April 12, 2022 11:01 | dr Uta Nachtbaur
Mental fitness is a buzzword in competitive sports. And it is much more! Mental fitness is relevant to each of us, both professionally and privately, and is crucial to success and satisfaction.
A quote from the sport of Frank Stäbler, bronze medalist in wrestling at Tokyo 2021: “Just a few minutes after the loss, I programmed my head to return to success and won the bronze.”
Being mentally fit means not reacting stressed, upset or anxious in challenging situations or setbacks, but rather calm, clear and focused. The basis for this is self-determined breaking out of the stress cycle and actively addressing what appears to be negative with a positive mindset. In principle, this is possible at any time, but what does that mean in concrete terms?
Stress can be when the project is falling apart, when you fail at a crucial point, you have a task that you don’t feel up to, the atmosphere in the team changes, when you are in the middle of a violent conflict in private or when you are in through a job, family and recreation can no longer be together, or, or, or! What for some is “normal madness” and absolutely feasible leads others astray.
Regardless of personality, disposition, experience, and practiced behavior patterns, we can change the way we deal with stress, become more mentally fit for the situation, and become more resilient to stress in the long run.
This will make you more resistant to stress in the long run.
What happens when we are faced with massive challenges? A mental cinema begins with “I’ll never make it!”, “How do I get out of here?”, “If only I had done more,” and so on. If we stay on this merry-go-round of thoughts, physical reactions set in as in the case of acute physical danger and we get stuck in the stress brain. The amygdala, the fear center in the brain, takes over: tunnel vision, “fight, flight or freeze” reactions are the result and the door to the creative center in the brain remains closed.
How can we train ourselves to be calm, curious, creative, focused, and strong in the midst of stress?
In the first moment of confrontation, stress reactions are absolutely normal and our ‘survival reaction’. Complete serenity would not suffice in the face of an acute crisis; the wake-up call of our brain is good to become present. You are mentally fit when you perceive your own stress reaction as a warning sign, immediately shift and calm down in inner and outer turmoil. This opens access to the creative center in the brain and we regain our strength.
Mental fitness can be trained just like physical fitness. Some dominate only flat routes without getting out of breath, some hills and few mountains. How can I, to put it figuratively, master the “mental mountains,” that is, massive crises, without giving in to stress, anger, or fear? How can I develop and increase my mental fitness?
Mental Muscles for Mental Fitness
There are three mental muscles responsible for interrupting the stress response, active mindset shifting, and strengths-based action choices. The effect when we activate them is noticeable in the acute situation. Stressful situations that used to bother you can now be addressed with calm, clarity, and focus. Mental training leaves neurological traces that can be detected on MRI. New neural pathways are built through repetitive use, new behavioral choices replace old patterns, and resistance to stress increases. Shirzad Chamine, founder of Positive Intelligence, offers research and effectiveness studies.
Attention focused in one direction.
A core of mental training is exercises for focused attention on a specific sensory perception, which can be used in any acute situation and produce an immediately noticeable effect. These exercises, called ‘PQ Reps’, activate the relevant brain regions and have a lasting effect through repetition. It is about ten seconds of directing attention to a sensual perception, hearing, seeing, touching, tasting or breathing. It is crucial that this is focused and not casual.
Exercise: PQ Rep via Touch
If possible, close your eyes during the exercise. Sit up straight and relax and take a few deep breaths. Now rub two fingertips gently against each other, using gentle pressure so that you can feel the fine grooves and ridges on both fingertips. Notice all the sensations and do this for 20 seconds. If thoughts arise, gently release them and refocus on the sensation. Now open your eyes.
What do you perceive? Do you feel more serenity, less carousel of thoughts?
Repeat these little tactile sensation exercises throughout the day if you like. Whatever you do, feel the touch only briefly. Pay attention to the texture and temperature of the coffee cup in your hand, the doorknob you turn, the elevator button you press, or the keyboard you type on.
This gives your brain a precious little break. You gain more control over your thoughts, actions and feelings – small exercises that help strengthen your state of mind.
dr Uta Nachbaur, PCC, CPCC, CPQC, is certified by the International Coaches Federation and works as a host for the ICF chapter in Stuttgart. As a coach and trainer, she works internationally across industries with executives and managers on communication, leadership, appearance, and mental fitness. She She is a partner of key 4c.
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