How can you train your ability to feel joy?
How wonderful it is when life feels easy. Waking up rested, being curious about new things and feeling happy, smart and at peace. And how sad it is not to feel that way, to feel low on energy, to be easy-going, down and kind of have to fight to start your own enthusiasm.
What many do not know is that these emotional expressions are based on physiological functions that can be both measured and trained. Sure, you need to think about the puzzle pieces of your life puzzle and it’s good to eat, exercise and sleep right. But the hard part is not knowing but doing. That’s because there’s one additional factor you need to know. Your initiative and your ability to make wise choices are governed by your mental fitness. And you can train it up!
What is mental fitness?
Mental fitness is the ability to unwind and unwind at the right time and as efficiently as possible. It is, in turn, an ability controlled by our nervous system. The nervous system helps us unwind when we need to perform in the short term and unwind when we need to build long-term. It is built to efficiently switch between these two modes – a way for the body to both build up and use its resources.
Most of us live in an everyday life that tricks us into staying too often and for too long in the warmed-up state. Then the nervous system gets tired and tries to protect us from doing new things. The brain creates feelings of low energy, lack of motivation and even depression, so that we stop doing things and instead rest. Pretty clever actually, but not that funny! It is in this situation that we usually try to “choose joy” and get started with various initiatives such as “on Monday I will start working out/eating healthy/cleaning the garage…” We try to force ourselves to do something that we instinctively do not want and that the brain needs protect us from. Neither very smart nor kind to ourselves.
What we can do instead is to train the nervous system, so that it can quickly find its way back to deceleration when it has recovered. So that we automatically wind down unconsciously and have power left to wind up when needed. Then the brain does not need to protect us and we naturally find our own energy and drive. A nervous system that is adept at it is the definition of mental fitness, or resilience as it is called in English.
How do you measure heart rate variability?
The primary biomarker of mental fitness is heart rate variability (HRV). By mental fitness we mean how high the HRV value is on average in awake rest. If the value is low, it means that our nervous system is in a stressed or tired state. If the value is high, we are in good mental shape and skilled at handling stress and strain.
What is HRV?
HRV is a medical measure of how the heart swings up and down in tempo, in step with breathing. When you breathe in, your heart speeds up and when you breathe out, it slows down. You can feel it yourself by taking the pulse through a breath. The size of the tempo fluctuation is a measure of how the autonomic nervous system works, i.e. under what load the body is under. High variability, i.e. high HRV, indicates recovery while low variability, i.e. low HRV, indicates stress load.
To accurately measure the variation, Linkura uses medical-grade ECGs. It is the most stable and accurate method. Then we can measure each heartbeat very precisely, even when you are moving. It will be a very stable and reliable HRV and you can follow it over time.
There are watches, bracelets and rings that measure HRV as well. They measure the heartbeat via the blood flow in the skin using optical technology, PPG. With such methods, it is unfortunately not possible to measure HRV well enough in everyday life, because the pulse signal is disturbed as soon as you move your hand.
For those who want to delve further into what HRV is and how it is measured, more reading is available here.
Can you train your mental fitness?
We’ve saved the most exciting for last; It is possible to systematically increase one’s HRV, i.e. train one’s mental fitness! It helps you get better at dealing with stress and recovery. Stress is neither dangerous nor bad, it is where we perform and are active, but we want to be able to feel joy in this place and also to be able to choose when we turn on stress and unwind and not. It is easy to train your mental fitness with the help of HRV and there are essentially two methods!
1. Active time in recovery mode
Your nervous system trains to find and be in the relaxed state by spending a lot of time there. The challenge is knowing when the nervous system thinks it’s time to slow down. It is not always exactly what we think. Therefore, you need to know when exactly your body is in warmed-up or relaxed mode. The best way to see this is by looking at your HFV and aiming for longer periods of high HFV. You can do that with Linkura’s meter and app. By measuring your HFV, you can see directly in the app when you wind up or wind down. Then you can learn what makes you unwind and unwind and consciously do more things that make you unwind. The allure is that by exposing the nervous system to activities that correspond to physiological rest, it will gradually increase its dynamism, i.e. the mental fitness is raised and you will experience the effects of this.
2. Activities to raise HRV
The second is to focus on training to effectively switch from a warm-up to a cool-down position. You can do that when you know that the body is stressed, you may have trained hard or been part of something difficult. In that position, there are exercises you can do to actively move the body into a relaxed position. While you’re doing the exercises, watch your HFV increase to make sure you’re getting it right. Exercises that work are e.g. breathing exercises and meditation. Here are some examples you can try…
The research is strong on how breathing, physical activity, good sleep, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc. increase mental fitness. This is not to say that you need to do all of this or that everything suits you. By learning one or a couple of these methods, you have a good foundation to increase your mental fitness.
By measuring the level of the nervous system (HRV) while you train with a method, you can immediately see the effect of it and therefore find what works best, or adapt the training to be the best for you. You can of course also objectively follow how the mental fitness changes over time.