Maintaining mental health is like maintaining physical fitness. If we’re living in challenging times, we’ve got to muster the strength to overcome. Pursuing deliberate strategies helps us restore our self-esteem, self-respect, and confidence.
Living apart from the people we love and those who love us is never easy. As weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and years turn into decades, time can take a toll on our mental health. During the 9,500 days, I served, I experienced many dark moments. Staying active proved enormously helpful.
I felt the most challenging times in prison when I did not know what awaited me. Before my sentencing, for example, I had a physical reaction to the stress. Boils broke out on my body. The searing pain kept me awake at night. I felt tormented in my mind about what would happen to my life. Strangely, after a judge sentenced me to 45 years, I started to feel more energetic.
Well, even though the sentence would translate into multiple decades in prison, at least I had certainty. I felt like I had hit bottom. The time had come to start taking measurable steps toward growing stronger.
Reading books about leadership taught me that I could restore strength by defining the best possible outcomes. Instead of sinking into a morass of sadness, I could start building the ladder leading me out.
Anyone can do the same.
At any given time, we can look ahead. We can train our minds to visualize what we’d like to become. We can start taking incremental steps that will lead us out of the complex challenges hurting us.
I found strength by pushing myself to do things I didn’t want to do. I forced myself to go to bed early. I trained my mind to wake up before 5:00 a.m. I developed exercises that would lead to better physical health, which led to better mental health. Better mental health led to more confidence that I could influence the life I would lead in the days, weeks, months, years, and decades to come.
Journaling proved to be an excellent tool. Writing out what I wanted to achieve felt like drawing a line in the sand. I shared my journals with others, showing the dreams that I intended to build. Those dreams would take years to achieve.
For that reason, I broke the achievements down into smaller goals. If I knew what I wanted to accomplish in ten years, I could ascertain the progress I should make within the first five years. By continuing this practice, I would know what pace I needed to make every year.
I began the disciplined practice of writing quarterly journals. This tactic bolstered my feelings that I was living as the CEO of my life. Just like the CEO of a publicly-traded company had to release quarterly reports, I wanted to do the same.
The quarterly reports I created proved enormously beneficial in helping me build mental health. Even during the darkest days of my imprisonment, I could work toward the light. And that made all of the difference.
- How does your mind respond when you exercise your body?
- What is your state of mind when you achieve a goal?
- In what ways does self-discipline influence how you feel about yourself?
- What are the most effective strategies you’ve used to overcome despair?
- How would you say your commitment to fitness will evolve after your release?
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