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The Gym Of The Mind – How To Mentally Train

Updated: Jul 11

“That's why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes, we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.” – Epictetus

We should view and treat our mind as we view and treat our bodies. We all know the benefits of an exercise regimen, going to the gym, eating healthy, resting, and sleeping well, testing ourselves physically, and knowing that all this has lifelong benefits. But what about the mind? Do you take it to the gym? Do you purposefully test it to its limits? Are you treating it the same way you would your body?


The brain is an active and live tissue. And is arguably your greatest gift. Are you looking after it for your long-term benefit? Or are you just simply relying on your default settings and hoping to improve your mind by life experiences that get thrown at you? Are you inputting poisonous and toxic waste into your mind subconsciously?


In the 1970’s there were few public access gyms available. People used to go jogging on the road, run around a track, go swimming, play sports, and do some plyometrics at home or in group settings to get fit and stay in shape. Buying a gym membership was an alien concept.


Fast forward to today, gyms, and all the offshoots, (think CrossFit, bootcamps, HIIT, etc,) are a multibillion-dollar industry and readily available to almost anyone.


I would like to think that where we are right now for working on the mind, was like gym access in the 1970s. There are some great programs, courses, professionals, and apps out there now and people are much more aware of mental health issues. This is great and encouraging. I have been a beneficiary (and continue to be) of several apps and courses that have helped make me more aware, more mindful, and ultimately more resilient and, mentally tougher. But the adoption of deliberate and specific mental training, the gym of the mind, is still rather slow overall.


People are beginning to understand that the mind should be taken to the gym on a regular and consistent basis. Focussing more on prehab rather than rehab. Why wait until a mental breakdown to seek help? Why not train and prepare the mind so when conflict or difficulty arrives, you are more prepared to handle it with a strong mental state? Think about the above quote at the start of this blog.


Very few people can simply watch an instructional video or share something explained and then know, backward and forward, how to do it. You must do something several times to truly learn. One of the hallmarks of the martial arts, military training, and athletic training of almost any kind is the hours upon hours upon hours of monotonous practice an athlete of the highest level will train for years to perform movements that can last mere seconds or less. The two-minute roll, how to escape from a chokehold, the perfect jump.


Simply knowing isn't enough it must be absorbed into the muscles and the body. It must become part of you. Or you risk losing it the second that you experience stress or difficulty. There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is the lived experience of the knowledge gained.


I use a lot of Stoic principles and philosophies within SquashMind, and I believe the way these ancient thinkers worked on and practiced the mind, and cultivated mental strength in all areas is relevant now more so than ever. You can find a lot of lesson in the app if you simply search for the word Stoic.


Marcus Aurelius was one of the most well know Stoic practitioners and his words and journals have been published and we are lucky enough to have access to them. However, Marcus Aurelius wasn't writing his meditations for other people. He was actively meditating for himself. Even as a successful, wise, and experienced man, he was until the last days of his life practicing and training himself to do the right thing. Like a black belt, he was still showing up to the Dojo every day to roll like a professional athlete, he showed up to practice each week even though others probably thought it was unnecessary.


“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength. – Marcus Aurelius

You can't practice something once and expect your mind to align to it when the world is crashing down around you. You need continual, dedicated work and practice to respond in the most appropriate and beneficial way. Just because something does not work once does not mean it will not work in the future. Try and not dismiss something after a few tries, or if it fails you when you most need it. Maybe it was not quite right in that exact moment. Give it fair dues.



In summary, it would be my hope that after reading this blog, and the subsequent tips below, that you seriously think about the amount of real and dedicated work you are doing for your mind. It is easy to start, you just need to take the first steps and break it down into small and manageable pieces that you can perform on a steady and consistent basis.


Below are some practical tips that I personally use and would highly recommend you try to begin to exercise the mind in the most positive and healthy way you can.


“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius


PRACTICAL TIPS


- Become more aware and ask yourself are you taking your mind to the gym regularly enough?


- Start a habit and build in dedicated time daily to work on your mind and keep it active and healthy. Be deliberate and intentional with this and set aside 10/15/20-minutes minimum per day to work solely on your mind.


- Meditate. When it comes to training the mind, it is hard to look much further than meditation. Meditation sometimes can be seen as this big and scary thing, as well as this thing that does not really serve a purpose and is a bit soft and fluffy. It is neither of those things. The thing about meditation, and where the real practice lies, is the ability to notice when your mind has wondered (as it always will), and then to gently bring it back to the present. This practice is ongoing and constant and it’s about doing this without a judgmental mind or disposition. Forcing yourself to sit still and not think and just focus is wrong and not of any use. The practice of meditation is to bring yourself back to the present time and time again. This can then transfer from the formal sitting practice of meditation into all things we do in life each and every day. And the present is where life really and truly takes place. A wonderful place to be in!


- Use the SquashMind app for Daily Insight lessons, hearing from The Experts, checking out the Knowledge section, practicing Meditative Ghosting, working on Meditations, reading the daily inspirational quote, and all-in-all, use the app to be your daily accountability partner for your gym of the mind. The SquashMind philosophy is; “get the theory, get the tools, get to work”. It’s there at your fingertips.


- Consider booking in some 1:1 lessons either in person or via Zoom with a professional to talk about your mind and mental struggles you may be going through. You do not need to wait until there is a problem to start speaking to a professional. Remember prehab is way better than rehab. It is encouraging now in the modern world that seeing a therapist or specialist is no longer taboo and is highly encouraged and recommended as part of a healthy and balanced mind. I do plenty of online Zoom lessons every week helping players both for their on and off-court lives. Please do reach out to me if you would like to discuss working together.


- Journal. This is one of the most powerful and effective habits to get into when working on your mind. It is a phenomenal practice that can be performed to bookend each day. Start with a few minutes of intentions and gratitude each morning. Then look to put your day up for review at the end of the day and reflect the good, and not so good, that you have done.


- Deep work and focus. We live in a world of constant attention-grabbing apps with everything at our fingertips and instant access to pretty much anything. It’s almost like we are living in one giant casino being fed constant little pulses of dopamine hits by the notifications we endlessly receive. The skill of performing deep work and focussed execution of this deep work is becoming a rarity in the world. This is something that we need to work on and practice. The mind shapes to what you feed it. If you are feeding your mind bad habits such as continual multi-tasking, chasing the dopamine hits, and attention switching, these parts of the brain grow stronger. How do you then expect to lock into something with full attention and detail if all you have done is jump from one social media platform to the other and disappear down a YouTube rabbit hole?


- Deep play. Linked closely to deep work, entering a state of deep play is a great way to mentally train your mind. This is not just meant to be a frivolous activity to fill some time or to keep you from getting bored. Deep play is deliberate, challenging, fun, and intrinsically motivated. You want to find an activity that you do because of the way it makes you feel. The way your skills and mind can be stretched to their limits. Doing something because you are curious about it. A sense of satisfaction when immersed in the activity. Some examples may include learning a musical instrument, taking on a new language, amateur photography, discovering a new sport, or a coding course. Can you approach the activity with a beginners mind and use this as mental training?


- Go for walks and remove distractions. Being able to go for a walk and not take your phone is something not many people do. Try and make going for walks a habit during your week and whilst doing so do it simply for the act of walking and letting your mind wander. This is working on your mind. It is healthy and good for you. Being in this always on, 24-7 world is bad for us. Our brain is not wired to be like this. Our brain has not evolved that much in thousands of years, but the world around us has changed drastically. You need to be able to slow down, turn away from the distractions and constant noise, and be at peace and present in both body and mind.


- Reflect and think deeply. Linked to a few of the above tips such as journaling and walks, begin to get in a habit to reflect and think deeply. You need to find dedicated space to do this and for it not just to become something you do randomly throughout the day. This is of course ok, but, see if you can find moments in your day to purposely set aside a few minutes to be purposely “bored”. No phones, no books, no input of any kind. Just simply sit and be with your own thoughts. A lot of people find this hard and uncomfortable to do, but this is part of your training. If it is a stretch to do, then good. Practice it more and create the habit of not cluttering your mind with constant external influences and take this time to reflect and think deeply.



If you liked this blog, please do share with others that may be interested on this subject and find it of use. I work closely with players on all aspects of their game and mind. I offer online Zoom lessons and become a mentor and accountability partner for players. I find 1:1 online lessons immensely powerful for learning and am now using the court more so for practice. Being able to learn away from the ‘distractions’ of playing is proving to be highly valuable.


“Learn online, practice on-court.”


Please do get in touch by emailing me: jesse@squashmind.co.uk

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