Life can be very challenging. We are constantly facing stressful situations at work, home, school, in the car...you name it. In many cases, our reactions to these situations can make things worse. If we let our thoughts and emotions get the best of us, we can negatively impact both our mental and physical wellbeing. As I discuss in my book Think, Learn, Succeed, uncontrolled thoughts and emotions run rampant through the brain, creating neurochemical chaos that can make us anxious, affecting our ability to think clearly and process information. This is one of the major roadblocks to success, and can allow other toxic thinking habits and mental health issues to take root.
So what are some of the major mental health mistakes that may be making your life harder, and what can you do about it?
· Spending too much time defining the problem and not enough time on formulating and executing a solid plan of action. When it comes to any situation we face, we often spend too much time focusing on the problem, and too little time focusing on the solution. Essentially, we can be quite good at recognizing what we need to change, but not the how, what and when. People often tell me in depth what they are going through, with but I rarely hear a plan of action. You do not need to have the answers all figured out, but too much talk and not enough action will not solve a problem. In fact, if we spend too much time ruminating on the problem we can get caught up in the emotions associated with the toxic thinking pattern, which can lead to emotional burnout, mental fatigue, and increased anxiety. When dealing with a situation, or just life in general, it is best to spend a limited amount of time of defining what the issue is, and focus more time on a plan of action. It is also important to be open minded about changing the plan as you go along, as life can be unpredictable! Think of different ways a situation can work to your benefit, so you don’t get stuck if one possibility doesn’t work out (I call this the “possibility mindset”, which I discuss in greater detail in my book Think, Learn, Succeed). I personally try to stick with a “one third plan” when it comes to dealing with a negative thinking pattern or a stressful situation: one third of my time I use to define and talk about the issue, one third to plan the solution, and one third to transform the solution into some kind of positive action. This is based on my 5-step process which I discuss in my book Switch on Your Brain, and which makes up the core of my SWITCH app. This 5 step process is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your mental health issue, and rebuild a healthy new neural network.
· Trying to change too fast. In today’s quick-fix culture we often want change to happen in an instant, but I cannot stress this enough: it takes time to change, so give yourself a break! Trying to change yourself too fast can cause unnecessary stress, making us more anxious and setting us up for what I call the “shame spiral” (for more information see my podcast episode on this) because we feel like we keep failing and are not able to change. But it takes a minimum of 63 days to change a negative thinking habit—when it comes to the mind, there really are no quick fixes and most people give up on day 4, so be patient! For more information on how to cultivate the correct “time mindset” see my book Think, Learn, Succeed.
· Comparing yourself to others. Comparison is a killer, plain and simple. It will keep you focused on what is happening externally, and allow things to go amuck internally, which can impact both your mental and physical health. You can never be like someone else, because the law of the brain is diversity: there is no one way of doing life or dealing with a situation. If you try to be like or act like another person, you will make yourself more and more anxious because you are setting yourself up to fail. You make a lousy someone else, but a perfect you, because you think in a completely unique and wonderful way. It is up to you, therefore, to design your own blueprint for success. When you find yourself comparing yourself to others stop, write down your thoughts, examine them, and think about what you are passionate about and what you have done in your own life. Think about who you are and where you want to be in life. If jealousy and comparison is something you struggle with, practice being intentional about not comparing yourself for 21-63 days to break this habit.
· Not exercising your brain every day. When it comes to mental ill-health, few people focus on the importance of learning for developing mental resilience and improving cognitive health. In my book Think, Learn, Succeed, I talk about how to build your brain correctly so as to improve memory and mental health! When we build our brains in the correct way, we increase our intellectual capacity, cognitive clarity and mental flexibility, which improves our physical and mental health and our memory. When we do not build memory correctly, on the other hand, we build toxic structures into our brains, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, intrusive thoughts and even psychotic breaks. So how can you exercise your mental muscles? Spend at least an hour every day on something that challenges your mind, whether it is reading a book, learning a language, or studying something that interests you. The more you build your brain, the more confident, and less anxious, you will be when faced with a challenge! It is important to plan ahead and choose something that will help you expand your knowledge base and develop mental resilience on a daily basis, so set aside a few hours every morning, evening or afternoon to read something, listen to a new podcast series, or learn a new sport or skill.
· Falling into the “if only” hole. We have all been there: we start thinking about how we could have acted differently in a situation, what we should have said or done and if only we had not said so and so. Consciously controlling our thought life means that we must not allow such thoughts to rampage through our minds. Instead, we need to learn to engage interactively with each of these thoughts, taking control over and learning to enjoy the moment we are in. I have always struggled with this—it often steals the joy from a moment or results in hours of stress and anxiety after something has happened. However, I did a 21-day detox reset focusing on this toxic thought, and it really helped me change this negative thinking pattern.