How to Discover Your "One Thing" for Great Mental Wellness

I love teaching about mental health.

It helps me feel alive.

For other people, it might be sports or cooking. Or relationships.

We all have something that lights us up with excitement.

And for me, it’s mental health.

But what if we narrowed in on mental health in a certain way?

Is it is possible to figure out the one thing you must do to improve your mental health?

Let’s see if we can get there.

The One Thing

Gary Keller is the founder of Keller-Williams, the biggest real estate franchise in the United States and the biggest by realtor count in the world.

Keller is also an author of a hugely influential book, The One Thing.

Most people know Keller because of real estate, but he’s also had an outsized impact, because of his book, in the world of personal development.

In a few sentences, this is what The One Thing is all about. Keller argues that it is by focusing on one thing at a time that we make progress on what matters in our life. In fact, he’s distilled his life philosophy, which also includes tactics like time-blocking and calendar-planning, to fit into one question:

What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

It’s a powerful question. And it makes me think of another question:

Could this philosophy be applied to mental health?

The One Thing for Your Mental Health

When I think of mental health, there are lots of topics that come to mind. There’s the physical aspect, or keeping my body healthy. There are my relationships. There are also more mundane matters like making sure I get enough sleep and carving out enough time for myself. All of these things come to mind when I think of what “mental health” means to me.

But it doesn’t give me a clear idea of how to improve myself. Instead, it leads to a lot of disparate thoughts being muddled together in my mind.

That’s why Gary Keller’s big question can make a big difference.

When I think of my mental health in this new way, a few ideas jump to the surface. I know I need to get enough sleep. I know I need to eat food that doesn’t make me feel terrible and drain my energy. There are a few essential actions that immediately seem obvious. It makes me want to ask myself this question all day, every day.

But Keller, on this podcast with top “lifestyle design” expert Tim Ferris, warns that life is not about constantly maximizing every moment of every day. Instead, he explains that the goal is to pick one big activity that aligns with your goals, and get that done early in the morning so that you “win the day.”

Now, Keller’s main focus with The One Thing is helping readers lead productive lives. But this is a mental health newsletter, and the same logic can be applied to your mental and emotional health.

So I want you to really think about this question. Don’t just skim over it and let it build up residue in the back of your brain. Really chew on it for a bit.

What is the one mental health action you could take such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?

This may not be the same task every day. Or maybe that’s not how you think. Maybe you are the kind of person who needs to focus on one theme per week. Whatever tickles your fancy, try to pick a task that will make your days easier. Aim for a snowball effect.

If you get a huge energy boost from running in the morning, if getting your daily exercise in fuels the rest of your day, then commit to a running routine.

But if you get hangry without your morning bowl of oatmeal, maybe you should design a peaceful oatmeal-eating ritual instead as your one big thing.

It’s your life, and your one thing is going to be specific to what your individual needs are.

Don’t get lost in the semantics of the question. Instead, think about the question for the timeless wisdom that it contains.

In a society where we are all pushed to move and think faster and faster, there is real power in slowing down, in taking the time to focus on just one thing.