Mental strength isn’t like having blue or brown eyes, where you’re either born with it or not. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed. Just like physical strength, some people are more naturally primed for mental toughness based on genetics, personality, and experiences. Obviously, you can’t change what happened in your childhood or the fact that depression runs in your family, but even if you’re not naturally inclined towards mental toughness, there’s still hope for you to become a mental heavyweight champ.
What Is Mental Strength?
Mental strength requires balancing rational thinking and emotions to work together to make decisions to guide your behavior. To be mentally strong is to become aware of your thoughts and emotions and work with them to consciously choose your actions, which is what mindfulness is all about. It’s about responding rather than reacting. It’s about not saying, “I can’t help the way I feel” or “This is just the way I am.”
What Mental Strength Is Not
The stereotype of the mentally strong person depicted as an unemotional, cold, bossy, aggressive, person who never asks for help is just plain wrong. According to Amy Morin in her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success, here’s what mental strength is not:
- Being mentally strong isn’t about acting tough. – It’s about acting according to your values.
- Mental strength doesn’t require that you ignore your emotions. – It’s about understanding your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and behaviors.
- Mental strength isn’t about ignoring pain, physical or emotional. – It’s about determining the source of the pain and knowing when to behave to the contrary and when to listen.
- Mental strength doesn’t require being self-reliant. – It’s about knowing and admitting that you don’t have all the answers or skills, seeking help from others or a higher power, and accepting it with a willingness to grow.
- Being mentally strong is not about positive thinking. – Thinking overly positive can be just as bad as being negative. It’s about thinking realistically and rationally.
- Developing mental strength isn’t about chasing happiness. – While learning to flex your mental muscle can help you achieve more satisfaction and success in life, it isn’t about waking up every morning and forcing yourself to feel happy. It’s about reaching your full potential.
- Mental strength isn’t just another word for mental health. – Just like you can still be strong and healthy with a physical condition, like diabetes, you can still be mentally strong even if you have depression, anxiety, or some other issue. It may require more work, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
How To Get Mentally Strong
As in increasing your body’s strength, the key to getting mentally tough is dedication and repetition. You have to learn to work with your thoughts, manage your emotions, and behave productively despite the circumstances. Over time with regular practice, attention, and focus, your brain will actually physically rewire itself, through a process called neuroplasticity, so that stronger and healthier becomes the default. Increasing your mental strength is the key to reaching your greatest potential in life.
Taking a single body pump class isn’t going to get you in shape. However, doing three per week for three months is going to make some major changes. Similarly, if you practice small changes every day for a while to build mental muscle, you will see positive results.
According to Morin’s article, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, here’s how you get there:
1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt.
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy.
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action.
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it. However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
Mentally strong people accept responsibility for their behavior and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future.
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success.
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
Mentally strong people don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive. They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone.
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
Mentally strong people don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits.
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results
Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time.
The Benefits of Mental Strength
It’s easy to feel tough enough when life is humming along smoothly, but when the inevitable problems arise, being mentally strong will make you better equipped to deal with whatever challenge is before you. According to Morin, the benefits of developing your mental strength include:
- Increased resilience to stress – You’ll handle everyday situations better, not just crises, and reduce overall stress.
- Improved life satisfaction – As mental strength increases, confidence and peace of mind go up.
- Enhanced performance – Whether you want to be a better athlete, parent, partner, or worker, increasing your mental strength will help you reach your full potential.