By Rea Anne Scovill, Ph.D.
When is mental fitness most crucial? When we tackle parenting. Let’s consider it as applied for this. In the olden days parents were often advised to count to ten before they responded to their kids. That was brilliant! It often allowed time for their Executive Brain (EB) to engage and calm their over-reactive Monkey Brain (MB). The EB could remind the MB that a child’s behavior isn’t life threatening (for parent or child) unless s/he’s running in front of a car. If s/he sasses a parent, spills milk at the table again, refuses to do homework or hits another child, calm responses work better. A parent’s MB may chant that another careless or defiant incident is intolerable, but that’s not true.
Parents can and must tolerate lots of these as they help each child manage without a fully developed EB. Our brains develop gradually, continuing the process until we’re at least twenty-five. Another old saying is that kids learn more by what you do than by what you say. That may be the main reason parenting is so tough. If no one’s shown you how to lead with your EB for yourself, how can you do it for your kids?
You can begin here with the FORMULA for how to develop mental fitness. F is for Focus; focus inward with your Executive Brain, and O, Observe what the Monkey Brain is saying in case this needs to be R, Revised. M is for doing this Monitoring continually to Maintain your Executive Brain’s leadership. U is for Using feedback from your body (tensing, increased heart rate or temperature, stomach tightness, etc.) to note when your Crocodile Brain (CB) has begun to trigger fight-or-flight. Doing this can give your EB a warning that it will soon get overwhelmed with MB chatter if it doesn’t step in to correct it.
L is for Lightening your Inner Child’s heart by providing for yourself things you enjoy doing, that calm and support you, frequently. Take a break to visit, meditate, read for fun, shop or have a restoring snack. This skill is required for demonstrating to, not just telling your MB and CB that fight-or-flight is really not needed. It’s not selfish pampering. Your kids need your self-care example, deeper calm and guidance from your recharged Executive Brain. A is for Applying this FORMULA process continually when alone or relating to others for building your mental fitness. You can learn more through resources recommended in the coming months, like workshops, videos, books, and speakers featured by YOW at www.tillamookcountyhealthmatters.com/events and at my website, www.mentalfitnessformula.com.
Our next article will focus on overall good self-care. In addition to managing the MB and CB, your Executive Brain must also Focus on and Observe the outer world. Fight-or-flight responses are created by the mind through the body. Your EB needs both to be well-tuned to keep you functioning effectively and without feeling stressed when you cope with life.