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Training for Your Mind

20 December 2020
Training for Your Mind

When people think of training, usually the first thing that comes to mind is weight training or cardio.  Also, when considering training, diet at some point is inexorably linked or eventually enters the conversation. What is almost never considered is training your mind via your thoughts. In this contribution I will attempt to make the argument that training your thoughts is vital to your wellbeing.

Consider some of the following statistics.  Psychology Today estimates that on the average we have between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts a day.  Of those thoughts, 90% have previously rattled around in your dome, and up to 80% of all those thoughts are negative.  If this is your normal state of mental chatter then you have what is referred to as a “negative dominance”.  This type of mindset does not only affect one aspect of your health, but rather the entirety of your wellbeing.

Doctors have discovered that high levels of negativity are correlated with increased degenerative brain diseases, cardiovascular problems and digestive issues.  They theorize that this is because negative thoughts and emotions keep the body in an elevated stress response. Of course the higher your stress response the higher your heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and likelihood of sleep abnormalities. 

Now it is well documented that first responders, because of the nature of their job, are at higher risk for mental issues.  For example, incidents of depression and PTSD are estimated to be as high as 5X that of the general public. If left unchecked, these mental issues can lead to some dire outcomes.  In fact, if you are a first responder, death by suicide is a far more likely outcome than perishing in the line of duty.

There is good news however, let’s not dwell on the negative.  Your mental outlook is to some degree a choice, or “mind over chatter” if you will.  In a 2013 article in the Journal of Research and Personality, they put forward that if you cultivate two virtues or aspects of your mind, you will receive great benefits and enjoy better mental health. These two virtues are grit and gratitude. 

In this article, grit is defined as psychological strength involving the pursuit of long term goals. A gritty individual not only accomplishes those short term tasks he or she is presented with, but also pursues long term goals.  In short, gritty people possess long term passionate pursuits which inevitably leads to a brighter outlook on the future.

The other emotion or aspect of your personality to nurture is gratitude. Gratitude can be described as noticing and appreciating the good that exists in the world.  According to Cicero (106-43 BC), gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. Over 2 thousand years later, science has finally caught up to Cicero. In a study in 2004, it was discovered that gratitude is one of the strongest variables that lead to improved mental health and life satisfaction. Together with “grit” gratitude boosts your mental health and also protects you from suicidal ideations.

During this “pandemic” with the lockdowns, maintaining a positive mental attitude may undoubtedly pose a challenge.  While lockdowns may make it more challenging to get a physical workout, a mental workout requires no equipment other than perhaps a quiet room.  Just remember, grit and gratitude are the dynamic duo of good mental health, apply them generously.  Be well.

bio photo

Lieutenant Michael "Sporty" Kilbane

Michael Kilbane is a retired officer from the Cleveland Fire Department having served for over 35 years.

In that time, he has spearheaded many efforts to advance the betterment of the division through wellness initiatives and grants. He has also authored a pamphlet on maintaining back strength and health for firefighters.  Mr. Kilbane’s education includes an undergraduate degree in both Philosophy and Natural Health, along with master’s level coursework in both Physiology and Philosophy.  He is also a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is recognized through that organization as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As a trained massotherapist, Mr. Kilbane has also witnessed literally first hand the damage done to first responders by over straining in some of the most hostile work environments. His most recent focus is utilizing kettle bells for functional training and is the author of The Athletes Ultimate Guide to Kettlebell Training.

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