An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego."
He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied "The one you feed."
Mental Fitness can be defined as our capacity to handle life’s challenges with the minimum of stress or negative emotions. If you're not physically fit, you're likely to feel out of breath and uncomfortable if you try any strenuous exercise. If you're not mentally fit, you'll react with fear, guilt, frustration, disappointment when something 'bad' happens or life doesn't go as you'd planned and hoped.
What Mental Fitness gives us is a framework, a system, a construct for growing 'muscles' that switch us from our habitual (negative) thought and behaviour patterns into a more positive, creative, calm and clear-headed way of being. We've already got access to this; it's just not as well-developed and strong because we don't use it that often.
These 'muscles' are:
Identifying and intercepting our 'saboteur' thougths and behaviours
Bringing ourselves back to neutral
Moving to our 'sage' way of being
Growing these muscles over time (increasing our Mental Fitness) gives us access to improved performance at work and at home, better relationships with ourselves and others and the peace of mind and calmness that come with contentment, optimism and happiness. Who wouldn't want that?!
What are Saboteurs?
They’re the voices in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, not clever enough, not thin enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough …
They’re the anger that bursts out of nowhere, the frustration we bottle up, the anxiety and fear that sits heavy on our chest
In the Mental Fitness framework, we have 9 'types' of saboteur and, typically, you will be impacted by 2 - 3 of these on a regular basis. For example, my top 2 are Pleaser and Avoider: this means I act from a place of wanting others to like me rather than doing what I want (Pleaser) and I tend to put off unpleasant tasks because I don't like the feelings associated with conflict or discomfort (Avoider).
To find out which saboteurs are messing with your life, take the assessment on the Positive Intelligence website.
There's also a universal saboteur we all experience: the Judge. The Judge's speciality is in judging ourselves (not good enough), judging others (holding me back), and judging circumstances (I'll be happy when...). And this tends to be the loudest and noisiest voice you hear; pretty much on a constant loop.
None of these make us feel good about ourselves, or others or our situation, so how do we quieten them down so that we can start having some peace and clarity and focus on the things that make us happy?
Start by tuning in to your thoughts and noticing how they make you feel. If you feel bad (anxious, fearful, guilty etc), tell yourself that’s a saboteur thought: the very act of identifying it as saboteur (doesn't even matter which one!) creates some distance between the thought and you. If you can create a gap, you've got the opportunity to choose: you can go on listening / acting the same way and feeling bad or you can choose something different.
Back to Neutral
Coming back to neutral is about bringing yourself back to the present moment: out of your head and into your body. Doing this creates a firebreak between the thoughts flying round in your head and the peace and calm you can choose to access. It interrupts the spiral of negativity you might find yourself caught in; rescues you from saboteur hijack.
It can be done with eyes open or closed by, for example, rubbing 2 fingertips together with such attention to detail you can feel all the ridges on both fingers, focusing on sounds far away then near, or concentrating on the feeling of your chest or stomach rising and falling as you breathe. All of these things are focusing on physical sensations rather than doing more meditative practice which keeps you in your head: try it now and see how it makes you feel.
Accessing the Sage
The concept of having a sage presence within you might seem a bit 'way out' but it's simply a way of describing you at your best: how you are when you're happiest, most creative, doing things you love, in a state of flow. It's the essence of who you are as a unique, beautiful human being: look at a picture of yourself aged about 5 and you’ll see your sage. It’s the person you were before your saboteurs developed; it’s the person you still are right in the centre of your being.
The exercise of bringing yourself back to neutral allows you to access your sage powers of empathy, exploration, innovation, calm, clear-headed focus. The emotions you'll feel in this state are ones of curiosity, optimism, enthusiasm, joy. From here you can create anything you want and you'll do it with confidence, grace and ease.
It takes time and practice to build these Mental Fitness muscles but the rewards are worth the effort. The possibilities for you are limitless.
"...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"