It’s important to know that everyone experiences tough patches in life. These can be triggered by our own actions (which we can often prepare for), or random or unpredictable events.
"Such is life" - Ned Kelly
This guide was designed to prepare you for these tough patches in various sections of life. It is not clinical advice, but it is a jumping off-point with some top-line information, and links to books, shows, podcasts that we reckon are incredibly useful.
A good day-to-day routine
A good routine sets the platform for a colourful life, allowing you to focus your time and energy into things that are worthwhile Things that make you happy and improve the quality of your life.
Importantly, a good routine exists so you can break it (and still stay balanced, mentally).
Cornell University found that we make around 250 decisions on food alone, per day. Psychologists believe the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. These range from big things, like whether to take a new job, to the small – what to have for breakfast, what to wear.
Each decision drains our energy, reducing our appetite for making big decisions that give us a sense of progress (and might change the course of life).
A good place to start is with breakfast (to have the same thing, or skip it entirely(more on that later)) and what you’re wearing to work every day (tradies win this one).
It’s true, not everyone was made to be a morning person - some people ‘kick into gear’ late in the day. But if you can get up and make the tougher decisions earlier, you’re more likely to have the energy in the bank.
The morning is also the best time to exercise (waking you up and kickstarting your metabolism) or get some work done (when there are no distractions from housemates or the kids).
The trick to keeping a routine
How useful is a routine if you only do it 20% of the year?
The first stage of ‘habit forming’ takes a minimum of three weeks (according to Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho-Cybernetics), so set yourself the goal of morning starts for 3 straight weeks, and reflect and see if it’s working for you. Then shoot for 18 months. If you get there, there’s an excellent chance you’ll keep the habit for the rest of your life.
Check out our complete Routines and Decision-making Guide here.
Meditation: believe the hype
I know what you’re thinking. For a lot of blokes, mindfulness and meditation fall into the same category as horoscopes, energy crystals and ‘Magic Happens’ bumper stickers.
If you’re game to dip your toe, continue below.
What does it feel like when you’re doing it right?
Mindfulness is really quite incredible at creating some space between ‘you’ and ‘yourself’.
Like us, you will struggle to place a finger on it, but you may be more present in conversations, less distracted by your phone, and time may appear to run slower. Sex is also better.
If you struggle to sleep, if you ruminate on things, if you find yourself swept up in your emotions (anger, stress, lack of control), mindfulness can have an incredible impact on you.
The aim of the game
The general idea with meditation is to:
1) Empty your mind of thought (focus on your breathing) 2) Within seconds, your mind will wander into thought (that’s normal) 3) Become aware of the wandering, and note it as a thought (this is mindfulness) 4) Repeat for 10-15 minutes a day
How long does it take to get an effect? It can take between a week and a month to start noticing the benefits, and you generally notice it more the longer you do it.
Again, like a routine, it relies heavily on habit-building.
Isn’t it religious, like a cult?
It’s true: there's very little difference between religious and non-religious, ‘secular’ meditation.
Some apps make no mention of religion, but still teach exercises that are similar to those in Buddhist and Hindu teachings. Other more accessible forms of meditation involve repeating ‘mantras’ in your head.
If this freaks you out (or you’ve got a healthy sense of cynicism like us), keep an open mind and try it anyway – there’s nothing really to lose.
Where do I start? A ‘guided meditation’ is a great way to learn. It’s basically an audiobook that talks to you as you meditate, and teaches you the basic technique.
Our advice is to start with a paid app that has a single, introductory course, (they all offer free trials) and then decide on whether you want to keep paying, or use a free app.
Meditation apps - free
Insight Timer is a great free option (and is an Aussie success story, being the most-downloaded free meditation app in the world). It offers standalone, guided meditations.
Meditation apps - paid courses
Headspace - This is a great intro hosted by Andy Puddicombe, who has an amazing voice and teaches the basics really well.
Waking Up with Sam Harris - Sam Harris is a well-known atheist and has a very no-bullshit approach to teaching meditation.
Journaling: get stuff out of your head
Journaling has become a popular tool for ‘clearing’ thoughts that are bouncing around in your head. By turning thoughts into words on a page, you are confronting them, and you are forced to think clearly about them.
Lots of people compare it to a one-way therapy session with yourself, and we think that’s pretty damn accurate. Here are 4 ways to practise journalling…
Tool 1 - Morning pages
Set a timer, or a number of pages (let’s say, 15 minutes or 3 pages in a small diary).
Ok, now write. Just write.
Write what the voice in your head is saying. Do not write to be smart or even with the idea that this will ever be reread. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t go back to fix mistakes. Just write. Eg.
i am writing and it feels ridiculous cause i don’t have anything to write about blah blahh strange that im still diong this i wonder how long i will be bored for but i said i will keep going so i will keep going wa wa wa aw aw i like that rhiannon song or was it beyonce?
This is great. Get this rubbish out. Very quickly you will discover that the river of scrambled thoughts settles and you will start unpacking some of the deeper level stuff that is sitting in the bedrock.
This practice is referred to as Morning Pages, but in reality, it can be done whenever you like. Try this for a month and reflect on how and if it’s improving your mental health.
Tool 2 - Weekly reflection
Block 30-60 minutes every weekend to reflect on the week. Write whatever comes to your mind.
What good things happened this week? What challenges did you face? Did you spend your time in a way that aligns with your priorities? What are you working on moving forward?
This can be a more formal session of writing. Ask yourself questions to issues you want to put focused attention towards. Perhaps you want to ask yourself the same set of questions for a period of time to see how things are progressing. Maybe you want to score yourself out of 10 in each area.
Use this time to expand on more complicated issues in your life.
Tool 3 - Gratitude journalling
Yeah… so we know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but this tiny effort can really be quite life-changing. Cultivating ‘gratitude’ (AKA reminding yourself that life isn’t so bad and that there’s a lot to like) helps foster positive emotions and reduce stress. Since it takes about 5 seconds a day, your return on effort is huge.
Once a day before bed, write down 3 things that you are grateful for. That’s it.
Even if it feels like you are going through the motions in the beginning, just stick with it. For many people, this turns into a life-changing habit. What do you have to lose?
Tool 4 - Mantras
This is where things can get a little ‘new age’, and if you’re not into it, we get it.
Mantras have been scientifically proven to show widespread reduction in activity (or 'deactivation') across the brain during silent repetition, primarily in the 'default mode network,' a system responsible for self-reflection and self-judgment. In other words, simple repetition appears to quiet internal thoughts.
You can use this mantra whenever you think your mind feels a bit busy. Pick a word that doesn’t have any meaning to you.
Tool 5 - Metta
Metta is about directing positive emotions towards total strangers, people you care about and even people you don’t like. There are a lot of scientific benefits which you can check out for yourself. But we will just focus on the how here. Imagine someone clearly in your mind and wish them well. Change the person a few times and wish these people well. You can use the following words as a guide:
“May you live with ease” “May you live without suffering or pain” “May you be healthy” “May you be happy”
Eventually, you will end with imagining yourself, smiling and happy. Repeat the following:
“I am enough” “ I am happy” “ I am healthy”
This should ideally be a daily practice of around 5 minutes.
Sleep is 1/3 of our life, so it pays to get it right because it has big domino effects through your day.
Despite the books from Navy SEALs that suggest man can do without sleep, your body needs deep, regenerative cycles to perform at a high level mentally (and repair the body physically).
Bad sleep happens; sometimes we can ‘wake up on the wrong side of the bed’.
Strategies for a good night’s sleep
7-8 hours is the sweet spot for most people
Wake up in the lightest phase of the sleep cycle (there are apps like Sleep Cycle) to measure body movements and wake you up at the right time
The darker the room, the better
Avoid blue light from screens after 8pm as they simulate daytime
Avoid caffeine, alcohol or too much water as they have obvious effects
Temperature: sleeping cool (with a weighty sheet or blanket) is best
Not letting a bad sleep affect you
While you should aim for a great sleep routine, don’t allow the quality of a night’s sleep become a deciding factor of how good your day is going to be.
Remember – in 16 hours you’ll be able to give it another crack.
Fitness & Exercise
The best shortcut to feeling great (and staying on top of bad thoughts) is to get your sweat on.
Shifting weights, going for a run, a swim in the ocean or playing team sports are sure-fire ways to feel good and reset the body.
The theory behind ‘endorphins’
Endorphins are released by your body during stress to reduce the effects of pain. Cold showers and swims in the ocean can do this too.
Conveniently, they have an awesome secondary effect that produces euphoria, and this can quickly turn a shitty day into a good one. Doctors have compared it to a morphine hit.
The bonus: a great rig
Whether we like it or not, feeling fit and looking good have an impact on our mental health. Specifically, a strong self-esteem can have knock-on benefits in all other facets of life (social, work, sex, etc).
By our very nature, social anxiety affects some more than others.
The legendary Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung split people into two camps: introverts and extroverts. Based on these ‘personality types’, he found that it’s completely normal to be an introvert and feel anxious when meeting or talking to people.
Life as an introvert
Introversion is often defined as ‘someone who is drained by social interactions’.
It doesn’t mean introverts can’t be the life of the party, just that it takes a toll and they ‘recharge’ through quiet, alone time.
Being social, regardless
Being a visible member of a community is a rewarding aspect of being human. It can help with a sense of purpose, create wealth and fulfilling relationships.
Just like going for a run, your mind can give you a million reasons to avoid social interaction. But it always feels good after you’ve done it. In this sense, it’s a necessary evil.
It is easy to convince yourself that you’re a victim and that being an introvert renders you incapable of these interactions.
The truth is, it is best to confront your fears and manage them by being aware, and factoring in proper ‘alone time’ to balance things out.
We’re not about to run you through the kama sutra for wild positions (unless ofcourse you would like that), or tell you your kinks and fantasies are right or wrong. Let’s talk about how it can affect us mentally.
How sex effects you physiologically is well-studied, and it’s worth wrapping your head around it, as it dovetails into energy levels, relationships and sense of self-worth.
Sex: not enough?
Even the most sexually prodigious among us can go through ‘droughts’, sometimes lasting weeks, months, or years.
If we’re single, seeking casual sex, it can often create a cycle of awkwardness. If we’re in a relationship, it can create fights, resentment or guilt towards our partner.
The truth is, that’s OK. Don’t get too hung up on it. If you detach yourself from the negative feelings associated with desiring sex and missing out on it, you make the problem easier to tackle (and don’t treat it as a problem with yourself or partner).
Sex: too much?
At the same time, sex can dominate our lives in a way that can lead to problems for relationships, physical health, and mental state.
Much has been written about sex addiction, especially in the celebrity limelight, but it appears that porn addiction is a big problem facing men in the internet age.
Porn is instant gratification, and while it can be lots of fun to watch, you should be aware it’s vastly different to regular biological processes (in the same way that eating a Big Mac every day isn’t a regular biological replacement for nutrition).
Because porn is often a one-player game, be aware that you might be training your mind to expect too much stimulation, and to climax too quickly.
In a world of internet porn, it is easy to desensitise your mind to sexual arousal. Studies have shown this can lead to relationship problems and physical conditions such as premature ejaculation.
Giving up cold turkey has been shown to have its benefits.
There is a movement on the internet (NoFap) around abstaining from masturbation to train the mind for willpower. There are also reports of increased levels of testosterone in the blood, (which, separately, has been shown to give males more energy and reduce stress levels).
Be aware; however, the science is not conclusive here.
Getting direct sun
Ten minutes of direct sun (without sunscreen) can give your Vitamin D levels a boost and improve your mood and sense of well being.
Another shortcut and well-known ‘state-change’ is a cold shower, which produces endorphins, improves circulations and gets your body used to stress (which is very useful). The Wim Hof Method has invested a lot into research and is worth a look.
No it's not a weakness, therapy is something that can help you get through tough times by allowing you to talk to someone who can help you see things through an objective lens.
Because let's be honest, we don't make the best decisions when we are in an emotional state.
And the good thing is, there are free services available, like our friends at TIACs.