The topic of mental strength has been in the spotlight for years now, but its importance grew exponentially in the last year, due to the crisis we found ourselves in with the coronavirus outbreak. What does it mean to be mentally strong? To me, it means being able to manage our thoughts, emotions and actions in a positive and constructive way when we are faced with crisis situations.
In the last year, I focused on this topic and deepened my knowledge of what it means to be mentally strong and how to effectively build one’s mental strength. In general, I would call myself a pretty mentally strong person, however, when the corona crisis happened last year, I saw my brain going into a threat state. Although I would not call myself a black belt in mental strength (yet), I do see enormous progress since I started my conscious practice. All the things I talk about below, I practised on myself.
Do you want to become mentally stronger? It is time to start practising now. Mental muscles need time and daily practice to grow, just like our other physical muscles. If you want to lift a heavy object, for example, you cannot expect that by doing a bit of weightlifting just before, you will have grown enough muscles to lift it immediately. It works the same with our mental muscles. The bigger the challenge, the stronger the mental muscles we need.
1. Practice gratitude
I do not go to bed until I have compiled a list of things that I am grateful for. As humans, we all have a tendency to focus on the things we want to have, goals we want to achieve. Yet we sometimes forget that we will never feel abundant in our lives if we don’t feel grateful for what we already have.
2. Speak positively towards yourself
In a previous article, I spoke about the importance of the language we use when communicating, whether with others or with ourselves. When we talk about mental strength, it is of the utmost importance we learn the patterns of our internal communication. What do you say to yourself when you fail at a project? Do you say “You loser, you failed again” or do you say “Tough luck! What can I learn from it so I can do better next time?”
How can you change this way of thinking? Well, first you need to observe yourself and become aware of it. Then, if you find that you are speaking negatively towards yourself, ask yourself if this is how you would speak to your best friend if they were in the same situation. Most likely, you wouldn’t. Next time, try using the same language you would use when talking to a friend when you are talking to yourself.
3. Accept or change
How do you react when you are stuck in a traffic jam? Do you start cursing and winding yourself up about the things you can’t control? It is a natural reaction to get angry or frustrated about some things we can’t control, however, one thing is certain, it is not helping us feel mentally strong. These are often tiny things that eat up our strength one bite at a time. So, whenever you are in an annoying situation, think to yourself, “Is there anything I can change about it?” If yes, great, go for it. If the answer is no, then instead of beating yourself up, simply accept it.
4. Live in the now
A certain amount of future thinking is definitely needed and necessary, however, it is shocking to realise how little time we actually spend in the NOW. Being mentally caught in the past or the future depletes our mental strength. Mentally strong people value the power of the NOW.
How can you practically incorporate this into your daily life? Some of the most effective ways to build positive mental habits are based on mindfulness and meditation. Both practices “force” us to stay in the now. Fascinating results from scientific research shows that thanks to both practices, the grey matter (amygdala) in our brain responsible for stress diminishes, and other parts responsible for creative thinking grow.
5. Purpose and meaning
Once we are aware of the bigger picture, being clear on what is important to us and feeling that what we are doing has meaning, we are much less inclined not to sweat the small stuff. And even when challenges become bigger, having an inner compass will help us navigate through difficult times.
6. Focus on your strength, not weaknesses
Dealing with unforeseen situations can force our brain to go into a negative mode and produce thoughts like, “I will never solve this”, “I am not good at that”, etc. Being able to see this as simply a thought and instead focusing on things we are good at, can help us get more confident.
Even better, a scientifically proven technique is to visualise yourself dealing with difficult situations in a positive way using your strength. It makes your brain create new neuropathways that will enable us to deal with it when such situations occur in real life.
7. Take care of yourself
All the above-mentioned aspects will not be effective if we do not take proper care of ourselves. It boils down to following three core things: sleep, nutrition and exercise. Sleep especially is repeatedly mentioned as a basis for the two others and linked to mental strength. Whenever you are feeling like you are spending too much time on yourself, please remember the flight attendant’s command “… and when the oxygen mask drops, please help yourself first, before helping others”.
You cannot help anyone if you yourself are weak, depleted of energy and trying to survive. So, taking care of yourself is not an act of egoism, it is an act of altruism.
What is your most important way to build mental strength? Feel free to share in the comments below.