Mental Wellness Requires Practice
By Featured Guest Lance Carter
It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to understand that good mental health requires an active practice. This makes some sense as I was never taught that good mental health required my participation. In fact, I can’t remember ever being taught about mental health or wellness at all. I, like most people, just assumed people are either happy or they are not and there’s not much we can do about it. Positive psychologists say that roughly 50% of a person’s happiness is genetic, 10% is circumstantial, and the remaining 40% is our own ability to impact our happiness through our choices, actions and practices.
Now, I understand that good mental health is just like good dental health and good physical health. The majority of kids are taught from a very early age they must brush their teeth daily. Their parents must constantly remind them day after day, so much so that kids finally make brushing their teeth a habit, a practice. I can only imagine if, as a kid, every night before going to bed I had learned to ask myself, “What three good things happened today?” or, “What are three things am I grateful for?” What would a practice of gratefulness, just like my habit of brushing my teeth, have done for my mental wellness? It’s very well understood that ignoring proper dental health has disastrous consequences to one’s teeth and gums. Why should we expect it to be different for mental health?
In addition, I have coached runners and triathletes for over 20 years. Never in a million years would I expect an athlete that only worked out sporadically from week to week to have optimum race performances. Sporadic, inconsistent training produces inferior results every time. Consistency in training is one of the most critical elements to a good race performance and to good physical health. For as long as I can remember, the Surgeon General has recommended at least 3 days a week of moderate exercise to promote good physical health. Perhaps I missed it, but I have never heard of a similar recommendation regarding mental health. Just as good physical health requires a practice, so too does good mental health.
Along with learning that optimized mental health requires a consistent practice, through trial and error, I developed a nightly practice that has produced incredible benefits to my happiness and overall mental health. Before bed, I ask myself four questions and write the answers in a journal:
- What happened today that I am grateful for?
- What can I celebrate today?
- How would I rate today and why?
- What am I excited about/looking forward to tomorrow?
Gratitude and meditation are some of the most recommended methods for improving mental health. Making a practice of writing down what I am grateful for each night ensure I am practicing one of these methods.
Celebrating our accomplishments is important. So many of us downplay our accomplishments, strengths, and “wins.” The practice of writing your accomplishments down daily reinforces not only what we have done, but it reminds us that we have value; we have self-worth. Think about how you respond when someone praises your accomplishments. Do you downplay them? Do you deflect the praise or try to shift the focus away from yourself? Do you make a self-deprecating comment? If you do, don’t worry, you're not alone, but it is important to take the time to remind yourself of what you’ve done well on a daily basis and you will find this practice builds your confidence. Allow yourself to list even the smallest of victories and things you’ve done well.
When I began rating my day (I use a 1-10 scale) as well as describing why I rated the day as I did, it took less than two weeks for me to realize the activities and people that contributed to higher and lower rated days. Right away, I could see that in order to have better rated days, all I needed to do was to make sure that my days included more of the things and people that improved my daily scores and less of the things and people that contributed to lower scores. Within two weeks my scores, which initially ranged from 4-7, moved up to 7-10 by making this change! I was very surprised something as simple as awareness could have such an impressive positive impact on my mental health.
Lastly, I use the technique of making a list of things I am looking forward to in the following day as a way of motivating myself to get out of bed in the morning. In the morning, when the alarm goes off and I don’t want to get out of bed, I go over my list again to motivate myself to get up and begin the day knowing I have things to look forward to.
This nightly practice has brought me a great deal of happiness and vastly improved my overall mental wellness. Mostly, what I have realized is that it’s less what you do and more that you do. Make mental wellness a practice. Find what works for you and find a way to practice it, and you will find that your mental health becomes stronger and healthier.
Featured Guest Lance Carter
Lance Carter is a nine time IRONMAN Triathlete, author, triathlon and running coach living in Seattle, WA.
He is committed to helping others live more fulfilled lives.
Check out and sign up for his weekly email at www.CreationOfHappiness.com where he sends weekly training and life tips.
You can also find both of his books available for purchase at Amazon. Live Big is one of my favorites!!