small hills become much easier.
Shirzad Chamine, in his book Positive Intelligence, explains how we can strengthen our three core mental muscles and develop mental fitness. He did research on Stanford students, world-class athletes, and hundreds of CEOs and their executive teams. He combined knowledge from positive psychology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology and performance science to develop his concept of positive intelligence. The three core muscles of mental fitness are saboteur control, our sage and self-command.
There are two parts to our brain and they produce different thoughts and feelings. The survival part of our brain includes parts of the left brain, the brain stem and the limbic system. These are the parts of the brain that drive our negative reactions. The sage parts of the brain include parts of the right brain, the middle prefrontal cortex and the empathy circuitry. These parts of the brain drive our positive responses. Either of these sides of the brain can drive our actions and feelings. Negative thoughts and feelings can push us to accomplish things but that causes stress, fear, guilt and unhappiness. If we can learn how to instead be pulled by positive thoughts and emotions, we will be much happier with our accomplishments and enjoy the journey. We will be motivated by creativity, empathy, curiosity, and purpose.
Sometimes we linger in negative emotions and think that we need them to motivate us. The spontaneous negative emotions you experience when something happens are unavoidable and alert us to what needs to change. However, when we wallow in them and allow them to dominate our thinking and feeling, they prevent us from being able to see things clearly and to use creativity and focus to address a problem. These negative emotions are our innate saboteurs. They developed as defense mechanisms through our life and keep us from finding solutions to our problems.
The greatest saboteur in each of us is our judge. We all have some degree of judge in our minds, although how it manifests differs. The three parts of the judge are judging ourselves, judging others and judging circumstances. The self judge can also be thought of as our inner critic. This keeps us ruminating over something we did or said or leads us to brood over possible future failure. This can stop us from trying new things or even being happy when we have accomplishments. When we judge others, we are always trying to find something wrong and it poorly affects our relationships. Judging circumstances prevents us from enjoying the present moment and exaggerates problems. We may think that we will be happy when a certain thing happens, but then we always find something wrong or look for the next thing that we need to be happy. I was already aware of how I was judging others but learning more about how I judge myself, and the circumstances that I am in, really opened my eyes to what was causing me stress. When your judge dominates your thinking, you are constantly stressed, angry, and/or afraid.
There are nine other types of saboteurs and we all have different degrees to which each affects us. Shirzad developed the description of these through his research. They are Avoider, Controller, Hyper-Rational, Restless, Hyper-Achiever, Stickler, Pleaser, Hyper-Vigilant, and Victim. You can probably recognize some of these in yourself just by reading the list. You can also do an assessment free on his website at https://www.positiveintelligence.com/assessments/. Your assessment results will have descriptions of each saboteur so you can see how they affect you. If you would like to discuss your top one or two saboteurs, message me to set up a free twenty minute call.
If we know what our saboteurs are, we can be aware of how they are affecting our every day lives. We can recognize when we are being hijacked by our saboteurs and try to redirect our thinking to more positive thoughts and emotions. We can use our sage powers to steer our energy away from our saboteurs. I will talk about our sage and how to access its power to motivate us in my next blog.