This insightful blog on how to increase your mental strength is authored by Michelle Bakjac of Bakjac Consulting.
Psychology often focuses on maintaining our mental health — but what is not discussed as often is our mental strength. Mental strength or mental toughness is our ability to regulate our own emotions, manage our thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite the prevailing circumstances. Developing mental strength is about finding the courage to live according to your values and being bold enough to create your own definition of success.
Developing mental strength requires hard work and commitment. It’s about establishing healthy habits and choosing to devote your time and energy to self-improvement.
Although it’s easier to feel mentally strong when life seems simple, true mental strength actually reaches its potential when we are under stress. Choosing to develop skills that increase your mental strength is the best way to prepare for life’s inevitable obstacles. You can “wait for the storm to pass, or you can learn how to dance in the rain”
Here are some approaches to get you started building your mental strength:
Evaluate Your Core Beliefs
We all tend to develop core beliefs about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Our core beliefs influence your thoughts, your behaviour and your emotions.
Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Can you start by turning your black thoughts to a shade of grey and gradually lighten them even further. 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.
Be Wise About How You Expend Your Mental Energy
Wasting time and brain power ruminating about things you can’t control drains you quickly. The more you think about negative problems that you can’t solve, the less energy you’ll have left over for the things that actually are within your circle of influence. For example, sitting and worrying about a big presentation you have to deliver is not helpful. Worrying about it won’t prevent the deadline. You can, however, choose to prepare for the presentation.
Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals. Consider drawing two large circles, one within the other. Write down all the things about the issue you can control in one circle and all the things outside of your control in the other. Then look to see where you are spending most of your thinking time. Then try shifting your focus to where you can reach the greatest outcome. The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will become a habit.
Replace Negative Thoughts
Increasing your awareness of your thinking habits is extremely beneficial in building your mental strength. Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such as, “I can never do anything right,” or “I’m useless”, hold you back from reaching your full potential. Catch your negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and impact on your behaviour.
Identify your negative thoughts and then replace them with thoughts that are more productive. They don’t always have to be extremely positive, but they can be more realistic. A more balanced thought may be, “I may have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths”, or “I took away some opportunities to learn from that experience”. Managing your thoughts requires constant vigilance, but the process can be very influential in helping you become your best possible self.
Practice Tolerating Discomfort
Being mentally strong doesn’t mean you don’t experience emotions. 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, try stepping out of your comfort zone to see what you can achieve. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows.
Developing mental strength is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement. You can reflect on your progress each day and consider new opportunities for improvement.