How to engage in mental nutrition

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” -John Dewey

Word Count: 1056

Estimated Reading Time: 5.2 minutes

Greatness in athletes

I am never short on amazement at what athletes can accomplish. But their physical strength, displayed more prominently, often masks the emotional and mental strength it takes to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.

Besides transforming their bodies into vessels that achieve tremendous feats, athletes also engage in developing a strong mind. Physical and mental conditioning coalesce to develop greatness in athletes. Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s greatest marathon runner revealed that mental freshness and sharpness is of greater importance to him than physical conditioning.

Changing our outlook

We mostly associate “diet” and “discipline” with constraint or confinement. They seem to take the “fun” out of life because we view them from the lens of what we cannot eat or do. I chose the approach of seeing them in light of what I get to do because of diet and discipline. It’s choosing values over feelings. When we watch athletes accomplish the feats that make us jump out of our seats we must remember that not only the discipline of the body but also of the mind makes that possible. Kipchoge observed, “Only the disciplined in life are truly free.”  Because they are not fettered by the pendulum of their feelings or moods. Reflective thinking is a key mental discipline.

Taking your mid-year reflection

No one moves ahead progressively and successfully without taking stock reflectively. Peter Drucker, considered the father of modern management, advised, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” I know no better way to reflect than with questions. Simple, yet mentally probing questions. Questions that challenge your thinking. When we challenge our thinking we are exercising our minds. In case you didn’t know, your mind is like a muscle. Our mental strength grows or shrinks depending on how much we engage in thinking. Habits expert James Clear says, “Like a muscle that atrophies without use, mental strength fades unless it is tested.”

In today’s post, we will take a brief mid-year review to help us mentally set the tone for the second half of the year. This review comprises three key questions to activate reflective thinking. I credit the first two to James Clear, author of the highly recommended book, Atomic Habits and the third to Pastor Andy Stanley, a gifted communicator, and author of several thought-provoking books including his most recent, Irresistible Jesus. Consider the questions as food for thought. I believe asking and answering these questions will form a basis on which we can look to the second half with the hope that the best is yet to come!

1. What has worked?

I answer this question in light of what has made me better at life. I have found that by focusing on a few simple things that work, I can become a person of quality. One thing that has worked for me and paid dividends in the first half of the year is practicing gratitude. Looking around, there is no shortage of what to complain about. Add that to the fact life is not getting easier. We must choose to be better. How? One way is by practicing gratitude.

I fully concur with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and co-author of the moving and insightful bestseller, Option B, who gave a commencement speech in 2016 and noted, “Gratitude is a key factor in developing resilience. People who take time to list things they are grateful for are healthier and happier.” Granted that everything may not be going as planned, what are you thankful for right now? I have also discovered that gratitude is an often underrated but effective attitude adjuster.

2. What didn’t work?

By noting what doesn’t work, I am able to single out what is sapping or draining my energy. Most of us suffer from burnout not because we are working hard, but because we are expending energy in tasks that have low to no significance. One such activity for me is trying to control everything. The more control I pursue, the less peace I possess. Similar to a credit card, control promises more freedom on the front end but once we are hooked, it charges exorbitant fees. Peace of mind vanishes as quickly as anxiety sets in. Control eventually erodes trust which is the bedrock to healthy personal and professional relationships.

In my attempt to gain control, I end up losing control as I became overwhelmed.  Equally, I have noticed that when I need to have control, there is a fear behind it. Be honest with yourself, where do you need to relinquish control to enjoy peace? What are you afraid of?

3. What am I holding onto that is holding me back?

To explain this, Pastor Stanley used an illustration of trapping monkeys. A coconut would be hollowed and a banana placed inside. The other end of the coconut was chained to a tree. The hole in the coconut was large enough for the monkey to fit his open hand into but small enough that his clenched fist could not come out. Not willing to let go of the banana inside the coconut, the monkey became a captive of his own choice.

The inability to escape old and destructive thought patterns, decisions, and actions, keeps us from pursuing a better and higher quality of life. We end up banana monkeys, incarcerated by what we won’t let go.  

When I started writing, I realized that TV was my banana. It stole precious time that I could dedicate to growing my writing skill. I had to let it go. By freeing my time, I was able to publish my first book, write a second, and begin on the third. Needless to say, I found a greater return in writing than in watching TV. To quote Pastor Stanley, “What we often hold on to can be the very thing holding off our future.”

Final thought: If you and I sat down over coffee or a shared meal, how would you answer the aforementioned questions? How would your answers change your forecast for the second half of the year?  By reflecting on these questions and providing honest answers we can keep our minds fresh and sharp for the second half.

Keep on keeping on!

2 Comments

  1. Good evening Brother David, thanks for this thought provoking blog! It is so many things that were learned from your blogs in the first half of the year. I will just say my focus on life challenges has greatly improved because of your thoughtful blogs, thanks. Have a good evening, God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

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