A healthy mind

When it comes to physical fitness, there are a number of tests you can do to see if you are “healthy.” Surely the fidelity/helpfulness of said tests can/has/will be improved over time but in general you can look at things like your blood and oxygen levels to get an idea of if you are a “healthy person.”

To my knowledge, the equivalent does not ~really exist for your “mental health.” What is a good mental health score? What are you benchmarking against? Who is the healthiest?

I do not believe there is an objective set of “metrics” that say, “hey, this is someone with an extremely healthy mind.”

You can probably look at neurological/brain activity to spot a brain that is active/versus not and you can probably look at mood and/or personality tests that may signal particular mood/personality disorders. The latter tend to be a combination of science AND art—”you fall under this category of the DSM-5, therefore you have persistent depression.”

I have a ~weird relationship with labels. On one hand, I do not particularly care for them and being defined by a label, in my experience being defined by any broad category of thing, is not particularly productive. That being said, labels (however broad or specific) can be extremely helpful in pairing you with the appropriate treatment: e.g. if you have a torn labrum (in your shoulder), you better optimize for a procedure that fixes that particular thing (rather than say operating on your elbow). The latter—the useful part of labels—can be _extremely helpful_; the stigmatization/bucketing of sorts that comes with the former characterization of labels: that I find to be far less productive/effective for my/perhaps your life.

So back to the question at hand—how do you know if you have a healthy mind? Perhaps starting with the question of “what is a healthy mind?” would be useful.

But before going there, we have to first posit the question of if there exists such a thing as a healthy mind? (The corollary—we know there are “healthy oxygen levels. There are healthy body fat percentages. Sure, there is not one body fat percentage to rule them all—but there are ranges that you are better off in. Does there exist an equivalent in the domain of neurology? And does that equivalent manifest itself beyond the biological level? In other words, beyond the “scientific measures,” does this “healthiness/ability” show up in a particular way in your day to day life?)

The final question—of how does this show up/what can we see to show signs of healthiness?—is a question I am deeply interested in.

How do we build a sort of health that actually IMPROVES OUR EFFECTIVENESS in achieving our goals and living our lives.

Surely there is a there there. Surely there is a _MODE_ of operating / a way of THINKING that is _superior_ (fine not universally but let’s say in particularly challenging types of situations).

> I ask myself: How do the best CEOs do it? How do Navy Seals do it? How do monks do it?

“You have power over your mind, not outside events.

Realize this, and you will find strength.”

– Marcus Aurelius

I started using an app ~recently (as in just for a few adys now) called FitMind, described by the solo-creator as “Science-based mental fitness.” The app is a meditation/mind training app (a bit like the mental gymnasium of sorts I have been craving). It includes a number of lessons/trainings that help you hone in your ability to focus.

I like how he describes the ambition of his project (noticing he coincidentally? uses a lot of similar terminology to how I am lately thinking about “mental fitness.”

Here are some excerpts and things I have started to learn from him:

We can all achieve a higher degree of mental fitness. What characterizes a fit mind? Can focus intently for extended periods.

It is more essential to train the mind than the physical body. I don’t think most people realize that we can train the mind as a muscle through self-directed neuro-plasticity, more commonly known as meditation. Since our minds are with us all the time determining our entire experience of the world (and can be improved, as countless studies have shown), it makes sense to train them.

Mental fitness. As meditation continues to gain widespread adoption in the West, I think it will come to be termed “mental fitness.” I am passionate about what I do because I believe that mental fitness will be the single most important component of our human wellbeing in the years to come. While technology is wonderful, its development doesn’t always accompany an increase in wellbeing. I hope that our species will catch up to our material advances with large-scale psychological advances in the coming years.

What resonates ~greatly about many of the above characterizations is this idea that the brain is a muscle of sorts that can be trained to get better results in particular tests/domains.

The particular test/domain I am focused on (here comes the meta loop) lately is ON FOCUSING. How can I be better at focusing? At avoiding the distraction of life/social media/technology and instead getting into deep work/flow more often/more easily/more deliberately.

How can I live a more intentional life?

How can I lie a life that _feels_ more like running a long run—feels like putting one foot in front of the other is ALL I have to care for and the rest just fades quietly into the background? THAT would be a life worth living.

If you want to run a marathon, there is a guide you can follow and you are essentially guaranteed to be able to succeed in running a marathon.

If you want to live a more intentional life, where is the guide? What is the book? What are the tests? What are the measurements you should be taking?

The reality is that there are SO SO MANY books out there selling “IMPROVE YOUR LIFE MEDICINE” of sorts but why do none of them work (for me)? (Note that defining “work” is non-trivial as surely books have improved my life but nonetheless I am not CONFIDENT IN MY PLAN as it stands to be on track to “finish the marathon of life” as in get to living extremely intentionally)

Is the problem me or the books?

That is a rhetorical question. The books are inanimate objects. Of course the “problem” is me. Problem is not a bad thing. It means I have the opportunity to fix it. At least I have convinced myself of such.

So that is where I sit today—leaning forward, ready to run.

Ready to pursue the healthy mind.


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