This is the last in a series of three blogs about building mental resilience. It offers some useful thoughts about getting mentally stronger, and practical tips you can apply in day-to-day life.
If you’ve read the previous blogs, you may remember Charlie Unwin. He’s a sports psychologist and Olympic coach. He tells us to focus on three areas – positive doing, positive thinking, and positive feeling. In this blog, our focus is on the last one – positive feeling.
What do we mean by positive feeling?
Everyone’s good at sensing when their head’s in the right place. We’re confident about our plans and progress. We’re on top of our game. But the opposite is perhaps more common. We can feel hijacked by feelings that don’t really work for us – or our loved ones.
The truth is that our feelings are active 24/7. Between waking up and turning in, we’ll go from happy to sad, bored to excited, indifferent to elated. It’s normal, and won’t change anytime soon. But we can work with these patterns. By understanding how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours work together, we can help build ourselves more useful habits.
Filter, filter, filter
Compared to our ancestors, modern people like us have a problem. Everywhere we turn there’s a flood of information. It can feel overwhelming, and this constant digital ‘noise’ can damage our resilience. The best way to maintain a clear head is to limit both what we consume and when.
Let’s look at this a bit more. Imagine that each thought creates an emotional ripple in your brain. Sometimes this ripple is big, and we’re very aware of the feelings that go with it. Sometimes it’s tiny and just passes by. But these ripples are always there. When we add extra news, stories and information, we add even more ripples. That makes it harder to prioritise the right things, getting in the way of our positive emotions.
Filtering tips to build resilience
- Cut down your junk news diet. Try this by rationing yourself to just one news bulletin a day – and not the 10pm one before bedtime. After two or three weeks, you should feel the benefits. Don’t be a sucker for the novelty of ‘breaking news’ stories on social media.
- Think and act local. This will stop you taking on the emotional burden of things happening around the world. Instead, focus on something you can do to make small differences within your neighbourhood. You’ll feel more positive because you’ll feel more in control. You’ll also get direct, personal feedback from helping other people.
Switching on and off
As a former Olympic coach, Charlie Unwin also warns us about the perils of over-working and over-training. It’s a lesson from athletics that we can take into our own lives. Top athletes used to focus on training longer and harder than the competition. Christmas Day on the running track? No problem. Then we started to learn that the best athletes took recovery as seriously as their workouts.
Working hard is good and stress helps us perform. But we must let our minds and bodies recover if we want to get things done and manage life’s emotional load.
- Learn more about sleep, and make sure you’re getting the right amount. Take a look at my blog on why sleep matters and get some tips for better sleeping.
- Think about how you organise your day. If life feels ‘always on’, you’re not restoring your energy. Can you structure your time with both ‘on’ and ‘off’ activities to get a more sensible balance?
Practise visualisation and self-talk
For some activities – like presentations or work meetings – you can use visualisation and self-talk to be more prepared. This can help you get things done with more confidence, focus, and connection. It can also help you dig deep during physical challenges.
How does visualisation work?
You simply imagine going through an experience in your mind. The more accurate you can be, the more you’ll lay down the same neural pathways you use in real life. Some people are so good at this that they can pick up the same feelings they get in the real-life situation. This allows them to practise regulating their emotions.
To prepare for difficult or tense situations, it helps to train yourself to breathe deeply and relax. To practise, follow these steps at the start of every day:
- Breathe deeply, counting in for five and out for five. When your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to your breathing for two minutes.
- On every out-breath, relax your body. Start with your head and face, working down to your toes, releasing tension as you breathe out. Keep doing this until your mind is calm.
- Visualise the day ahead, picking on key moments one by one. Notice any changes in your heart rate and mood while you’re doing this, pushing gently against them with a deep breath and relaxation. Imagine living through each key part of your day calm, upbeat, and confident.
How does self-talk work?
Not everyone gets on with visualisation, but positive self-talk can be a good alternative. You can rely on it anywhere, anytime, using it as a non-stop nudge to keep you going. It can keep negative feelings in check and bring out the best in you.
Remind yourself you can lose this weight because many have done it before. You can finish this marathon because you know friends who have. You can climb this mountain knowing that others have suffered even greater hardships. Use the heroic inspiring stories of resilience from your history and culture to make you feel stronger, with a nod of gratitude as you go.