Mental Hygiene for Your Brain
Let’s talk about all the different things you can do to take care of your mind. I believe that, as human beings, we have the privilege and the responsibility to take care of ourselves. To take care of ourselves physically and to take care of our brains. We all have a beautiful brain and there’s just a lot of things that we can do to take care of our mindset.
I’ve talked before about the things you can do to take care of your physical brain. Eating right, getting good rest, good sleep, being out in nature, getting exercise, good food. All of those things are important for your physical brain. But let’s talk about our mindset.
One of my family’s favorite quotes, because we hear it so much from each other, is Henry Ford’s quote: Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. That’s how important your mindset is. What you believe, how you talk to yourself. I’m just gonna assume that you talk to yourself like I do. I talk to myself (laughs). There’s the old joke that you’re only in trouble if you answer yourself. Well, I passed that mark a long time ago. I answer myself because I give myself the answers I want to hear!
Again, we’ll just assume you talk to yourself, you hear some sort of dialogue going on in your head. Whether you hear it in your own voice, and a lot of us do hear our own voices just making comments, a running commentary. Maybe it’s a parent’s voice or an old teacher, whatever. There’s stuff going on in your head.
I heard somebody last week say, and I love this question, “Are you your biggest encourager or your biggest discourager? Oh, that’s a great question to think about. It’s so good for us to have people that are our cheerleaders or our support team or our encouragers. But it’s up to us to be our own biggest encourager. And it’s also pretty easy for us to be our biggest discouragers.
Most of us are pretty accustomed to thinking about physical hygiene- keeping ourselves clean and presentable. Well, we need to think about mental hygiene. The word hygiene makes me giggle- I think it’s a weird word and I don’t like to use it. So I like to think of mental hygiene as “brainwashing”. I know brainwashing has a whole different connotation but for our purposes, brainwashing is keeping your mindset clean and effective, working for you so let’s think about the things that we can do to keep our minds clean and effective and strong.
You know, if you’re trying to eat right, you don’t eat a salad one day and say “Whew! Alright, I’ve done my good eating for the month- that’s all I need to do.” No. Maybe we WISH that was how it worked but it doesn’t work like that. We need to eat healthy stuff pretty consistently. Same thing with our brains. We need to feed our brains good information. We need to be sure that there’s good stuff, good talk, positive healthy talk going on in our brain for optimal mental hygiene.
Dr. Daniel Amen is a psychiatrist who’s been in practice for decades and one of the things he recommends is he calls them “tiny habits”. I like thinking of it like that. Little things you do through the day to keep yourself in a good positive mindset. One of the things he does, the very first thing he thinks about when he wakes up in the morning, he says “Today’s going to be a great day!”
Alright, there you go. You’re setting the tone for your day. Do you know what happens when you start your day saying, “Today’s going to be a great day”? Well, you look for things to make it a great day!
You know if you’ve bought a car, let’s say you’ve bought a blue car. You bring your car home in the driveway then you take it out and you’re looking around and you go, “Oh my gosh. I never knew there were SO MANY blue cars!” It’s because you’ve started paying attention to it.
We do the same thing with the words we’re thinking and how we’re preparing our brains and what we’re looking for. I think of it this way- what we focus on flourishes. What we prepare our brain to look for, we’re going to go out and look for those things. So if we start our day with saying, “Today’s going to be a great day!” we’ll go look for the things to make it a great day. Instead of “Ugh, today’s gonna be gross and yuck”.
Another thing you can do is to just be grateful. If you ever hear Oprah, she talks about having a gratitude journal to write down 3 or 5 or 10 or however many things at night. Write the things you’re grateful for during your day. You can do that at any point in your day, at morning, in the middle of the day, at night, all through the day. Write down the things that you are grateful for because, again, when you start paying attention to the things you’re grateful for, guess what, you’re going to notice even more things to be grateful for.
And I believe that when we have that attitude of just being grateful for our life, even if it’s hard, we can still find something to be grateful for. That just calls in more into our life and helps our overall attitude and mental hygiene. And we start to live the life we want to live.
So another way to think about what we focus on flourishes. When you’re phrasing something in your brain, don’t say don’t. (laughs) Because we have to think about the thing we’re saying don’t think about.
Like if I tell you, don’t think about a pink elephant. What do you have to do? You have to think about a pink elephant to then try and NOT think about the pink elephant. So when you’re talking to yourself and thinking about things or, ooh, you know as a parent, if you’ve had to parent or work with small children, don’t tell them don’t do that. Because they get focused on the THAT, not the don’t. There ya go, focus on the positive. It’s just another reason why to do that.
When people are thinking about positive psychology and positive thinking and just being a positive person, I don’t think it’s a Pollyanna kind of thing to do. I think it makes me more effective. Because I’m not looking at some pie in the sky unattainable way of life or way of thinking, I naturally want, I want good stuff. I’m selfish that way, I think we all are.
We want good things to happen to us and those we love. Focusing on the positive really helps direct us and bring in more energy and get us focused on the goal that we’re heading towards, whatever it is. If it’s a career goal, if it’s a personal goal, focusing on that in a positive way just brings better, more impactful, focused energy.
Other things that we can do to help our mindset- prayer, meditation, breathing. Just calmly doing some deep breathing. Some people respond better to thinking about it as meditation rather than prayer but talking to God, talking to a Higher Power, Universal Energy. Whatever works for you, however you want to think about it, that really helps with our mindset. It helps calm us, it helps take our attention off of ourselves and put it out into a broader spectrum That’s so helpful.
Other things- I love laughter. Laughter, humor– that helps with your mindset. It lightens and brightens the mood.
Touch, hugs. Comfort. You know, if you live alone right now, you may trouble finding people willing to hug you given that we’re all supposed to be physically distant from each other to keep the spread of the coronavirus down. But if we can’t physically hug, we can still maintain relationships and relationships, oh my goodness, they’re SO important for mental hygiene.
Different people are having different struggles while we’re staying socially distant and working from home and doing everything that we possibly can from home. People who are introverts I think the first couple of weeks were probably like, “Oh! I have prepared my whole life to do this and stay at home and not be out and about.” But it’s starting to wear and be stressful on a lot of people because we’re not just socially, physically distancing ourselves.
We’re becoming very isolated. So in particular if you’re feeling isolated whether it’s during this coronavirus time or not, if you’re feeling isolated, don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody. Whether you reach out and say, “Hey, how ya doing?” Or “Hey, I could use a little bit of help.” or “Can we talk? Do you have a few minutes?” Whether you call them on the phone or send them a text or a message, whatever you do, reach out.
Now if you’re uncomfortable asking for help or somebody to listen, who can YOU help? Who can you just reach out to and say “Hey, I was thinking of you. How are things?” Often when we need to kind of switch our mindset up it’s so good to take an action instead of sitting and dwelling in inaction and dwelling on the thought or MANY thoughts that are holding us back.
I was just looking at a study where molecular scientists have shown that stress, particular types of stress and repeated patterns of stress actually affect our chromosomes. Stress and anxious thinking, stressed thinking, harmful ineffective mindsets affect us physically. They stress us, they shorten our lifespan, they cause physical damage. So it’s not just a matter of taking care of our minds just so we’re happier and we think better. ur minds impact our physical bodies. It’s all tied together. You can’t really separate your physical body from your mental hygiene and health.
This is definitely not an all inclusive list of everything you can do to improve your mindset and mental hygiene. And you don’t need to do all of these things every day. But some days you might. Some days you might need to do everything that I’ve mentioned many, many times.
We’re human! This is what life is like. Some days are pretty smooth sailing and other days we just need a little extra attention. That’s the kind of thing that we have to do with our minds, with our brainwashing. We do it as often as it takes.
Back to one of my favorite Bill Murray quotes. “Be the best you you can be as much as you can.”
So peace, love and good mental hygiene, my friends.
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Life coaching tips from Tracey at TBrowning.
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