What is mental strength?
Picture a mentally strong person. Whether you imagine a real person or just think about the characteristics of a strong person, you are most likely thinking about qualities like resilience and perseverance.
This is exactly what mental strength is all about – the ability to remain calm and composed under pressure.
When a disaster strikes, mental strength helps you look beyond the disappointment and tears, quickly helping you to move forward.
You can think of mental strength as your companion. That one friend who sticks by you in good and bad times telling you to keep moving and pushing forward. It’s the inner voice of respect, trust and confidence.
THE EXERCISES YOU NEED TO ADOPT
1. Begin meditating for 10 minutes a day
Start by enhancing your ability to focus.
Meditating can provide you with more energy, which is useful for your mental strength as well. When you have energy, you are more able to make good decisions and have the mental and physical strength to keep moving forward.
A 2008 study showed 10-minute daily meditation to be able to reduce stress.
In addition to feeling less stressed, the participants were also more forgiving towards their fellow peers. If you learn to forgive, you can move on quicker and the quicker you do this the less you’ll fret over things and stifle yourself with negative emotions.
Getting started with meditation is not difficult. You can find plenty of good apps to guide you through.
2. Stop wasting energy on things you can’t control
You can also build mental strength by becoming better at picking your fights.
All of the world’s problems are not yours to solve and frankly, you can’t control all of them even if you wanted.
The truth is you will face troubling times and you will probably have a few nights where you can’t sleep. But you shouldn’t lose sleep over things you can’t solve.
When things start bothering you and when you find yourself worrying about things, stop to think what is your role in terms of the solution.
Is the issue something you can actually solve?
3. Replace negative thoughts with productive thoughts
Similarly to the above exercise of cutting thoughts on things that aren’t under your control, you also need to start replacing negative thoughts with productive thoughts.
We all fall to negative thinking – we do it because it’s easy.
It’s so much easier to sit grumpily at the train station’s café and whine about the delays than going out to figure an alternative route.
Next time you notice a negative thought – no matter what it is about – replace it with a productive one. If you catch yourself thinking:
“Oh, I can’t get this project right”
Change your thought to:
“OK I might not finish the project in time, but I can put a lot of effort in getting the facts right. Here’s how I’ll do it.”
Notice how productive thinking doesn’t mean you become unrealistic. You don’t need to replace negative thoughts with wishful thinking – You’d rather focus on a solution or a realistic evaluation of yourself and the situation. For example, you should think:
“I’m not the best with numbers, but if I practice a bit every day, I can improve.”
“So, I might not be the best at maths, but I can use my great researching skills to solve these math-related problems”
4. Focus on the motivation behind actions
It can be helpful to your willpower if you start paying more attention to the motivation behind your actions.
The exercise of viewing your motivations through actions – whether it is solving problems or getting through a difficult event – can guarantee you stay focused on the big picture.
Overall, your ability to be more mindful about your decisions – even the automatic ones – can help improve your willpower. So, don’t just make decisions but take more time to think what are the reasons that lead to this.
In terms of your automatic decisions, start paying more attention to them and occasionally mix them up:
When you are about to add milk to your coffee, think about why you do it?
Questioning your actions, even these automatic and non-important ones will help you focus more and become better at analyzing a specific situation.
If you occasionally change your habits around – drinking your coffee black or with almond milk – you can further ensure you understand your reasoning and you learn that change is not always bad.
5. Start tracking your diet
Research has found that the act of food journaling to boost willpower.
Quite simply, the act of having to write down everything you ate takes a bit of guts. You first need to take the time to write it down, but you also need to be more mindful of what you eat.
Not to mention that writing down your food consumption makes you face your decisions and perhaps learn to accept your dietary mistakes and mishaps.
Interestingly, there’s another way food journaling can help your mental strength. Tracking food can lead to healthier food choices and better health gives you more energy and resilience.
You become more aware of your habits.
Knowing you need to write down the additional coffee you bought on your way home can make you stop for a second and re-think the viability of your decision.
If you had to track your spending – all of it – for a week, you probably would spend differently, right?
The fact you need to write something down; to review your spending decision is enough to help you spend more time thinking about the action and whether it is the right decision to make.
6. Set deadlines
No one really likes deadlines. Yet these timely reminders that tell us we need to get our act together can help build resilience, focus and willpower.
It’s amazing how much focus and willpower you can sometimes muster just because someone told you they need a report done by six.
You should use the knowledge of the benefits of a deadline to your advantage.
Research has found that even self-imposed deadlines can work in adding focus to your activities. Setting deadlines will give your tasks more structure and make it harder to keep saying, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow”.
The structure can then help you organize – become better at knowing which tasks require attention know and how much you are able to get done on a specific day.
It’ll help you be more mentally resilient because you have focus and the tools to prioritize and accomplish times accordingly.
Start creating self-imposed deadlines with your To Do-list.
7. Get used to feeling uncomfortable
What tests your mental strength the most?
If you start analyzing it, the reasons often relate to new experiences or situations we don’t often encounter.
It’s the unexpected that can cause stress and have things go opposite to want we wanted to can push our minds into chaos.
Furthermore, it’s so easy to stay in the comfort zone.
To do the things we know we are good at doing and stick to things we know.
Stepping out of the comfort zone, trying things that are unusual and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.
This makes these unwanted feelings seem less strange – if you get through the stress of being in a job interview once, the next one won’t be quite as bad.
Start by placing yourself in unusual, perhaps unwanted and uncomfortable situations, more regularly. Go gently, testing the waters with feelings that don’t cause as much stress as some others. Try a new food item every week or watch a movie that is totally out of your comfort zone.
You can even read a book you don’t find interesting. If you plough through an experience like this, you get the confidence to know you can do it.
8. Reflect on your progress
You can also boost your mental strength by reflecting on your progress.
When people start a weight-loss journey or a fitness regime, they tend to monitor how well they are doing. They measure the weight, they keep track of how far and fast they can run, or the weights they can lift. This can help them notice the change and feel more motivated to stick with what they are doing.
Similarly, you should monitor your improvement in mental strength and resilience:
Write down your goals. What do you want to improve? What are the specific situations or things you want to change?
List the exercises you’ll start practicing with.
Monitor your progress in the goal areas once a week:
Write down any improvements you’ve noticed and think of examples where this became evident.
Consider if there are things you’ve noticed have gotten worse or new things you want to work on.
Keep track of the exercises you have found the most helpful, those you tend to stick with and those you don’t, and any exercises that are clearly not working as intended.
Mental strength can be trained just like your muscles. You can use the above exercises to become more resilient – to be able to control your emotions and to respond to changes in a more constructive and positive manner.
However, just like with training your muscles, you must also understand your mental strength won’t improve overnight. It takes time and effort to get your mind to where you want it to be.
It won’t always be easy or pleasant. You will encounter times when you don’t want to go through with the exercise or you don’t feel any progress.
Understanding these feelings are natural, yet fleeting moments in time, will help you move forward and stick to your training.