Mental Health, Mentality and Becoming Better
The brain is elastic and the way you think can be changed.
It’s a simple thing that most people understand, but how many really examine what that means?
I’ve spent a lot of time engaging others on their mentality and mental health and during these conversations I’m often asked for advice. For most people, I have the same thing to say: think about it. As simple as that is, the process of doing so is much harder, and harder still to see change come from it.
If you are someone that struggles with mental health, or mentality, or just want to learn a means of becoming better as a person, a competitor, a creator, anything, I would suggest you keep reading.
Please be aware that I am not a mental health professional and if you need professional help, seek professional help instead.
I also do not believe I have uncovered some deep secret of the human brain, this article covers what I’ve learned from my personal journey with Cognitive Brain Therapy. While CBT is seen as a highly effective tool in modern psychotherapy, it is important to remember it is not the right choice for everyone and in some cases, can make one’s struggles worse.
If you believe any ideas I put forward in this article are going to negatively affect your wellbeing, do not pursue them and consult a mental health professional.
At the end of this article, I will link to resources for those in need of treatment or therapy.
Remember, therapy is for everyone.
No matter how minor or major your struggles are, they are real, they are valid, and there are people you can contact for help.
I will be using Smash and my own mental health struggles as a backdrop for this discussion, but you could reimagine these examples with anything else and I encourage you to if your problems expand beyond Smash, as they do for most people.
Part 1: Mentality, Mental Health and Introspection
I believe having a good mentality only means having stable critical thinking skills. If your goal is to become ranked, or have a good placing, or cause big upsets then you haven’t accepted that improvement comes before those things and should be the stronger focus, even for established top players.
If your goal is to improve, you shouldn’t be upset when you lose because you have the ability to see the long term is what matters more. If you are upset when you lose, but you are focused on improvement, then other factors are polluting your mentality.
But what are those factors, and why are they in your brain? Maybe you’re frustrated because you’re not improving as fast as you would like, or you feel like you’ve started going backwards, or you shouldn’t have lost, or you just don’t understand. Maybe life’s gotten in the way and failing an exam has made you sensitive to other failures. I believe this is where mental health starts to influence one’s mentality—mental health issues tend to weaken critical thinking skills.
Understanding these interactions between mentality and mental health is important, especially if you’re a competitor who finds confidence in their performance.
Introspection, the act of thinking about one’s own experiences, emotions and perspectives is the key to understanding that, as well as training your brain to think differently. It’s about knowing yourself, how you think, how you’re likely to think and challenging the things you know in search of a more objective perspective on your own life.
It’s about being cognitively engaged with the things that make you tick and how different parts of your life influence your wellbeing.
Regardless of if mentality, mental health or both are your biggest obstacles in improving, being able to think critically about yourself is going to help you. But sometimes the hardest thing is finding an objective perspective on yourself, especially if you’re in a state of heightened emotions.
I’m going to describe my method for this and it’s probably going to sound really simple, and if you try it, you’re most likely going to get nothing from it the first time.
This took me a long time to understand but it makes sense. You’ve spent years thinking a certain way, and no matter how simple this is you’re going to need to repeat it to yourself hundreds of times until it starts to sink in. Treat it like labbing tech skill, you have to get the muscle memory before it becomes consistently beneficial.
I’d recommend starting to work this into your bed time rituals, or other quiet times where you won’t be disrupted and can stay calm.
Fumble’s method for introspection:
Step 1: Start thinking about what you actually know about yourself, then find something you’d like to know more about. If you haven’t done much introspection before, start with nothing. If there’s anything in doubt, acknowledge that for later.
Step 2: Bombard yourself with simple questions until you find something you can answer with certainty. Be honest, look for sources of objectivity where possible (results could be a good place to start). Try to avoid big and vague questions like “Who am I?” and keep it simple.
Keep it focused on what you actually want to find out about yourself. If you have no idea, start with something extremely basic, even if it’s silly, just to get a feel for what this sort of thinking feels like, e.g. “Why do I like my favourite colour?” —> “What does it mean to me?” —> “Why do those things matter/In what capacity do they matter” etc etc
For an example, I’ll use “Am I good at Smash?” as a starting point.
“No, I am not good at Smash” is my answer. This isn’t self deprecation. I don’t believe I’m terrible at Smash, I just do not think I’m good at it yet, by my own standards. I am getting better, and that’s what matters most to me.
Step 3: Explore that answer. Why do you feel that way? How does that make you feel?
In this example, “How do I determine what being good at Smash requires?”
“Results” is my response. And my results indicate I’m somewhere in Sydney’s mid level band of players. But these things are not defined in objectivity. The cut off between Sydney’s low/mid/high/top level players is subjective without a statistical analysis and even then could be inconclusive. That’s a rabbit hole with no clear solution. Good.
If your questioning left you no rabbit hole, make one. Pose yourself impossible questions. You’re exploring these emotions and thoughts to better understand yourself.
Step 4: Fall down the rabbit hole. Try to answer that impossible question. Consider everything you can and really think about it.
In my example, I would start thinking about players and how I’d place them. I’d make a mental ranking and once I was done, I’d start to consider breakpoints and what they’d mean for each tier of player. There’s going to be players I rate lower but value higher because of their proficiency with certain aspects of the game. Consider those things as well. Why do I value X over Y? Are there any double standards in my assessment of players? Etc etc, on and on until at last you…
Step 5: Find your acceptable answer, but recognise it for what it is. Maybe you solved your quandary, maybe you haven’t but you can agree upon something. Maybe your acceptable answer isn’t even remotely complete, that’s okay. It’s better to say “I’m somewhere between A and B and D but not C” than “I might be A” without any certainty. Remember that, and put it aside for another time when you have a broader understanding.
Step 6: Do it again with something different, but try focus on something you might be able to determine with certainty. You’re looking for more information you can add to Step 1, as that’ll help you continue to question yourself.
Example: I’ve determined that I don’t think I’m good at Smash. I agree that improvement is my focus, so I can ask myself how could I improve? And that would bring up a whole slew of aspects of my game to improve upon, which I can work on and hopefully see improvement. And as I work on them, I’ll continue to question each part of them to see what specifically needs to happen for improvement.
Step 7: Do this again. And again. And again. For years. Keep thinking about how you think. Keep pressing your brain to understand itself and then recognise this was only the beginning. You need to understand yourself inside out if you want to step up and make things better for yourself.
If ever you start or think you’re about to feel anxious or depressed over what you’re thinking about, stop. Distance yourself from that headspace and find a distraction. Once you’re better at controlling your emotions, you might be able to navigate those areas of your brain, but this kind of introspection could make your mental health issues worse if you’re unable to find those objective points to stick to.
It’s possible to spiral off of your own thoughts and it will negatively affect your wellbeing, I’ve done that and it set my mental back a lot.
So if you’re coping with mental health issues I cannot stress this enough: start small. Learn how to think about yourself and slowly expand into your bigger issues. Stay focused on the impact introspection has on your mental wellbeing, and if you think it’s making things worse, stop. Tell someone that you trust and see what they think about it, or seek help if you need to.
Being able to see more nuanced points in all of this introspection is important. See my example in Step 2. I don’t think I’m good at Smash. This doesn’t immediately mean I’m terrible at it.
Always strive to find middleground and understand why it exists. Something not being good doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Learn how to question this middleground and how it exists. It’s crucial to becoming more self-aware. Especially if you are coping with mental health issues, neutral stances can be hard to find but they are so important.
I would encourage everyone to find at least 10 things you have varying neutral opinions on that aren’t ambivalence. If you can’t describe a neutral opinion as strongly as a positive or negative one, it could mean you haven’t taught your brain how to express itself without emotions as a major factor. Learning how to look past your emotions is a core part of critical thinking, but don’t go too far. Your emotions are important too and should always have some value in your thought process.
The reason I stress the importance of neutral opinions is how commonly I see people unable to find them. They categorise things as good or bad without thinking about them, and when mental health gets in the way it’s too easy to start seeing yourself as some poorly described badness.
If that’s you, think about that more. Start challenging yourself to become more self-aware. Maybe you do have some poor qualities about you, but that doesn’t make you inherently *bad*. All throughout, there’s going to be an ongoing war between what’s objective and subjective. If you’re experiencing mental health issues, it might be very difficult for you to decide which is which. Sometimes you need another person to make sure your thinking is accurate.
It’s also important to ask yourself why you think that other person believes those things about you—you can find some really crucial information by doing this. I used to think I was an awful person because I spewed vitriol at people I considered friends, the biggest push that helped me realise I could improve was that they considered me a friend as well, despite my shitty behaviour towards them. So I talked to them about it, I learned what qualities I had that allowed them to tolerate my worst behaviour, I used that to change how I thought and eventually, I learned how to change my actions too.
To streamline this process a bit, here are some ideas of things you could prioritise thinking about:
-Your perspective on winning vs losing (especially if there’s any entitlement involved, remember you never deserve to win anything, you have to put in the effort)
-What’s holding you back?
-What’s motivating you?
-What behaviours do you have that you like about yourself?
-What behaviours do you have that you dislike about yourself?
-What would you change about yourself?
-What’s stopping you from making those changes?
In the shorter term, for both your mentality and mental health, you should focus on learning how to hold and evaluate emotions as you experience them.
That means avoiding lashing out, or having things flare to the surface.
It means holding that all back and thinking about it before you act.
For me that meant a lot of acknowledgement and active processing.
I used to be a very quiet person if I wasn’t comfortable because I’d be constantly thinking about the things I was feeling. Social interaction with strangers was difficult because there’d be so many confusing emotions, but over time I started to break those down and understand them, and though I still feel most of them I’ve found ways to overcome them just by thinking about it.
This was different on the internet, which allowed the worst parts of my personality to flourish because the barriers to expressing myself were significantly lower. Years of my personal growth was bent in a miserable direction before I realised this.
No big event that led to new understanding, just long term gradual introspection guided me to become better.
Which was difficult, and it was long, and most of the way I felt like I was failing. Given the nature of this process, I think that might be inherent if your self improvement isn’t immediate, which it’s unlikely to be.
But it will happen if you stick to it.
Part 2: Becoming Better
Imagine you’ve set aside time for introspection every single day for the rest of your life. Over time it will get easier as you learn more about how you function, but you’re still setting aside time for it.
It’s this active process you perform. To become better you’ve got to learn to make it passive. Make it a constant ongoing background thought that’s scanning your brain every single second of every single day.
That’s what it took before I started to see improvement in myself as a person.
That’s what’s allowed me to laser-focus on aspects of my Smash gameplay I need to improve at.
But Smash is weird. It’s complicated. Sometimes the answer is a marginal shift in execution, or to simply just intuit a situation better. Smash isn’t a solved game, you can’t always, or shouldn’t always out-think your problems to solve them. These are things that go beyond the realm of cognitive understanding.
But that doesn’t make this process pointless, quite the opposite. It gives you a guide for how to navigate that ambiguity.
In order to best demonstrate the process of this method, I will be using my own mental health journey as a backdrop.
For a long, long time I had described my flaws well. I knew what my issues were and I knew how they would act up when presented certain stimuli. I could predict my emotions because I was so familiar with my qualities that created them.
There’s a parallel here to Smash. We all have our favourite options and habits. Some of the most difficult adaptations we need to make involve breaking them. So learn to identify them. Learn how to work around them.
The unfortunate reality is that knowing your problems doesn’t make you better. It just makes you aware, which isn’t pleasant.
Once I hit this point, I was still doing shitty things only I’d know that I was doing something shitty as I was doing it.
I started to kick myself for it, and that hurt because I’d tear myself down and spiral all while knowing I was tearing myself down and leading to an even messier mental state.
Compare this to panicking in Smash: Making an error that gets you punished, which stresses you out and causes you to make even more mistakes and you know you’re throwing the game away as you keep getting hit for your choices.
At one point I got so frustrated by this feeling I fixated on one of my flaws and never let it out of my headspace, not even for a second.
If ever I caught myself about to act on that flaw, I’d force myself to do or think something else instead. I hadn’t the discipline to adhere to that desire 100% of the time but every bit helps.
And you will notice a difference the better you get at it.
I clung to that difference so desperately, and it was encouraging because I was becoming more agreeable. I started to do it more and more, all of those issues I knew I had I kept fixated, constantly searching for alternative things to replace them with. For a long time, it was silence. I wouldn’t tear into a friend for something silly, I’d just bite my tongue and focus on something more productive. But that made me restless when it was more than something superficial.
For more important matters, I had to start replacing nothing with productive thoughts and action. For example, if world events enraged me, I’d go research and keep myself informed. I was focusing on myself and I was improving, the lowest point in my mental health journey was accompanied by the sharpest improvement in myself I’d ever seen because I’d finally found a means of turning my understanding into action.
Cognitive engagement and deeper understanding allows you to make informed choices for the better.
It was hard, and every time I slipped, I really slipped. Some days I felt like 5 minutes of bad decisions had set me back months. What got me through it every time was accepting that I was flawed, but because I’d kept such a good understanding of my thoughts and emotions I was always able to bounce back—that focus on long term growth, recognising I’d been digging myself into a hole for years and that it would take years again to make it back out. But the more I kept it up, the better I became at it. I stopped slipping up as often, and I found myself with enough energy to start making external amends, beyond just fixing my behaviour. Apologies, long discussions and the like, showing people that I’d hurt that I was becoming better.
Determining what action you should take and when you should take it are all crucial decisions that your introspection should help you decide upon. Maximise the comfort of yourself and those around you, make smart decisions instead of spontaneous ones.
For me, all of this fed itself into a positive feedback loop of encouragement. Both internal and external, I had something to believe in and that something was actually working. Not all of it was positive, this period was important because it helped me reassess relationships and other aspects of my life. Every step of the way evaluating what had changed, what was better and what was worse allowed me to stay focused on what I had to do to improve.
One of the most amusing realisations to me was when I saw the exact same thing happening in Smash during periods of sharper improvement.
This process to become better follows the cycle of understanding —> action —> understanding. Evaluate at every step. How do you feel? What can you change? How will you change it? Find that consistency to push through, always informing your decisions on what you know about yourself. Most importantly, you shouldn’t act if you aren’t certain.
And the silly part is, it all sounds hideously obvious.
Like, actual kindergarten level awareness. “Learn something and act on it.”
But we’re human. We take shortcuts, especially in the face of daunting challenges.
We let emotions get in the way.
We act like we know better.
And the more those factors push you away from cognitive engagement, the more likely it is you could be wrong.
If ever you’re unsure, stop and think. A lot of complications will not require an immediate solution. If you’re not sure how you want to shift your behaviour or perspective, you can wait or experiment in small increments until you are sure.
This in particular is more easily related to Smash.
Keep thinking about your approach to the game, what you’re having issues with and how you might lab out a solution to them, keep experimenting if you’re unsure. In the meantime, you mightn’t see yourself improve as a player but you’re still gathering experience that’ll help you realise what you could be doing instead.
It’s up to you to wield that experience properly, everyone learns and grows differently. Make informed decisions to improve based on what you know applies best to you. Keep talking to others who might have more experience, or have made those sort of decisions before as they will help inform your own choices.
Again, I would suggest you start with one thing. Maybe you’re too sarcastic, or you over extend in advantage, or you notice some other behaviour you have bothers yourself or others. Find your solution to it, then pick another and another and another until you start to clean out your issues. It will take time, and it will take an immense amount of discipline but if you have good introspection skills you can always pull yourself back to a position where you’re able to continue forward with this approach.
Once you start to improve you can think about optimising your active mind and cleaning your brain. You might have externally solved some problems that led to improvement, but have you resolved the underlying issue?
Maybe you’ve become better at one of your issues 95% of the time, but so long as that 5% stays around you’re in a position where you could set yourself back a lot of effort at any time. This is where you really have to start eradicating bad thoughts.
Think about what you know of optimal Smash play, now think of how often you or other players are able to adhere to that. Think about what you know of your own emotions and how often you act in the best interest of your emotional wellbeing. We all make mistakes, but reaching a point where you’re less likely to formulate bad decisions is possible.
One major thing I often see people struggle with is the brain’s vocabulary. Words you think are acceptable to use, or use against yourself.
It can be hard to stop using certain words, or thinking certain things, or even start to recognise something as bad.
Self deprecation is all too common these days and I think it’s problematic.
If you’re someone who engages in self deprecation, joking or not, you’re dampening the mood at your own expense which is two negatives on top of each other (which definitely does not make a positive). A lot of people seem to think self deprecation is just being realistic or funny when it’s anything but.
It’s magnifying your issues beyond a reasonable scale and actively wielding them against yourself, possibly in the presence of others which could hurt them too by reinforcing the idea that they should be so self-critical.
Ideas float around the brain regardless of if you think it’s a joke or not. You need to recognise that self deprecation is a trap, similar to things like suicidal jokes. Anything personally relevant and negative that you bring up often enough is only going to hurt your mental wellbeing, even if it only makes you less sensitive to those things. You need to recognise that they’re harmful once again, and train your brain to filter them out entirely and your headspace will become a lot less negative, which gives you a better chance at thinking about the other issues you’re facing.
As for certain words or phrases, you need to train yourself to recognise them and cull them from your vocabulary, even just your thinking. For smashers in particular, there’s an ableist slur that starts with R that’s used all too frequently, I’d suggest you start there. Swap it for ridiculous or find a more inventive insult for someone, joking or otherwise. It can be hard to do, because words can flow so quickly but you can focus on finding the trends that result in those words/phrases/ideas coming into your thoughts and be ready to replace it.
The bigger your reaction to controlling it the better. I used to think “I want to die” or similar when some mild inconvenience happened, but that wasn’t true at all. I would challenge myself on it every time I did it, going as far as making myself give reasons why I didn’t want to die every time it happened until eventually it stopped happening.
Was it incredibly cheesy?
Did it work?
You have to recognise these things are holding you back and train your brain to remove them or replace them with something beneficial. It all builds upon itself and having a positive headspace is extremely helpful if you’re trying to live a less stressful life. It lets you think clearly, which helps when you want to improve yourself, or improve at hobbies like Smash or art.
At its core, these ideas boil down to discipline and recognising your own agency as a human. But it’s a rigorous process to adhere to them which is difficult to sustain. Keep actively engaging in introspection. Learn yourself, learn how to train yourself and finally apply that information to improve yourself.
It all sounds basic, but legitimising it as an approach to improving your wellbeing instead of something you already knew will help you stick out this lengthy process.
If you read this far, thank you for reading. There’s more I could say, but for now I think this covers most of it. I truly hope this helps you. I think part of why this became over 4000 words long is that I wanted to stress how arduous this process is. It really sounds simple but it’s H A R D to keep it up for as long as you need to start seeing improvement from it.
If there’s anything you’d like further explanation of, don’t be afraid to ask. If you just need someone to talk to about mental health, you can reach out to me.
Look after yourselves friends. The world’s hard enough without your own brain turning on you. Sometimes we just want to play video games without feeling like a piece of shit, and I admire that.
Resources, and how to access mental health help in Australia:
If you would like professional help, the first step is seeing your GP and asking for a Mental Health Treatment Plan.
Your doctor will provide all necessary information and run you through a short quiz. You do not need to pass any thresholds on this quiz to access mental health treatment, it is simply to help categorise your struggles so your doctor can refer you to an appropriate therapist.
With a Mental Health Treatment Plan, MediCare will help cover the costs of your therapy sessions.
Learn more here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-health-treatment-plan
If you don’t want to see your GP, or are unable to do so safely you can search for a psychologist through the APS here:
Or go through other organisations like:
Headspace - https://headspace.org.au/welcome-to-headspace-centres/
BeyondBlue - https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/find-a-professional
This article is an adaptation of a Twitlonger I wrote in 2020.
You can view the original here:
by Fumble 11/07/2021 00:00:00
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