What does it take to be mentally strong?
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
We all have the ability to become better equipped at dealing with life’s challenges, says Alisa Camplin.
When someone uses the word ‘strength’, we often associate it with physical fitness. So what does it mean to be mentally strong?
Strength is more than just physical
Being mentally and emotionally ‘fit’ enables us to work through difficult situations and positively navigate the challenging scenarios we face in life.
These situations can be big or small; from suffering the loss of a loved one, to managing daily conflicts or being under extreme pressure in the workplace.
From my experience, cultivating your inner strength and mental resilience leaves you better equipped to bounce forward from disappointment and more able to cope with whatever comes your way. To me this is just as important, if not more important, than being physically fit.
It starts with a simple decision
We all have the choice to improve our actions, behaviours and thought processes as we travel through life, but sometimes we don’t give ourselves permission to try new things, learn through mistakes or simply be in ‘practise mode’ for a while. But if we can park the judgement and adopt a growth mindset, then we are primed to develop our resilience.
Resilience is a multifaceted capability, and fortunately there are many skills that can be learned and practised. From finding meaning in life’s lessons, managing your impulses, regulating your emotions, adapting your self-talk or being able to see things from someone else’s perspective – resilience is the sum of many parts. A Growth Mindset and mental tools and techniques are topics I will explore in more depth this month, as we dive into our theme of ‘mental resilience’.
As with most things worth striving for, cultivating your mental strength is about perseverance and dedicated practice. It’s worth remembering that worthwhile change doesn’t happen overnight, with studies now proving it takes 66 days to form a habit. So it will take time and consistent effort to strengthen your resilience. What’s important is that you enjoy the process of learning and growing.
It’s the small steps that count
We often reserve the term ‘mentally strong’ to describe people who have been through terrible tragedies and managed to come out the other side. The truth is, while those events have a large impact on our perspectives, it’s actually the small, seemingly inconsequential decisions we make and the actions we take every day that build our resilience and mental strength.
Just like physical exercise, building mental strength requires conscious actions – but it doesn’t require any extra time.
You don’t need to carve out an extra half an hour in the morning, or adjust your daily routine in any major way. Mental resilience can be worked on in the moment, through making small but better decisions on how you want to react or respond to the various challenges that occur in your day.
By identifying areas in your life where you’d like to build up your mental resilience – like keeping calm when negotiating with a client or practising patience when your children are being difficult – you can then prepare yourself to take small in-the-moment actions that deliver a better outcome. Practising a better response over and over will ultimately lead to longer-term, positive behavioural patterns.
Take time to reflect
I’ll share a personal example of something I’m currently working on. Research shows that by the end of the day, when we’re tired and our reserves our low, we’re more likely to be mentally fatigued and react poorly to external pressures.
I’d begun to notice that after the accumulated fatigue of several hard-working days had built up, I was more likely to snap at my wonderful husband (often over small things). So, I set a personal goal for myself – I knew that I had the opportunity to be either angry or kind in those situations, and I really wanted to be kinder. Now I make a conscious effort to choose warmer words to respond better in scenarios where I feel frustrated, and if I can’t, I take a breath and say nothing.
Of course, I don’t always get it right, but by creating this awareness and attempting to make better choices, I have been able to minimise my negative responses. With a simple change and by regularly reflecting on how I’m going, I’m starting to create positive and sustainable change.
Your personal trainer is you
Karen Reivich, co-director of Penn University’s Resilience Project, states, “No matter how resilient you are today, you can be more resilient tomorrow.” Which is good news for all of us! We just need to keep working at it and continue to coach ourselves along the way.
If you find it hard to keep commitments to yourself then write your goal down or share it with a close friend or partner, as this increases your chances of success by almost 40%. Creating long-term change takes long-term effort, so if today didn’t bring progress, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, celebrate the fact that you tried, and simply try again tomorrow.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 9, 2017.