Why You Should Schedule ‘Mental Maintenance’ For Peak Performance
Use this 5-step plan to keep your mind in optimal condition.
Throughout the work day you go-go-go, wringing your brain dry of creativity and intellectual agility by the end of the day.
Then you recharge overnight, and get back at ’em the next morning.
The thing is, your mind is like a muscle: it requires careful maintenance or it’ll eventually be pushed beyond its limit and you’ll be susceptible to injury (including burnout, depression, anger, and lots more).
Your emotional well-being also is not an inexhaustible resource.
You wouldn’t skip out on changing your car’s oil or neglect to install an update on your phone. Isn’t your personal well-being even more important to you?
Yet so much generic self-care advice is pretty much out of the question for the hard-working person.
Calling out of work for a “spa day”? Not gonna happen.
Running five miles before work every morning? Not that either.
And you can only take so many unplugged vacations per year.
The fact that you can’t afford or make time for taking care of yourself can end up making you feel even worse.
A realistic approach is to conduct regular “scheduled maintenance” on yourself.
It has the benefit of being preventative, rather than reactive — keeping your performance and productivity consistently high rather than trying to repair after overworking.
Like with any complex machine, you need to keep your mind well-oiled and your inner resources fully charged while you’re still under warranty (i.e., before it’s too late and you’ve burned yourself out).
What exactly does personal “scheduled maintenance” look like?
It’s the practice of incorporating restorative activities into your routine that resets you emotionally.
As Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier, describes it, referring to another fruitful personal maintenance activity,
“Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you. These are all things that if you don’t do you feel guilty about.”
Tending to the up-keep of your emotional reserves should be no different.
Let’s consider a few additional ideas — beyond meditation — for scheduled maintenance exercises:
You know those days you get home from a crazy day and you’re utterly fried?
It can be hugely beneficial to incorporate a “brain dump” into your nightly routine. Write down everything spinning through your head — from the projects you’re stressed out about to the errand you can’t forget to do tomorrow, or ideas for a new side-hustle.
It only takes a few moments, but it has the curative effect of transferring all your anxieties and concerns to a secure capsule that you can either refer back to or discard.
In our frenzied, jam-packed lives, it’s incredibly difficult to force yourself to just stop. But periodically carving out time to pause and absorb the sights, sounds, and sensations of your surroundings is paramount to personal wellness.
Soak in whatever it is you find beautiful or mesmerizing or peaceful, whether it’s the flowers in the window boxes along your street or the sounds of children laughing in the park. Maybe find one moment on your daily commute to do so. It’s like a mini mental vacation.
By the way, a simple way to include time to decompress throughout your day is to avoid scheduling meetings back to back. By booking in buffer to get organized and in touch with your thoughts, you stave off the endless stress spiral that feeling pressed for time can trigger.
No time or tolerance for yoga? A full-body stretch (ideally in the morning and again at night) does more than keep your ligaments limber.
Even three minutes of carefully stretching out your muscles has the added benefit of quieting your mind and centering your thoughts.
A cleansing yell
Freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania partake every fall in a ritual called the “Econ Scream.” The night before they take their Econ 101 midterms, they gather on the campus Quad at midnight and let out a collective roar as a huge tension release.
Why not integrate an intermittent catharsis into your own routine? After all, you’ve got more on your plate than an introductory college course. Just try to time it for when you know your neighbors probably aren’t sleeping.
The takeaway: find a way to release stress in a productive way. That may mean indulging in big belly laughs, watching funny cat videos, dancing around your room alone, or belting your favorite song in the shower.
Find Your Own Routine
Don’t add extra stress to your load by fretting about how to do scheduled maintenance “right”. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula.
Create personal best practices and slowly incorporate any of the above suggested exercises (or others!) into your routine as you see fit.
Personal scheduled maintenance is all about buffering yourself against the effects of stress and making yourself stronger — emotionally and mentally.
The better inner shape you’re in, the more you’ll be able to crush it in your life and career.
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Originally published at melodywilding.com on January 12, 2015.