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Monday
Oct212013

Maybe you aren't mentally weak

Do you think sometimes that you are mentally weak? Are you the kind of person who has good intentions of doing a hard task but it never gets done? An example might be that you decide to pick up a new hobby, let’s say you want to start painting. You do your research and figure out that you need new tools for this hobby so on the weekend you go and spend your money. The cost is higher than you think but it doesn’t matter because come next week you are going to be painting and who knows where this will lead you in the long term, you may end up becoming the next big thing in the art world. The Sunday night before you go to bed you think to yourself, ‘I’m going to try and paint 3 nights this week’. You fall asleep excited by the prospect of bringing something new into your life, you feel you’ve needed this for a while.  

Fast forward to the following weekend and all your good intentions have lead to no action. The paint brushes still look new and the paints haven’t even been opened. While a week ago these tools represented an exciting activity that you felt you needed, they now start to make you feel guilty. The more that time goes on, the more you are reminded that you never get around to doing things that are good for you. These painting tools just make you feel bad. 

A lot of us have these tools lying around, tools that represent failings from previous ambitions. When we see them they can make us feel bad about ourselves and can reinforce a negative esteem. You can see why people see themselves as mentally weak when they can’t even do the first step in starting a new activity. But I wonder if there is a different way of looking at it? Maybe it’s not that you are mentally weak, maybe it’s just that you are trying to put a mentally hard activity into a time slot where you are already mentally tired. 

Research over the last few years has shown that your mind is like a muscle. When you do bicep curls in the weights room your biceps will be fine at the start but after a certain period of time, depending on the weight and your ability, your muscles will tire to the point where you have to stop. This makes sense to us, muscles can’t go forever without a rest. It’s the same thing with the mind. When you are involved in mentally challenging activities your mind fatigues and gets less effective as time progresses. 

Most of our days are filled with habits. Habits are good because they require hardly any mind muscle but within everyone’s day there are activities that make your mind muscle do more work than usual. It may be a demanding task at work, a challenging conversation you have to face with someone or it may be a new activity that you aren’t competent at. You come away from these situations with a mind that is fatigued.  

Thinking about this mind muscle idea we can revisit my question at the top of this piece: Do you think sometimes that you are mentally weak? In the painting example you were planning to paint 3 nights during that first week, now we know that because painting is a new activity it’s going to be one of those tasks that uses your mind muscle to a high level. We also know that at the end of the day you are tired, at this stage in the day your mind is fried. So by planning to put a mentally hard activity in a time when your mind is fatigued it’s no wonder that those paint brushes keep that new look. 

When we can see mentally challenging activities approaching and we understand that we need a fresh mind space to do them, we can plan these activities at the right times. You may be too tired at night but there will be an alternative time when you aren’t, this is the time to get those painting brushes out.

Maybe you aren’t mentally weak after all, maybe you just need to plan ahead for the use of your mind muscle so you are setting yourself up for success. To me this seems like a much better way of approaching things. 

 

 

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