The mental balance is fundamental for our well-being, both emotional and physical. However, we often neglect it or do not pay enough attention to it. We are proactive in many areas of our lives, we take care of our diet, we keep in shape and secure our most valuable possessions, but sometimes we forget our psychological balance and leave it completely to chance, thus becoming victims of circumstances.
What is mental balance?
Mental balance is a state of well-being that results from freeing the mind of its afflictive and negative tendencies, realizing its potential in terms of wisdom, compassion and creativity. It is a state in which affections and thoughts contribute to personal well-being, so that we feel full and at peace in order to fully develop our potential.
Reaching mental balance does not mean that we will completely get rid of negative thoughts and emotions because, in one way or another, we will always be exposed to adversity and problems. Developing mental balance means not allowing these situations to generate so many negative thoughts and emotions that tilt the balance too much to make us feel bad.
The 4 types of mental balance: How to develop them?
- Conative Balance
Conation refers to intention and will, as well as its implementation. It does not imply simply setting a goal or wanting something but committing to its achievement. It is not limited to the desire to quit smoking but it means committing and changing for real.
The conative balance is fundamental for the mental balance, because if we develop unreal wishes and aspirations or do nothing to achieve our goals, we will end up frustrated and suffering a high level of psychological anguish.
On the other hand, experiencing a conative deficit; that is, not wanting anything or committing to any goal, tends to generate apathy, discouragement and, ultimately, an existential vacuum that will make us deeply unhappy. Staying in apathy leads to disappointment and despair.
The key is to develop goals and desires based on reality and oriented to our happiness, with which we can commit ourselves and bring it to fruition, will facilitate our psychological balance. However, developing the conative balance is not enough to change some goals for others, we have to start an exercise of introspection that allows us discover what we really want and commit ourselves to those goals.
- Attentional balance
The will without the ability to maintain the attention leads to an imbalance. In fact, the attentional balance is essential to perform optimally and not fall into hyperactivity or hypoactivity.
Attention hyperactivity occurs when the mind is excessively excited, which generates a state of compulsive agitation and distraction. This level of attention is not functional and does not allow us to meet our objectives; on the contrary, it leads to dispersion. At the opposite extreme we find the attentional hypoactivity, a state of laxity that keeps us deconcentrated and also prevents us from reaching our goals because the mind wanders aimlessly.
These imbalances are remedied through full attention, which would be a sustained and voluntary level of attention focused on an activity or object, without distractions. This type of attention is not directed only towards the external but also implies the ability to scrutinize inside ourselves and be able to gently guide attention to what interests us when we are distracted, without getting angry, irritated or frustrated.
That attention can be cultivated in different ways, although one of the most effective methods is mindfulness meditation.
- Cognitive balance
Cognitive balance involves engaging with the world of experience without making assumptions or harboring preconceived ideas about events that may give rise to misinterpretations or distortions of reality. It means being present without judging or criticizing, simply living the experience.
Cognitive balance involves getting rid of stereotypes and prejudices, as well as cognitive biases, or at least being aware of their existence to understand the difference between reality and our expectations or fantasies, that world that we spin in our minds and that usually gives misunderstandings or emotional reactions exaggerated out of context.
Buddhism offers us a clear example of cognitive imbalance: confusing a coiled rope with a snake. How is it possible? That confusion is due to the fact that, instead of just checking reality, we do not pay enough attention and project our fears or expectations, turning the rope into a snake.
In everyday life we continually confuse our expectations, ideas and prejudices with reality, projecting our fears and hopes onto the facts. This generates an imbalance since we do not respond to reality as it is, but react to the history we have built in our mind. This cognitive imbalance can lead us to fight against windmills, causing us to lose valuable energy.
To develop cognitive balance we must continually test our beliefs and thoughts. We must ask ourselves if we are reacting to what happens to us or if we are exaggerating the facts because our expectations or preconceived ideas are influencing us. It is a deep work of cognitive restructuring that involves changing the limiting beliefs for more adaptive and flexible ones.
- Emotional balance
Emotional balance is the result of the balance between the conative, attentional and cognitive balance. When we set realistic goals and commit ourselves to their achievement, we keep our expectations under control and focus on what really matters, emotional balance is a natural result of the balance between desires, thoughts and actions.
Having a good emotional balance does not imply assuming an indifferent and cold attitude, but being aware of the emotions and feelings we are experiencing, understanding their influence and being able to manage them and express them assertively.
In fact, to maintain mental equilibrium, anger is as negative as extreme euphoria because both states become spectacles that prevent us from seeing reality clearly. The emotional balance is the result of an adequate regulation of affection, of self-knowledge and maturity.
To develop it, it is necessary to work on Emotional Intelligence and assume that emotions are not enemies to fight but signs to be taken into account, as valuable as logic and reason.
Why should you invest on your mental balance?
Developing a good mental balance will help you cope with problems. When you have the necessary psychological tools and a more balanced vision, you will be able to deal with the difficulties without collapsing. That means that adversity will do you less damage and you’ll be able to get out of that state sooner. With no doubt, it is a worthwhile investment.
Wallace, B.A. & Shapiro, S. L. (2006) Mental balance and well-being: building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. Am Psychol; 61(7): 690-701.