Resilience 101: Building Mental Muscle In The Digital Age

Every new year, millions decide they want to get stronger and build bigger muscles (and we’re here to help with a whole lot of guidance). For many, the first inclination is to sign up for an expensive gym membership and start picking up some weights. But there’s a saying that should pop into your head in this case, and that is, “First things first.” The best way to better all-around health and a stronger body is a solid mental state to lead the charge.

And that’s a feat that has become increasingly difficult in today’s digital age. The competition for your headspace is limitless and mental clarity is hard to come by.

Despite what you may have heard or read, the brain is not a muscle. It’s actually classified as an organ. There’s a reason that the “brain as a muscle” concept has been widely shared, though — it helps us better understand our brain’s amazing ability to strengthen. That’s right, just like muscles, our brains are constantly evolving through experiences and can function better with the proper exercise or care.

Do you want to put on some mental muscle? Here are some easy-to-start practices that will help you kick off 2024 in a better place mentally. Which, in turn, can help you jumpstart physical shifts too.

Delay The Plug-In


It’s important to think of the morning as an opportunity to start your day with little victories, which will in turn benefit your mental state off the rip. The best way to accomplish this is to avoid touching your phone or computer for at least half an hour. That’s because the majority of our anxiety, both work and personal, comes from those emails, texts, and social media posts that are waiting for us when we wake. Receiving bad or stressful news in a compromised state, like being tired or groggy, can put you on the back foot mentally for the rest of the day.

So if you are required to answer emails as soon as you wake up, consider setting your alarm clock for half an hour earlier. Then create a healthy ritual to kick off your morning in a better place. That could include meditation, walking outside, yoga, exercise, or a healthy breakfast. Thirty minutes later, you are going to be in an indestructible (or at least less destructible) place. You will be surprised how much better you will process those emails and texts once you’re in a better mental space.

The Quick Fix: Don’t touch your cellphone or computer until you’ve been awake for 30 minutes.

Brain Food


Everyone knows that if you want to build strong muscles you should be eating lots of foods with protein, which helps rebuild and maintain muscle tissue. In that same way, there are several brain-boosting foods that can increase your cognitive function and prevent that mid-day fogginess. Luckily, these foods taste great and should be a pleasure to introduce into your diet if they aren’t already in there.”Vitamin E is abundant in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals, and has been shown to extend lifespan and improve mitochondrial function and neurological performance,” according to comparative studies.

Below are some ideas on ways to get that vitamin in your daily intake:

  • For breakfast, try adding blueberries to your favorite oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Pair it with a nice cup of coffee.
  • For lunch, try making sure you are getting some dark and leafy greens.
  • For snacks throughout the day, nuts like almonds and walnuts are great sources.
  • If you are a meat-eater, fatty fish like salmon make great protein sources that also have positive acids like Omega-3s. If you are vegetarian, avocados, tomatoes, and broccoli can accomplish the same effect.

The Quick Fix: Start introducing brain-boosting foods like blueberries, leafy greens, and fatty fish into your AM diet.

Gear Up For Good


Despite the convenience of technology, there have been some negative effects of having it so ingrained in our daily lives. The constant access to the news cycle and easy distractions like streaming services or video games have wreaked havoc on our attention spans. That being said, as appealing luddite existence, without any kind of technology, sounds… it would be difficult for many and impossible for others.

Luckily, several manufacturers have recognized this and worked to build gear that helps us reclaim our minds. Do you have an Apple iPhone or Watch? Or a Samsung Galaxy? Whether you are using a phone that is iOS or Android, companies have integrated software that allows you to monitor your onscreen time. Same when it comes to apps like Instagram. On top of that, there are new wearables on the market like the Oura Ring, Whoop 4.0, and Garmin watches, that use vibration or notifications to remind us when it’s time to stretch or get some offscreen time.

The Quick Fix: If you have an Apple device or Android like the Samsung Galaxy, start using their wellness functions to monitor your screen time. Or consider buying an Oura Ring, Whoop, or Garmin that will help you stay on top of your steps and idle time at once.

Take It Outside


Speaking of offscreen time and getting steps in, why don’t you text your next virtual meeting outside? Over the last few years, with more and more people working from home, video calls have become the norm. But in many of these cases, the same could be accomplished with a phone call with an in-person rendezvous. I have made it a point to request phone calls or in-person coffees at every opportunity.

The majority of the time the other party is more than happy to adjust, and instead of being stuck staring at a screen I’m able to enjoy a walk around the block. That means I’m also able to get a little sunlight, a better delivery system for Vitamin D than any supplement you can find on the market. Vitamin D is a critical component for your brain health, benefiting cognitive function and acting like a neurosteroid. “Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults,” according to about a billion studies.

The Quick Fix: Try taking as many meetings or calls as you can outside to get natural sunlight exposure.

Seek Peace Of Mind


Even if you don’t already have a meditation practice at this point, you’ve likely considered giving it a try. But perhaps finding 15 to 30 minutes for a session twice a day seemed like too big a time commitment to make. It’s important to realize that you don’t need to dedicate a full hour or more to meditation to experience the benefits. Before progressing my own journey with meditation by taking a course at the David Lynch Foundation, I started small by doing the below.

Next time you’re on a walk, take out your earbuds and try to focus on your footsteps. Nothing else. Of course, make sure you are watching where you are walking, but listen to the sounds that your feet make each time they hit the ground. Do that for ten to 15 minutes, or as long as you can. If you want to quickly advance the practice, try to focus on the ambient noise around you for five minutes, then focus back on your footsteps, and repeat that pattern for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Quick Fix: Even if you don’t have time for a full-blown meditation practice, try introducing just ten minutes of tech-less focus to your day. (For more tips, check out our story here.)

Sleep Right, Sleep Tight


It may seem obvious that getting proper sleep is imperative to cognitive function, but the fact is that one-third of the population doesn’t get enough, according to recent studies. Over the years, there has been a decline in the quality and duration of sleep in most of the world. This probably has something to do with the amount of technology and blue light that we interact with throughout the day, in addition to overstimulation.

Similar to how avoiding technology in the morning can help you start the day right, putting away the devices and screens for 30 minutes before bed can have a huge impact on your night. This is a small step that can have a great impact. Miss your evening streaming? Try other forms of entertainment like books or podcasts. I have also started to wear blue light glasses during the day, especially in the evening, to counteract the negative effect that can have on sleep. Here is the pair that I personally use.

The Quick Fix: Limit your blue light exposure before sleep by shutting off the devices before sleep and wearing blue light glasses during any evening computer work.