Marc Champagne calls himself a mental fitness strategist, a term he coined to describe the kind of guidance he provides for clients (often in the corporate world) to help them achieve “a thriving state of mind instead of that surviving state of mind.” Through a set of brain-training practices that do for the health of the mind what physical exercise does for the health of the body, Champagne teaches busy, successful clients the powerful process of understanding what’s going on in our brains, identifying what doesn’t serve us, and letting that go so that we can move ahead to a happier, smarter, more satisfying headspace.
We spoke to Marc about how to establish a mental fitness routine of your own — and what that can do for your overall wellness. Here’s some of his best advice:
Identify the why
Often the most difficult aspect of adopting a new practice or habit — be it meditation, running, weekly meal preps, or journaling — is figuring out where to start. What yoga studio should you choose? What are you supposed to write in a journal? What IS meditation anyway? Does it require a special mat or cushion? These unknowns can seem intimidating and feel like a reason to delay or put off a practice altogether. Champagne, however, zeroes in on a first step that feels more essential to what’s at the core of this kind of lifestyle change.
“The easiest way to get started,” he advises, “is to first and foremost, identify the ‘why’ behind your mental fitness practice. Like, why, if you’re doing nothing at this point, do you want to start in the first place? Have that grounded in something.
“In the physical fitness world, usually there’s a goal associated with your training, whether that’s an event or whether that’s just to be in good physical condition and feel more energized. It’s the same thing with mental fitness. If you can link it to some sort of goal, then it just boosts your probability of being more consistent with the practice.”
In terms of a mental fitness practice, Champagne recommends, “Start small. And be intentional with what you’re doing. The idea is not to force a routine, but to integrate a mental fitness practice with what you’re doing already.”
Make it personal
There’s no single prescription for mental fitness, says Champagne. The practice works best when it’s personalized. He recommends asking yourself which related activities — whether it’s meditation, journaling, breathwork, gratitude work, or something else related to your mental wellbeing — bring you the most joy and satisfaction.
“Then the next question is, ‘Well, if I look at my weekly schedule, how often am I doing those things?’ And then just making sure that that is built into your schedule. That way, you get to the point where you’re having more happy days than not and slowly it just keeps compounding. All of a sudden, you have a mental fitness practice or a ritual that involves many different modalities, whatever it is. It’s just getting to that personalized level.”
Nurturing understanding and letting go
“To me,” says Champagne, “mental fitness is really just training your mind to work for you instead of against you.” This type of training, he explains, enhances our self-awareness and supplies us with the tools to free our brains from those negative mental thought loops we can so easily get caught up in.
“We don’t make our best decisions when we’re terrified,” says Champagne. “And when we feel anxious, we don’t think clearly. It’s really hard to come up with good ideas when you’re in that state of mind. It’s a very emotionally charged situation and it’s not about masking feelings or emotions, but it’s about identifying them and understanding what’s not serving us and letting that go.”
Ask the right questions (and keep asking them)
As an unknown, the future, even just your personal future, can feel limitless and vast, making it difficult to know if you’re moving forward in a meaningful way. When it comes to mental fitness, Champagne says to ask yourself two questions: Who am I right now? And who am I striving to become?
“That gap,” he explains, “is where you can set up practices in your life and slowly start to design your life to support the person you’re striving to become. This is where I really find mental fitness helps because you catch yourself when you’re off the track and you can ask simple check in questions at the end of the week like, ‘What did I learn this week? What could have changed this week? What can I celebrate this week?’ That takes literally 10 minutes of time to just slow down and reflect and see how the week went. But it gives you the luxury of preventing a lot of wasted energy and time. If you’re slightly off course you can recalibrate in a matter of a few minutes. Often we don’t get that opportunity because we’re on autopilot. We just keep going and going.”
Edit your life
Too busy to practice mental fitness? That might be an indication that it’s time to drop some of the habits and activities that aren’t serving you. Champagne calls this process a “life edit” in which you put your autopilot routine on hold to evaluate where you’re spending your time and energy. Ask yourself: Do those activities, people, and places line up with the person you want to be? During your average week, what gives you energy and what takes it away? Look for patterns and themes that might indicate it’s time to focus energy elsewhere.
Even the small changes and tweaks that come out of this kind of audit or course correction can have an impact. “All of a sudden you’re doing the things that are fueling the person that you want to be, fueling the work that you’re trying to put out there,” says Champagne. “And typically when that happens, we feel happier and more fulfilled and more aligned with everything that we’re doing.”