“Mental Calisthenics” was an intriguing new term proposed by English journalist, writer and philosopher Arnold Bennett in this early example of a self-help book, "Mental Efficiency" (AKA Mental Efficiency and Other Hints to Men and Women).
Bennett bemoans the fact that most of us are focused on keeping ourselves physically healthy and we spend a lot of time, effort and thought into keeping the body in fine trim. However, in the race to become thinner, more muscular, youthful-looking, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we often neglect our mental health. Concentrating on one part of ourselves and ignoring another can have disastrous effects.
In this book, published in 1911, Bennett uses a witty and conversational style to share his thoughts about keeping the mind as fresh as the body. Just as one does regular physical exercises, both men and women should ensure that they follow a strict daily regimen of mental exercises as well. Some of the aspects of mental health are keeping one’s individuality in the midst of pressures from family, society and loved ones, keeping a journal or performing some kind of writing task daily, regular introspection and meditation. He also urges us to avoid looking back too much at our past lives and wallow in grief and worry. This can help people to overcome depression and sorrow.
Managing life events like marriage, family-life and maintenance of relationships, buying books and devoting enough time to self-enrichment through reading, making a success of life, recognising the artificiality of many of our social behaviours and finally finding contentment and happiness in our lives are some of the ideas discussed here.