What is mental fitness?
Have you heard of mental fitness? It's a term that's been gaining popularity lately, and for good reason. Essentially, a person’s mental fitness is a reflection of their skills and capabilities that enable them to cope with life's challenges and perform at their best (Robinson, Oades & Caputi, 2015).
Mental fitness is here to change the narrative around mental health - shifting the focus to proactive training rather than reactive treatment (Robinson, 2014).
Think about it: fitness is a positive term that implies something we can be trained and improved. Mental fitness is no different. And just like physical fitness, our mental fitness is made up of different systems that we can improve over time.
There are seven key skills that make up a person’s mental fitness: confidence, motivation, focus, positivity, meaning, connection, and stress management. By building and using these skills, we can protect ourselves against wellbeing decline and increase the chance of performing at our best more of the time. If you’d like to know more about this, please read this article.
Our mental health isn't something we should only pay attention to when we're struggling. Psychologists have been working on a recipe for both success and happiness. And mental fitness is the key ingredient. And just like our physical fitness, it’s something that we need to work on proactively.
7 is the “magic number”
Why is seven the "magic number" when it comes to mental fitness? It's a fair question, and one that's worth exploring.
For too long, many have believed that performance and wellbeing are mutually exclusive - that you can’t have one with the other. But that’s simply not true.
The traditional distinction between performance and wellbeing is a confusing one as both fields essentially ask the same questions: what does our best look like, and how do we achieve it?
When we look at the psychological factors necessary for positive mental health and wellbeing, and performance enhancement, there's actually a lot of overlap. In positive psychology, for example, there are five pillars of positive wellbeing: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (PERMA: Seligman, 2018). These are considered the building blocks of positive mental health and wellbeing.
Similarly, performance psychology focuses on helping athletes train key psychological skills that enable them to handle pressure and perform at their best. These skills include confidence, focus, and emotional control, among others.
Many of the skills that are necessary for positive mental health and wellbeing are also important for high performance. For example, meaning and engagement (an ability to become fully immersed in a task) are essential to both wellbeing and performance.
That's why the 7 skills of mental fitness were created - to help people feel at their best, and perform at their best, at the same time. Mental fitness is no different to physical fitness, it’s great for both our health and performance.
As a Performance Psychologist, I've seen the importance of balancing both. Success requires hard work, but it also requires consistency and focus. Our best doesn't come from working until we burnout.
However, in the past you may have sacrificed immediate happiness for a larger payoff. But it doesn’t have to be this way, if you proactively train your mental fitness. And you can do this both as an individual and as a group. For more information on mental fitness training methods refer to this article.
Why we talk about skills rather than traits
Skills are trainable and can be improved, but they also decline without practice. We refer to the 7 skills of mental fitness because they can be developed and strengthened over time. It's important to view these skills as trainable rather than fixed personality characteristics. Viewing our mental fitness as a fixed personality trait inevitably leads to learned helplessness. So we talk about skills to enhance peoples’ confidence that their mental fitness is absolutely something that can be trained.
The 7 skills of mental fitness were developed as an easy-to-understand and trainable way of achieving positive mental health and performance outcomes. These skills are based on research in positive psychology and sport psychology, and they can be taught and improved.