How balanced is your mental diet?
You have probably never heard of the term “mental diet”. It’s a term that I came up with when talking to my clients about their inner dialogue. We all have an inner dialogue and often we aren’t even aware of what we are telling ourselves, over and over, every day.
I refer to this inner self talk as your mental diet. It can be healthy or unhealthy. The healthier your mental diet is, the happier you will tend to be.
Characteristics of a healthy mental diet:
Regular positive self talk such as “I can do this”, “I will handle whatever comes my way”, “I am funny”, “I am good company” and so on. Inner dialogue is empowering and encouraging.
The ability to identify negative thoughts, challenge them and look for alternative ways to look at a situation. Example: “No one loves me” – this thought isn’t accepted as a fact and is challenged: “I have been loved in the past, this thought isn’t true. I am loveable”
There is less mind reading or assuming what others are thinking. We all ‘mind read’ to an extent. It’s important though to realise when we are doing it and remind ourselves that we are assuming. We can’t be sure of what someone else is thinking unless we ask them directly. The problem with assuming is that we often assume something that goes against us (eg. they didn’t reply when I said hello to them, obviously, they must not like me). This thought could be false and we take ourselves down a negative thought path that leads to unhappiness or anxiety. I mind read like everyone else, but I am quick to stop myself (when I catch myself doing it) and remind myself I am mind reading and don’t know for sure what someone else is thinking. Assuming is dangerous.
A healthy mental diet involves being aware of certain thinking errors such as rigid thinking. This is where we see things in absolutes – someone loves me or they don’t. Someone is good or bad. The world is far more complicated than that. We often use rigid thinking to try control/understand the world around us but rigid thinking leads to anxiety. Learn to be psychologically flexible – this is they key to contentment! Being psychologically flexible means you are able to generate many possible ways of looking at something.
If we lose our job and we automatically think, “I will never find another job. I am such a failure”, we will feel sad and unhappy. If we are able to generate alternative ‘stories’ (thoughts) we will feel less intense negative emotions. For example: “Maybe losing my job was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps there is a better position out there for me. Losing my job is not a reflection on me as a person. Shit happens”. This kind of thinking will lead to feeling less unhappy. What are you ‘feeding’ yourself on a regular basis?
A healthy mental diet also consists of keeping perspective. When something bad happens, we have a choice about how we wish to respond, what we want to think about it. We can choose to catastrophise and think that it is the worst thing ever and that we will never recover or we can be flexible in our thinking and tell ourselves that life may not be great presently but that change is inevitable as we won’t always feel this way.
Focusing on what is good is another characteristic of a healthy mental diet. Be appreciative of the good things and express gratitude.
There is a lot to be said for working on having a healthy mental diet. It takes practise but it helps prevent a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Learn to dismiss negative thoughts and focus on the positive ones that are helpful to you. Thoughts aren’t facts, you don’t need to take them too seriously.