Define Your Non-Negotiables for Good Mental Health

To maintain good mental health, we need to consistently practice the skills that helped us recover in the first place. Chances are, we’ve put a lot of work into new behaviors. We don’t want to lose them now! Defining non-negotiables, those actions you make a priority, is an essential part of what I call mental fitness.

It’s important to keep in mind that our brains get stickier when we’re tired, hungry, stressed out, hungover, experiencing hormone shifts, sick, etc. Having non-negotiable actions helps us stay fit, mentally fit.

Mental Health Non-Negotiables 

As of late, my practices are: enough sleep, some form of mindful awareness or attention-training daily, regular exercise, limiting my social media, reaching out to someone every day and incorporating breath work into my nightly routine. At different times, it’s included different practices like gratitude, loving kindness meditations and restorative yoga. 

Now that I’m practically an empty nester, it’s SO much easier to be consistent with these, especially during the week. If I’m not, I start to feel the impact. When I’m struggling, I’ve learned these actions are my lifesavers. 

That’s why they’re non-negotiable.

Last month was a perfect example. I was working a lot, trying to finish recording my audiobook and some other projects. The week before my annual family vacation, my youngest was sick and my schedule was completely thrown off. 

My sleep wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, I barely exercised, didn’t talk to many people and completely bailed on all mindful awareness practices. After 3 weeks on autopilot, I noticed I was getting swept up in my “what if” thoughts:

What if our AirBnB was a catfish (it wasn’t)
What if my son has CTE? (after listening to The Daily on CTE) 
What if I’m a horrible person for not tipping enough?

When I’m more aware of my internal experience, I notice the thoughts and let them be, recognizing they’re just  thoughts. When I’m on autopilot, I slip back to worrying, replaying situations and ruminating. And that’s what happened. 

But here’s the thing, once we finally got away, you’d think things would be better, right? Unfortunately,  I slipped into yet another recovery mishap. 

Now, I was feeling so good — so good and relaxed. 

And still, without realizing it (for what seems like the hundredth time,) I also unintentionally stopped doing the things that keep me feeling good, or in this case, restart the things that keep me feeling good.

By day 3, I noticed I was feeling anxious a lot, and I was spending a lot of time in my head, worrying about things that were not actually happening. 

Here’s what I learned (again). If I don’t go to the gym regularly, my physical fitness declines. If I don’t use my mental fitness regularly, my mental health declines. This is just my reality, whether I like it or not. 

How to Maintain Good Mental Health

Staying mentally fit requires active, intentional work.

My baseline is anxious. 

When my mental fitness game isn’t as strong, I get swept up in these stories longer, they feel more intense, and it can be harder to unhook. Luckily, I’ve gotten better at recognizing when it’s happening and choking up on my leash (reference to Chapter 5 from Just Do Nothing). 

On the rest of the trip, I was vacationing while worried instead of worried and on vacation

Some things to consider:

  • What are your non-negotiable mental fitness skills?
  • When do you notice you use them? When do you notice you forget to use them?
  • What’s one small change you can make to move you toward a more consistent practice?