In this guide, we will discuss “Mental gymnastics”, how our thoughts can control what we end up doing (or not), what we can do if we are struggling with mental gymnastics and additional things to consider.
Mental gymnastics: What is it?
Many of us may hear ‘Mental gymnastics’ and somehow picture a brain exercising, subsequently, ‘it should be related to some kind of improvement to your mental ability’, some might say. Others may relate it to some kind of ‘exercise’ you do to get better at certain cognitive abilities. Some people believe mental gymnastics could be reflected in the thought of a vegan person that says ‘I love animals, consequently I don’t eat them’ and a non-vegan would think something like ‘I love animals but killing them is OK since they are part of the food chain, right?’
However, according to definitions.net, the meaning of mental gymnastics is: “Difficult and complex logical thought processes. Mental gymnastics(Noun): Inventive, complex arguments used to justify unjustifiable decisions or situations.”
In contrast, other people may indicate how mental gymnastics is used to refer to someone’s mental ability which can be effective when dealing with cognitive dissonance. Subsequently, it means ‘you’ have to make a complex decision by going through a list of options when you are experiencing a life or expiry situation. It can also help with mental agility.
However, when we hear a ‘life or expiry situation’ we think about being automatically in survival mode but this is not always the case. Mental gymnastics may also be related to thoughts that prevent us from doing something we know we need to do, making up a lot of excuses or justify why we don’t do them in the end. Why? Maybe because they cost us more mentally speaking, so we have to invest more (i.e. time or energy).
Our thoughts may have the power to block us when we allow them to and there are some forms of mental gymnastics roadblocks such as:
- Lack of confidence.
- Fear of failing.
- An inadequate support system.
Let’s see how our thoughts play an important role by analyzing some scenarios.
How do our thoughts prevent us from doing something?
Let’s think about a recent situation where you knew what you wanted to or need to do but just didn’t know how to do it. For instance, something like writing your grad thesis but not knowing how to do it or where to start can make you procrastinate because it is a source that triggers your anxiety. We start thinking ‘what if I don’t come up with a good idea?’ or ‘where would I start?’.
Our mind responds with things like ‘I will wait for a good idea to strike’ or ‘I will relax this weekend and start fresh next week’. Finding excuses or getting distracted by ‘things we need to do last-minute’ such as cleaning our room or going out to see if we miraculously get inspiration there, are some of the things we tend to do.
Many times we have had situations where our thoughts seem to have the power to control our behavior, sometimes we just let them but as indicated by Andria Park from ‘Shine’, “We have the power to recognize when our mental gymnastics spiral into overdrive and switch up our approach.”
Subsequently, just as we gave them power we can consciously remove it to stop fueling our anxiety which is in term, preventing us from doing what we know we are supposed to be doing. This could mean sitting down and starting to write or getting up and taking the mountain of dirty laundry to the washing machine.
What can we do if struggling with mental gymnastics?
We can possibly think about many scenarios where we push things off until the very last minute just to avoid thinking about them or having to do something we don’t really want to do but we know we have to. The idea here is not to control our thoughts instead of them controlling us but understanding why we have them in the first place, what is it that scares you the most or why are they preventing you from moving forward.
Most of the time we don’t question ourselves because we are afraid about the outcome. We may find ourselves face to face with our lack of confidence, how we don’t seem to be good enough for something and we make a million excuses to prevent us from doing what we need to do. When you are too afraid of failing know that you are allowed to, no need to be perfect the first time you do something and consciously make the decision to get better next time.
Let’s think about a problem, situation, or something you have been postponing for a while now. Sometimes we just think we need to get this over with and regain mental peace, however, when we do things without thinking or just rushing into it, there is a probability something will go wrong. For instance, let’s imagine you have invited your parents or someone you are dating over for dinner but you have been so busy with other things you didn’t give any importance to the matter previously and decided to go shopping that same day.
You went into the store and grabbed a few things you thought at the moment will do to make dinner. While you were cooking you noticed there was a very important ingredient and you start to panic. You think you should reschedule the dinner and try it again some other day where you have all the ingredients ready or you go rushing into the nearest supermarket to get the ingredient you are missing but you won’t be ready on time.
Subsequently, what could have been done differently? First of all, in this case a list with all the ingredients would have been extremely useful. Also, planning your day ahead would have given you some time to spare if you still forgot to get something for the dinner. The keywords here are planning and time management.
Let’s consider a project or assignment you need to deliver with a deadline. You could have initially thought how you still ‘had plenty of time’ so you delayed starting it and focused on other things, making excuses. Two days before the project or assignment is due you start to think about how you are not going to meet the deadline and your anxiety goes sky high.
At this point it can become extremely overwhelming and you are working against the clock now. To avoid a case of mental gymnastics since the beginning you could have taken small steps towards the goal which was finishing on time. For instance, if it was a 1.200 word assignment you have to deliver, you could have organized your schedule in order to write ‘x’ amount of words a day so you could deliver the worn on time and avoid feeling too overwhelmed 2 days prior to submitting it.
Remember to get rid of the excuses and all the reasons why you should delay your work instead of working on it. Moreover, sometimes we find ourselves dedicating a lot of time to our anxious thoughts instead of asking ourselves ‘why’ we have them in the first place so instead of blocking your progress find the reason why you are so avoidant or what is it that scares you the most about the assignment.
Subsequently, just as Andria Park from ‘Shine’ mentions, “Realizing you are not the sum total of your thoughts will give you the power you need to get out of your head, get back to your true self, and know the actions you can take to move forwards.”
Why is this blog about Mental gymnastics important?
As we have mentioned, Our thoughts may have the power to block us when we allow them to and there are some forms of mental gymnastics roadblocks such as the lack of confidence in ourselves, Self-sabotage, fear of failing or having an inadequate support system. However, we know how powerful our thoughts can become when we think about doing something we know we must do but we make excuses and justify ourselves when we don’t.
Instead of fighting our thoughts, we need to consciously perform the task of understanding where our thoughts are coming from and why we have them. Delaying what we need to do will only increase our anxiety to an overwhelming level so always remember how the keywords planning and time management can make your life easier. This may mean in the end we do need to make our brain ‘exercise’ a little to help us see things from a different perspective and come up with solutions instead of always procrastinating and delaying things.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Definitions.net: “Definitions for mental gymnastics”
Park, A. (2019. Sept.) How to Stop Your Mind From Doing Mental Gymnastics. Retrieved from advice.shinetext.com.