Although I normally fill this page with advice about how to look after your physical wellbeing and reduce pain, in recent weeks my most notable struggles with health have been in the mind.
I like to think of health like a circle. The circle consists of our diet, exercise, sleep, social life, relationships and mental wellbeing. There are experts out there to help you with each one of these facets, and although I am not a mental health expert, I can’t ignore it either because it is intrinsically linked to your physical health, and that’s where I can help.
I am very interested in philosophy and ideas that make our lives better. During these tough times recently, I’ve found myself falling to a few specific mental models that have made things a little more bearable.
Interestingly, as I start to feel better mentally, I find myself choosing to exercise and stretch more which makes me feel better physically, which in turn makes me feel even better mentally. There’s that health circle in action, you see!
Here are my three favourite mental models to help during the tougher days:
Many of life’s hardships feel hard because they happen so infrequently in our lifetimes. This lockdown and the global response to a pandemic is unprecedented in living memory. But what if we lived to be 1000 years old? This pandemic would just be another one to deal with, and if we were living in the latter half of our long life, we would have seen quite a few of these!
I like this as an idea because it helps me remember that we are not unique and that humanity has survived things just like this time and time again.
A branch of philosophy I have been gaining many life lessons from recently is Stoicism. One of the threads of Stoicism is something they call ‘negative visualisation’.
The idea behind it is simple, but it goes against much of the ‘positive thinking’ movement that has been popular for the last couple of decades. All you do with negative visualisation, is take the situation you are in right now and imagine it to be much, much worse. Once you are there in your mind’s eye, ask yourself, how much would you want to be back right where you are in this moment, just dealing with these meagre problems?
When you realise that life could be much worse than it is right now, even if it feels tough, it brings a sense of gratitude for the present moment.
I have found myself on many occasions during this whole COVID fiasco wishing it to be over. There has been a sense that life is ‘on hold’ until we can get back to normal. But actually, life is happening right here in this moment, all you have to do is notice.
Paying close attention to the present moment, whether it’s good or bad, helps you realise that right now, you are coping. Right now, can be beautiful. This moment is enough.
Being mindful helps me stop wishing time away. I’m not hoping to get to the other side as quickly as possible, I’m just paying attention to the tapestry of life with all the good and all the bad.
Applying these three models (and a few others I have tucked up my sleeve) helps me to stay sane. As I said above, this helps me feel motivated to exercise and it keeps me calm as a husband and father.
Working on this strategically helps keep my ‘circle of health’ balanced, and I hope it helps you too.