“A negative thinker gives up when confronted with difficulty, but an optimist rises to the occasion when the going gets tough.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Mental Health and choice

According to the World Health Organisation, Mental Health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community (https://www.who.int). One of the most important choices that we can ever make to boost our mental health, is when we choose to live a positive life – a life where we approach everything that we do or experience with a positive mindset.

Our attitude is simply the way that we choose to see things. For example, when we have to leave for work and it’s rainy and miserable outside, we can greet the day, thinking: “What a miserable, gloomy day.” Or we can adopt the attitude: “Great! We need to fill our dams for winter. What a miracle! What an amazing day this is to experience nature at its best.” I don’t know about you, but I choose the latter attitude towards life and all of its challenges. Frankly, if we choose anything else day in and day out, then we will sell ourselves short in life. Sometimes, life will change without permission, but our attitude will determine the success of our journey…

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln

When we choose to live a positive life, then we will find that such an attitude flows into other critical aspects in our lives that are key to our mental health and emotional wellbeing:

Choose to be your own best friend

Are you your own best friend or your own worst enemy? If we choose to be optimistic about life and its challenges, then it is essential that we are our own best friends and that we always show up in such a manner wherever we might be. A cornerstone of being our own best friend is to focus on positive self-talk. We can never afford to sell ourselves short, also by entertaining self-talk that is negative. When you do well, even if it’s something small, congratulate yourself by saying: “Well done, I am proud of you.” If you didn’t do that well, say to yourself: “I have learnt from this experience and the next time I will do better.”

“If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.” – Jane Travis

Being my own best friend also implies that I cannot entertain negative thoughts like: “I am not good enough”. We can’t grow our self-confidence if we don’t accept who we are and if we can’t love ourselves. We all make mistakes and have weaknesses, but I can’t love and accept myself if I don’t accept my faults as they are now, with the view that I am working with and on myself every day to improve these areas. If we love ourselves, are kind to ourselves and accept the fact that we are all works in progress, then we have created the launchpad to further improve our self-confidence.

“The most important day is the day you decide you’re good enough for you. It’s the day you set yourself free.” – Brittany Josephina

Choose to care for yourself

“Give your stress wings and let it fly away.” – Terri Guillemets

The best way that I give my stress wings to fly away is by continuously charging my ‘life batteries’. This makes me resilient enough to face the challenges of life and to handle the setbacks that I experience. We simply need to choose the right ‘charge activities’ that works for us as individuals. Our charge activities give us the motivational and energy charge to cope with life and its challenges. I have found that it is crucial to frequently slow down, take a break on the highway of life, and then charge my life batteries by doing charge activities that work for me. For me it includes cardiovascular exercise a couple of times a week, reading books or taking frequent weekend breaks away with my family. For you, it might be something different.

Whatever recharges your mind, body and soul – do these activities frequently and you will be amazed how it has a positive impact on your time management, productivity, relationships and life in general.

“If we have positive energy, then we will always attract positive outcomes.” – Steve Buckley

Charging your life batteries has to be a continuous process. If you don’t charge your life batteries, you will become emotionally empty and demotivated. Motivation then, unfortunately, does not just magically appear again. If at that point, you don’t do something about your emotionally empty state, then your life will spiral to a point where you will battle to operate optimally. A car can’t operate on an empty fuel tank, and similarly, we can’t operate or move forward in life if our emotional tanks are empty, and we feel demotivated. Motivation follows action, not the other way around. We also cannot give to others, what we don’t have. We, therefore, owe it to ourselves and to others, to ensure that we are motivated.

If there is something else with which we cannot mess around or neglect, it is our bodies. One of the most important habits that we could ever learn and live, is to look after it. Without this body, we can’t do anything. It’s not a car that we can trade in for another one after we have badly bumped, bruised and abused it. The reality is that we only have one body. A further reality is that a healthy body houses a healthy spirit.

“I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts.” – Henry Rollins

Choose to cherish relationships

“It is in the courageous encounter with others that we discover our personal path and purpose in life… ” – Lovemore Mbigi

Africa is my home, and I have travelled sufficiently and seen enough of the world to know that this is where I want to be. Our continent has a distinctive philosophy called ‘ubuntu’, which particularly influences the way personal relationships are managed. The philosophy of ubuntu perfectly aligns with the rationale that relationships matter and that we need each other, and the support from one another, to be able to achieve our individual and collective goals. This should not only be an African way of life, though – it should be a global way of life that we all embrace…

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

What is needed to build relationships with those close to us, is time, quality time. Time together as a family is vital, but it is equally important that we build one-on-one moments with different family members into our routines. The more time we spend in quality interactions, the stronger we will be as individuals and as a family. We should never underestimate how important this is.

The way we love our family, and how we support each other, is a true testimony of who we are and of how much we value relationships. The value of having great relationships with everyone in our families and the fact we can share our inner feelings with them, when necessary, can never be overstated. If we all have strong relationships and can support each other mentally and physically, then we will find that coping with life and its challenges become so much easier.

The strong bond of support between us and the people that are the closest to us then flows over to make a difference in our communities by also starting to care for those people who are vulnerable and need our help. Then we will also start to experience the joys of giving to others, even if it is just a smile or some of our time, and we will realise how many mental gifts we get back by showing these acts of kindness.

“Your true character is most accurately measured by how you treat those who can do nothing for you.” – Mother Teresa

Choose constructive friendships

“Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” – Misty Copeland

John Maxwell observes that having people around you with negative attitudes is like running a race with a ball and chain on your ankle. I pick friends with a like-minded approach to life because, as the saying goes: “Iron sharpens iron.” I choose friends I can talk to, who listens to me, and who keep me accountable if they see me stray off a path of successful self-leadership. I want friends who want the best for me, are there for me in bad times, and who will celebrate with me in good times. Very importantly, I try my utmost to be the same kind of friend to them…

I can recommend this approach to friendship, as it contributes to constructive, lasting relationships, which also support us in maintaining a positive approach to life. Besides, we are not meant to journey through life on our own… If we then at some point realise that we need help, also with an issue that affects our mental health, then we have a strong bond with a group of people that will be more than willing to listen and to assist us through that part of our life journey.

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”– Nelson Mandela

Written by:

Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD