Author: Justin Mckibben
When we ease our way out of the mental fog that is created in active addiction we may find ourselves with a bit of a mental block. Some people theorize that whatever age you are when you start excessively using substances is the age that you will remain mentally until you detox and break away from the substances. Then once you have cleaned up, you begin a slow process of redeveloping the mind to try and catch up with your age. While it makes sense that the brains growth is stunted by the use of drugs, we can admit some of it may not have to do with our capacity to cultivate our intellect, and more to do with the fact many of us shrug off intellectual pursuits while actively using drugs or alcohol.
We may find we have to put in more work to build mental muscle in recovery. Clearing our minds of years’ worth of chemical conditioning can take some time, but we can exercise our minds to help make ourselves smarter.
Here are 3 ways to build mental muscle in recovery.
Challenge yourself in different ways
One way to step up your smarts is to go out of your way to engage in tasks that are diverse and challenging. If you are used to reading and writing a lot, try stepping out of that familiar space and working on something that stimulates the mind and body in a different way.
Other hobbies or chores can be challenging either mentally or physically. Some people will chose to exercise or play team sports, evoking a different form of concentration. Others will tackle a list of household projects which might not be intellectually stimulating, but require discipline.
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
-Thomas A. Edison
In recovery you will find a lot of opportunities to experience different modes of thinking. One suggestion I will pass on is to practice meditation. Slowing down and finding quiet and reflective moments can help the mind sort through some of the busier information. For a lot of us just sitting still is extremely challenging.
Find ways to push your mind to grow in different directions once in a while.
Learn to use social thinking
The fact is that intelligence has never been limited to what goes on in our own mind. A more inclusive definition of “thinking” includes external sources that supply us with a variety of perspectives. Makes sense, since basically everything you can “know” comes from experiencing the outside world and digesting the information on the inside.
Social dynamics and social remembering play a big part in committing information to memory. When we interact with each other and take on new data, we can attach emotions to it based on the social setting. These subtle anchors help us to store the information.
“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
In recovery you have countless opportunities every day to interact with others in recovery. You get to sit and discuss strategies for sobriety, philosophical ideas and share deep emotional experience. Through the experience, strength and hope of others we build mental muscle in recovery. This is part of why sharing and 12 Step meetings are so effective. They provide us with a new format to learn as we grow.
Do things with passion
Another way to build mental muscle in recovery is to find passion in what you are doing. Wisdom comes from information and experience, and a lot of times our understanding is magnified when we can connect on a deeper level with it.
Sometimes it is difficult to be passionate about things that you wouldn’t be easily interested in. Some of us find we have to research things for school or work that aren’t what we naturally are attracted to intellectually. However, by seeking an aspect of every assignment that we can internalize and make it our own we can optimize our ability to retain the information. Our emotions are stronger for our minds than we think.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
So, to build more mental muscle in recovery using your passion, you can look for the element of each obstacle that makes it matter to you on a personal level. Sometimes therapy or 12 Step work will seem tedious and irrelevant, but if you find a way to be passionate about it, even if it’s just to get it done, you have a better chance of holding onto the information.
In fact, finding a passion for your sobriety is probably a huge way of building your mental muscles in recovery. Getting smarter isn’t just about staring into a book and recording the words. Intelligence doesn’t just mean collecting data. It also means knowing why the data matters at all.
In life you don’t necessarily need to be the most book smart person to succeed. In all honesty, everyone has their own measure of what success even means. Building mental muscle in recovery might give you a new definition of what success means. Either way, to open your mind and grow in knowledge and awareness has the ability to change your life.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Overall, it is important for us to pay attention to our mind and bodies. As we change our lives, it is important to grow. Only by building mental muscle in recovery can we reach our potential for freedom and fulfillment. In recovery, it is important to recognize what drives you, and expand your awareness and understanding.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free: