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Three Keys to Optimum Mental Fitness

How to exercise your psychological muscles

Most people know the importance of regular physical exercise. Few people know, however, that proper psychological fitness training is also very important for overall health and optimum well-being.

Indeed, just as stretching, cardio and strength training are the three foundation stones of physical fitness (along with adequate sleep and healthy nutrition, of course) there are also three crucial components of psychological or emotional fitness, namely affirmation, visualization, and relaxation.

Let's take a look at these three essential aspects of mental fitness under a higher magnification.

Affirmation: Basically, affirmation involves self-talk and thus recruits the dominant cerebral hemisphere (the so called "left brain" in most, right-handed people). Simply stating to yourself certain positive messages actually activates specific neural pathways that when strengthened tend to promote self-esteem and well-being. For example, reminding yourself of things like "I'm okay just the way I am;" and "I'm a good person even if I make mistakes;" or "I'm good enough, I don't have to be perfect" will buoy up mood and positive self-regard.

Visualization: In essence, visualization activates the non-dominant or "right brain" in most people thus exercising important neural structures that further enhance optimism, confidence, and personal effectiveness.

The major types of visualization techniques to use are goal images (e.g., "seeing" yourself having achieved a specific goal or outcome such as being 10 pounds lighter); process images (e.g., imagining yourself taking the specific action steps needed to achieve your goal such as eating more salad and less pasta); and relaxation imagery (such as picturing yourself on a beautiful beach during a perfect summer day).

Relaxation: Various forms of relaxation training have been used for centuries as a way for people to gain control (and even mastery) of many of their physical systems such as reducing arousal in their nervous system and calming tension in their muscles.

Just as there are several types of affirmations and visualization methods, there are a variety of relaxation techniques that can be used to good effect. Some people do well with progressive relaxation that involves alternating between tensing muscle groups and then letting them unwind. Other people find simply letting go of tension in their muscles without first tensing them works better. Other relaxation methods include meditation, self-hypnosis, biofeedback and some of the visualization techniques noted above.

Ultimately, by working out with these exercises in the gymnasium of your psyche you'll beef up your mental muscles and strengthen your overall well-being.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by: Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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