Myth #1 - People Are Either Mentally Strong or Mentally Weak
There ARE NOT two categories of people – the mentally strong and the mentally weak. Instead, everyone possesses mental strength to some degree and we all have the ability to become stronger. Just like you have to keep working out to stay physically strong, mental strength requires ongoing exercise and practice.
Myth #2 - Mental Strength Means Always Thinking Positively
Building mental strength doesn’t mean you should start expecting great things to happen or that you should only think happy thoughts. In fact, thinking overly positive thoughts can be just as detrimental as thinking overly negative thoughts. Building mental strength is about training yourself to think rationally and realistically.
Although we’re prone to believe our thoughts, our thoughts aren’t always true. When we’re feeling bad, our thoughts are likely to be exaggeratedly negative. On the other hand, when we’re extremely happy, we’re more likely to overestimate ourselves and our abilities. Developing mental strength increases our ability to evaluate our thoughts and develop more realistic inner monologues.
Myth #3 - Mentally Strong People Show No Emotion
Being mentally strong doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cry at funerals or gush at adorable babies just so you can appear tough. Rather than suppressing emotions, building mental strength increases our awareness of them.
We make our best decisions in life when we’re in control of our emotions – rather than allowing our emotions to control us. Mentally strong people are able to recognize when their feelings are likely to lead to unhealthy behavior and they proactively take steps to regulate those emotions.
HABITS OF MENTALLY STRONG PEOPLE:
#1 - BE POSITIVE. Every day, there is a dialogue going on in your mind. These thoughts are usually a mixture of outside stimuli and your own beliefs about yourself. Some will be negative, but to be successful, you must focus on the ones that make you feel better about yourself. It sounds like corny advice, but you’d be hard- pressed to find a successful person who doesn’t practice it. If you think you can’t get into great shape or lose weight, you can’t!
An easy way to stay in a positive frame of mind is to create a mission statement that gets you pumped up. Take the time to consider your reason for getting healthier, competing in a particular challenge, gaining strength, or whatever your goal. If you have a powerful reason why, you can get through anything. Make this ‘why’ your mission statement and repeat it to yourself during your training. Anytime you catch yourself slacking, questioning your motivation, or feeling like you want to quit, repeat your mission statement.
#2 - TALK TO YOURSELF. You can be your own coach. Speak to yourself in the second person with statements such as, ‘You are going to give this everything you have.’ It can simulate the extra bit of motivation any coach would provide.
Learning to talk positively to yourself when the going gets tough takes practice, but you’ll get better at it. Then, on race day (or whatever your particular challenge is), you’ll be able to talk yourself into a second wind.
#3 - VISUALISE. Before you even set foot inside the gym or pick up a dumbbell, your set should be mentally done. Imagine the steps you’ll take to get into position and the way your body will look performing the movement, and rehearse each repetition in your mind. Think about how all that will feel to you. Because it’s already been done in your mind, all you have to do is repeat it with your body.
#4 - MEDITATE. Various forms of meditation have been used for thousands of years for almost any purpose you can fathom, including reduction of stress, enhanced mental clarity, and simple relaxation. But you don’t have to get all New-Agey to make it work. Skip the candles and Enya tunes and instead just focus on clearing your mind of extraneous thoughts and mentally preparing yourself for the upcoming contest or confrontation.
#5 - GET UNCOMFORTABLE. You can’t settle into a routine and expect to make progress. If you’re trying to be a better runner, then a couple of times a month you need to practice running a little longer or faster than you’re used to. The same logic applies to the gym and life in general. Take acting lessons, do an acrobatic class, or learn to dance. Just as progression is an important part of training, applying any challenging stimulus to your life will give you a greater ability to handle stress of all kinds.
It teaches you problem-solving skills and critical thinking, both of which can help you tough out any number of situations.
#6 - BE PREPARED. Endurance athletes have a saying: Nothing new on race day. Meaning if you’ve prepared yourself for everything, you’ll be ready for anything. You should know well ahead of a race what you are going to eat, wear, and even think about that day. Naturally, you can’t be prepared for every eventuality, but try to be anyway. Anticipate any problems that could arise, and have a solution in mind. During a triathlon, these could include flat bicycle tires, getting your goggles knocked off during the swim, or getting blisters on your feet. Knowing you have done everything possible to get to your goal will help you mentally. When it comes to the event you are training for, you can go into it with peace of mind. Once you have that, you’ll be surprised by just how far you can go.
MANY EXERCISES EXIST THAT CAN HELP YOU DEVELOP MENTAL STRENGTH. BUT HERE ARE FIVE THAT CAN GET YOU STARTED:
1. Evaluate Your Core Beliefs (YOUR ‘BRAND’)
We’ve all developed core beliefs about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Whether you’re aware of your core beliefs or not, they influence your thoughts, your behavior and emotions.
Sometimes, core beliefs are inaccurate and unproductive. For example, if you believe that you’ll never succeed in your career, you may be less apt to apply for new jobs — and inadvertently, you may not present yourself well on job interviews. Therefore, your core beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are “always” or “never” true. Modifying core beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of your life.
2. Expend Your Mental Energy Wisely: it’s a precious commodity
Wasting brain-power ruminating, or procrastinating about things you can’t control drains mental energy quickly. The more you think about negative problems that you can’t solve, the less energy you’ll have leftover for creative pursuits. It’s a bit like having a dozen phone Apps running in the background, constantly draining the battery power required for important day-to-day functions. For example, sitting and worrying about the weather forecast isn’t helpful. If a major storm is headed your way, worrying about it won’t prevent it. You can, however, choose to prepare for it. Focus on what is only within your control.
Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals. When your thoughts aren’t productive, make a conscious effort to shift your mental energy to more helpful topics. If you can’t ‘fix it’ or ‘change it’, learn from it and let it go.
The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will become a habit.
3. Replace Negative Thoughts with Productive Thoughts
Although most of us don’t spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of your thinking habits proves useful in building resilience. Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such as, “I can’t ever do anything right,” hold you back from reaching your full potential. Catch your negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and influence your behavior.
Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don’t need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, “There are some areas in need of improvement, but I also have plenty of strengths.” Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.
4. Practice Tolerating Discomfort
Being mentally strong doesn’t mean you don’t experience emotions. In fact, mental strength requires you to become acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about how to respond. Mental strength is about accepting your feelings without being controlled by them.
Mental strength also involves an understanding of when it makes sense to behave contrary to your emotions. For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to continue to challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows.
Practice behaving like the person you’d like to become. Instead of saying, “I wish I could be more outgoing,” choose to behave in a more outgoing manner, whether you feel like it or not. Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain, and tolerating that discomfort will help make your vision a reality, one small step at a time.
5. Reflect on Your Progress Daily
Today’s busy world doesn’t lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. Create time to reflect upon your progress toward developing mental strength. At the end of each day, ask yourself what you’ve learned about your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Consider what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow.
Developing mental strength is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement, and at times this will seem more difficult than at other times. Reflecting upon your progress can reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while living according to your values.
10 TRAITS OF EMOTIONALLY RESILIENT PEOPLE
1. They know their boundaries. Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. The stress/trauma might play a part in their story but it does not overtake their permanent identity.
2. They keep good company. Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people, whether just for fun or when there’s a need for support. Supportive people give us the space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice. Good supporters know how to just be with adversity—calming us rather than frustrating us.
3. They cultivate self-awareness. Being ‘blissfully unaware’ can get us through a bad day but it's not a very wise long-term strategy. Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs—knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some extra help. The self-aware are good at listening to the subtle cues their body and their mood are sending. On the other hand, a prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness can make us emotional glaciers: Always trying to be strong in order to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment.
4. They practice acceptance. Pain is painful, stress is stressful, and healing takes time. When we're in it, we want the pain to go away. When we're outside it, we want to take away the pain of those who we see suffering. Yet resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of living that ebbs and flows. As hard as it is in the moment, it’s better to come to terms with the truth of the pain than to ignore it, repress it, or deny it. Acceptance is not about giving up and letting the stress take over, it's about leaning in to experience the full range of emotions and trusting we will bounce back.
5. They’re willing to sit in silence. We are masters of distraction: T.V., overeating, abusing drugs, risky behaviour, gossip, etc. We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle there is mindfulness-- being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance. It takes practice, but it’s one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.
6. They don’t have to have all the answers. The psyche has its own built-in protective mechanisms that help us regulate stress. When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face to traumatic events, that trying too hard can block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time. We can find strength in knowing that it's okay to not have it all figured out right now and trusting that we will gradually find peace and knowing when we’re is ready.
7. They have a menu of self-care habits. They have a mental list (perhaps even a physical list) of good habits that support them when they need it most. We can all become self-care spotters in our life—noticing those things that recharge our batteries.
8. They enlist their team. The most resilient among us know how to reach out for help. They know who will serve as a listening ear and, let’s be honest, who won’t! Our team of supporters helps us reflect back what they see when we’re too immersed in overwhelm to witness our own coping.
9. They consider the possibilities. We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which can possibly change. Can this situation be looked at in a different way that I haven't been considering? This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being colored by our current interpretation. Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today's interpretation can and will change, gives us the hope that things can feel better tomorrow.
10. They get out of their head. When we're in the midst of stress and overwhelm, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We can find reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head and onto our paper.