Don’t ignore the other half. While its important to be physically strong and healthy, sharpening your wits is too often ignored.
To maintain the body we have built, we eat food several times each day. Some of us watch the quality of what we eat, read countless labels for trans fat and calories, track the quantity of calories, and spend money on books that design diets for us or offer healthy recipes. A smaller percentage of us hit the gym or the road, wearing out perfectly good Nike’s or ASICs as fast as we can. There is no doubt that physical fitness is important for living our lives to the fullest now, and even more so when we get older. Does anyone really plan to do nothing but sit in a chair the last 20+ years of their lives?
This national obsession regarding physical fitness has blinded most people into ignoring the other half of the fitness equation: Mental fitness is just as important, or more important for lots of reasons.
Our smarts, our attitude, our wisdom, our situational awareness, our ideas, our drive determine what we do, how well we do it, how much value we add to the economy, and where we end up. A person’s mental fitness results in promotions or stagnation, excellent parenting or kids gone wild, inspiring goals or no dreams, great plans or aimless wandering through life, optimism or pessimism, courage or cowardice, a fulfilling career or drone-like work.
In truth, you need both: a body with health and vitality to get you “there” and a mind that wants you to go “there”, wherever your “there” really is.
Your mind needs good food daily. When was the last time you read a good book that inspired you? How many books have you read this year? (Here’s a good one – Tipping Point) You feed the belly daily when the body gets hungry. How often to you feed your mind? Conversely, how much time do you turn the noggin completely off and watch the game, singing contests, or sitcoms on television?
The internet offers the potential to do much better because we can look for specifics. There is really good stuff to be found on the web if you sincerely search for it (see ted.com for an excellent example), but there is exponentially more trivia, garbage, disinformation, and fluff on the web as well. The book paradigm remains the overall best source — authors struggle for months and years to produce the best they can on a specific topic, and the result is that good books really fill you up with fresh thoughts and nurture the imagination.
Your mind needs a workout too, in addition to wholesome sustenance. Your mind does not get a workout when you repeat mostly the same things day in and day out for months on end. On the other hand, if you do something creative, something unusual, or learn something new, your mind blossoms and grows, much like your biceps grow after a few months of serious curls at LA Fitness. The simplest, most accessible creative work you can do is writing. When is the last time you wrote a well thought-out letter? Better yet, when is the last time you researched a topic and wrote a report on what you learned? Have you ever written a poem or a song? Or a comic strip?
The problem, of course, is that feeding and exercising your mind takes planning, scheduling, and commitment, just as physical fitness at the gym takes planning and scheduling as well. Good things don’t happen by mistake — planning is mission-critical for achievement and excellence always is preceded by habit. Either you plan your time, or other people’s urgencies will do it for you. Daily habits are the answer to many things in life — one book, no matter how good, read in a few days, is not nearly as good as a year of reading just 15 minutes each and every day, with your first cup of coffee or tea.
When you focus on your mind’s fitness, plan specific time for it, feed it good food on a daily basis, and find creative exercise for your mind, you will find that it helps improve optimism and productivity across all the facets of your life.