Often when we think about mental health, we may conjure up images of perhaps the more negative side of the mind such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders or many other things.

But having a healthy mind is not just as narrow as overcoming certain issues but is all about the way in which we interact with the world on a daily basis. If physical health is full of nuance, growth, learning and development then so is our journey of mental health.

Perhaps a more helpful framework to use would be to think less about health and more about strength or fortitude.

Muscles are built not just to look good (although we’re not complaining if they do) but to be used for a purpose. Whether it’s weight to carry, obstacles to move or simply to defend yourself, not only does resistance engage our strength but it actually increases it. So simply to be healthy or strong in itself has little value.

Without a life to be lived, we are setting ourselves up for limited success because we lack a real clarity to our vision. But when we consider tackling the problems of the world around us, opening up the future for the next generation and fully engaging with the days and the purpose we’ve been given to live out then all of us can begin to see the benefit of a robust and strong mind.

The mind is the gateway between our inner and outer world and so almost certainly, success, effectiveness and enjoyment of life seems to be intrinsically linked to the state of mind we carry.

There are stories upon stories of those who have been physically or circumstantially disadvantaged and yet have managed to beat the odds. And rightly so we respect and revere such cases.

You can develop and grow a healthy mind and the good news is that however you feel right now, mental health is a journey. The only measure is moving forward in comparison to where you’ve been.

Life becomes much more enjoyable when we’re not pressured by the need to be perfect but instead are on a journey of getting stronger each day.

Here are five keys to staying on top of the game and getting stronger mentally.

1) Make a decision to move forward

Everything starts with a decision – this one is about the decision to move forward, grow, engage and lean in. Every journey must be chosen otherwise there will never be any movement. We have to decide to want to become stronger.

This doesn’t mean everything is perfect for you right now. And it also doesn’t mean that everything will fix itself instantly.

It just means that you are making a decision to begin the journey of moving forward.

The gym isn’t for people who are fit, it’s for people who have made the decision they want to become fit. But equally signing up to a gym membership doesn’t make you instantly ripped.

Results do eventually follow that decision though but it never happens the other way round. The commitment to look after and strengthen your mind isn’t just one you should make in a time of crisis. It’s something you should lean into right now.

It’s all about the decision to keep moving forward.

2) Create margin (but not a blank piece of paper)

We can get so busy rinsing the everyday grind that we don’t take the time to create margin in our lives. And ironically margin feels like wasted space until we begin to realise we’re falling off the page.

Rest, sleep, recreation, relational connection and spiritual community are just some of the things we need to do to create a healthy balance in our lives. These are all things that rebuild and restore you.

I’ve been recently challenged to stir up my love for music, playing, listening and writing etc. Because I realise that these things actually strengthen and restore my soul. It’s helping me become more creative and think clearer.

For the more driven around us, it’s not a waste of time but an investment into your future.

I will add a note though – I’ve seen people tip into laziness under the guise of creating margin. Remember that margin in itself is not enough for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Margin alone will give you the grand total of nothing which in itself will create issues in your future.

Endless holidays and weekends away whilst adding little value make for poor mental fortitude. Margin is there to create necessary restbite and restoration for the purpose you are living out. So work hard to add significant value and then play hard.

I talk more about how tiredness is good for you in this blog post.

3) Add grace to personal responsibility

Thankfully society has become increasingly kind and aware of the issues around mental health. There is more grace and understanding for those on a journey of mental health.

However society seems to have a tendency to be somewhat pendulum-like and in an effort to be loving, sometimes the other side of personal responsibility has been lost.

We do have to acknowledge that rightly or wrongly, this is the life we live and this is the mind we have.

We don’t have control over many parts of our lives including genetics, background, upbringing etc which definitely do affect many parts of who we are, including our mental struggles and fortitude.

There were many parts of growing up that I have felt self-pity over and certain trauma that was absolutely unfair. But that does not change the fact that this is my life from now on.

Health can only follow ownership because we always look after things better that belong to us.

And discarding personal responsibility is conducive for poor mental health. I talk more about it in this post about anxiety.

4) Surround yourself with strength

I’m not talking about being exclusive or clique-y. But surrounding yourself with people who are on the wrong trajectory will always take you where you do not want to go.

The sad reality is that not every person wants to go to the next level.

And unfortunately some people enjoy their dysfunction and prefer the comfort and familiarity of it over the potential pain that future growth may bring.

I say this with no judgement because that’s every individual’s decision to make for themselves but when it comes to who is attached to my future, I have a responsibility to surround myself with people on the journey of strength.

When you link in to people with poor thinking and bad behaviour, it excuses your own. But when you are connected to people trying to go to the next level, you’ll find yourself being held to account and lifted.

It’s interesting to me that grumpy people always find other grumpy people. And those with a bad attitude always find someone else with a bad attitude to complain about the state of affairs.

We should be kind and friendly to all people, regardless of where they are at. But when it comes to the plane of your mind, it’s well worth putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others.

6) Redefine your problems as temporary

Labelling your problem as permanent is the quickest way to stay where you are. Clinical definitions and chemical realities are real. However, we should be very careful about how we define what’s happening inside us and speak over who we are.

The word disorder for example is often (but not necessarily always) intrinsically unhelpful in daily life as it defines what we’re facing as something outside of our control. It also ironically legitimises our experience as a version of normality.

Looking back at growing up, I almost certainly had what would be described now as social anxiety disorder. But I’m very grateful I never had an official diagnosis (mainly because I didn’t talk to anyone).

And as time went on, I did make some very deliberate decisions to expand my comfort zone which completely changed the game for me.

But if I had known/thought I had a disorder, it would have been very unhelpful to my journey of personal growth.

Another more insidious example is the word busy. I, like you, frequently have conversations with people who talk about being too busy for xyz. When you say ‘I am too busy’, you’re acknowledging that you are not in control and that life is simply happening to you.

But in reality it’s a scapegoat word that allows us to skirt the real issue – a lack of priorities and developing better organisational skills.

Choose new language that allows what you’re experiencing to be temporary and creates a path of transformation.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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