We often think that the measure of physical strength is how much weight we can bear, how long we can run, or how pronounced our muscles are. In reality, physical strength is a measure of how efficiently the body runs itself, how capable it is of effectively performing day-to-day tasks, and occasional challenges when they arise.
Mental health is the exact same way. It is not a measure of how happy we seem, how perfect things are, or how unconditionally “positive” we can be, but that we are able to move through day-to-day life and the occasional challenge with enough fluidity and reason that we aren’t stifled or held back by ourselves.
Amy Morin very famously disclosed some of the things that mentally strong people don’t do. Identifying their habits and behaviors is essential, but what if you just aren’t there yet? If you want to become a mentally strong person, this is where you begin.
1. Get a plan. (Plans fix problems.)
Mentally strong people are planners.
They think ahead. They prepare. They do what’s best for the long-term outcome.
You might think that this disconnects them from the moment, but the opposite is true. Worrying disconnects you from the moment. Overthinking disconnects you from the moment. When you are consistently sidelined from your own anxiety, it’s because you don’t have a plan regarding the thing that’s making you scared.
Think about something you aren’t scared of. Do you know why you aren’t scared of it? Because you have a plan for what you’d do if it were to happen. So you’re able to let go and be present.
Whether it’s becoming financially healthy, improving your relationships, going to therapy, getting a new job, or pursuing a new career path or dream, if you don’t have a plan, you’re going to keep having a problem.
2. Humble yourself. (It’s not all about you.)
It seems like everyone is thinking about you, judging you, evaluating you, and determining your status in life. They aren’t.
Social media has likened us all to mini-celebrities in our own circles: we become convinced that everyone around us is disproportionately concerned with the minutiae of our lives.
In a number of decades, you will be gone. Your home will be sold to a new family. Your job will be taken by someone else. Your kids will be adults. Your work will be done. This isn’t supposed to depress you, it is supposed to liberate you.
Nobody is thinking about you in the way that you think they are thinking about you. They are only thinking of themselves. When you feel self-conscious for going grocery shopping in your sweatpants, please know that nobody cares, nobody is looking. When you feel anxious about your accomplishments, or lack-there-of, please know that for the most part, nobody cares, nobody is looking. This is true of absolutely everything in life.
Nobody is evaluating you the way you are evaluating you. They mostly take you at face value. Stop thinking that you’re the sun that everyone revolves around. This world is not all about you. Your life isn’t even all about you. The more you can put aside your spotlight complex, the more you’re going to be able to relax.
3. Ask for help. (You’re not supposed to know everything.)
We live in a specialized society.
People go to school, apprentice, and train to become very skilled at one task. They then market and sell this task, in exchange for purchasing other people’s expertise.
You are not supposed to know everything.
If it is not your field of study, you are not supposed to be a financial expert, that’s why you can hire one to do your taxes or advise your investing. You are not supposed to be a master chef, that’s why you can buy a cookbook or ask your mother for help. You are not supposed to be a world-class trainer, that’s why you can book an appointment with one and learn. You are not supposed to understand the complexities of mental health and neuropsychology, that’s why you can visit with a psychotherapist and learn how to get better.
You are not supposed to know everything. You’re not supposed to be good at everything. This is why you have people who you can hire, or learn from. Cut yourself some slack, and focus on what you are proficient in. Outsource everything else.
4. Know what you don’t know. (Stop false dichotomous thinking.)
The main reason that people sustain anxiety long-term is thinking in either/or’s, otherwise known as false dichotomies.
This is a cognitive distortion in which you eschew an entire field of possibilities in favor of one or two polarized outcomes, neither of which are likely or reasonable.
If I lose my job, I am a failure. False.
If this relationship ends, I’ll never find love again. False.
If this scary thing happens, I won’t be able to go on. False.
Anxiety is caused by logic lapses, where there’s a breach in your reasoning skills. You jump from one event to an unlikely conclusion, and because it makes you feel something strongly, you assume it to be true. Ultimately, you start thinking in dichotomies, which are not only ineffective but also spook you so much that you are rendered incapable of actually handling your life.
5. Stop trying to be psychic. (This is a cognitive distortion.)
Given that our most fundamental human fear is the unknown, it makes sense that we go through mental gymnastics to try to predict certain outcomes in our lives.
However, psychic thinking, or the idea that your feelings are premonitions, that you can “just know” what the future will hold, or that your fate is somewhere set in stone for you, makes you mentally weak. It places you in the passenger’s seat when you need to be behind the wheel.
When you are engaging in psychic thinking, you’re extrapolating. You’re taking a single feeling or experience and making a long-term prediction about your life based on it. It is not only false but often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Stop trying to predict what you can’t know, and start putting your energy toward building what you can know. You, and your life, will be better for it.
6. Take responsibility for your outcomes. (Yes, all of them.)
In the grand scheme of your life, the outcomes that really matter, and that research shows genuinely create long-term happiness are ones that are almost completely within your control. It’s easier, and less scary, to pretend as though you are simply a cog in the wheel, but you’re not.
If you actually put your energy toward learning to be productive, taking care of your health and wellness, improving your relationships and self-awareness, you’d have a radically different life experience. Every single one of those things is within your ability to change, or at least influence greatly.
There are some things in life that are outside of your control. If you focus on them, you will miss something really important, which is the majority of your life which is the direct result of your actions, behaviors, and choices.
7. Learn how to feel better. (Learn how to process complex emotions.)
You are not supposed to feel happy all of the time. Trying to feel happy all of the time is not the solution, it’s the problem.
Instead of the ability to sustain positivity at all times, mental strength requires that you develop the ability to process complex emotions, such as grief, rage, sadness, anxiety, or fear.
When you do not know how to allow these feelings to pass through you, how to make sense of them or learn from them or simply just allow them, you get stuck on them. You bury them, and then everything around you becomes a trigger that threatens to unleash the floodgates.
You might think it’s about keeping a stiff upper lip, but it’s not. It’s about crying when life is sad, being angry in the face of injustice, and determined to create a solution when a problem arises. That responsiveness, instead of reactiveness, defines mental strength.
8. Forget what happened. (How will you make it right?)
Reflect on what went wrong, learn from what went wrong, and figure out how you’re either going to make up for it or change the outcome in the future.
Then let it go.
The only time you’re going to really hold onto the past is when you haven’t fully learned from the past. When you have, you can apply those lessons to the present moment, and create what you wanted to experience then.
Focusing on what happened disproportionately to what’s happening now, or what you want to happen in the future, is what keeps you completely stuck in life. If you feel as though you truly failed yourself in some profound way, it becomes even more crucial that you move on and create the experience you desire now.
Your life is not over. You did not fail indefinitely, but you will if you never let go and try again.
9. Talk it out. (Things are often more complicated in your head.)
If you feel really tangled up in your thoughts, feelings, and fears, talk to someone. Perhaps a mental health professional, or a trusted friend. If nobody is around, talk to yourself. Talk out your ideas as though you were speaking to someone else in front of you.
Sometimes, we need an objective third party to help us sort through complicated parts of life. Keeping it all buried in your head and heart usually often makes it worse. Letting it out into the open tends to simplify the problem, release the emotion, and help you move on.
10. Take your time. (You don’t need to figure everything out right now.)
What if, instead of solving all of your problems immediately, the goal was to become 1 percent better each day? Given a year, you’d be 365 percent better than you were before.
Growth usually isn’t a sweeping thing. It happens incrementally. It occurs in tiny bursts and small steps. This is because when we are growing, we are actually expanding and re-structuring our comfort zones. We are readjusting to a new way of life, and if we shock our systems with too much change too fast, we often revert back to what we knew.
The most effective and healthy way to change your life is slowly. If you need instant gratification, make the goal the tiny step you take each day. Over time, momentum will build, and you’ll realize that you’re miles from where you started.
11. Take triggers as signals. (Your wounds need your attention.)
Triggers are not random, they are showing you where you are either most wounded, or primed for growth.
This is not a bad thing. If we can see these triggers as signals that are trying to help us put our attention toward some part of our lives that needs healing, health, and progress, we can actually begin to see them as helpful, instead of hurtful.
You cannot ignore your problems. You cannot disregard your wounds. These are issues that you will need to unpack, process, learn from, and adapt your behavior accordingly. This won’t only make you mentally stronger, it will also give you a better life overall.
12. Honor your discomfort. (It’s trying to tell you something.)
The greatest gift that life will hand you is discomfort.
Discomfort is not trying to punish you! It is just trying to show you where you are capable of more, deserving of better, able to change, or meant for greater than you have right now. In almost every case, it is simply informing you that there is more out there for you, and it is pushing you to go pursue it.
Instead of trying to pacify this discomfort, mental strength requires that you listen, you learn, and you begin to change your course.
If you can begin to see your life as a feedback mechanism that is reflecting who you are with the ultimate goal to help you live better and more fully, all of a sudden, you realize that it was never the world standing in your way, but your own mind.