Many people don’t recognize mental strength when they see it.
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be mentally strong.
Ironically, many of the behaviors often associated with weakness are actually a sign of strength. Our culture often values “toughness” over “true strength.”
Acting tough is about external appearances. It involves creating a persona that convinces other people you’re impervious to pain.
True mental strength involves working on your character. Mentally strong people are willing to be vulnerable and quite often, people confuse their openness and honesty with frailty.
Life is a contact sport.
And developing mental toughness is your best weapon for living a constructive, focused, and happy life.
Every day we’re challenged by people and circumstances that threaten to tear us down. These include difficult family relationships, disappointing romantic relationships, being surrounded by toxic people, health issues, existential crises and grief over loved ones.
But if you’re going through any of these problems, or something else in life, you’re not alone.
Everyone – including the most successful people on earth – are forced to deal with extreme challenges.
It goes without saying that life never goes to plan. But it’s not who faces what challenge which differentiates us, it’s how we deal with those challenges that determines our success and happiness.
Have you ever wondered why seemingly ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things? Why some people are more motivated? Calmer in stressful situations? Able to stare down their challenges and overcome adversity?
The answer is that they’re mentally tough.
What is mental toughness
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
We’ve all heard this saying at some point, and although it may sound like a cliche, it sums up what it means to be mentally tough really well.
Mental toughness is about being mentally ready for whatever challenge comes your way and persevering through the adversities you face.
But being mentally tough is more than just coping with problems as they arise. Mental toughness is a weapon people carry with them at all times and empowers them to be better equipped for life than most others.
The simple truth is that success and happiness in life require mental toughness and resilience. In fact, research is starting to reveal that your mental toughness plays a more important role than anything else for achieving your goals in health, work and life.
Talent and intelligence will only get you so far. Mental toughness is the key attribute you need to possess to succeed in life.
And the best bit? Mental toughness and resilience can be developed deliberately and carefully by anyone – including you.
But first, how mentally tough do you think you are right now?
Assessing your own mental toughness
Psychologists use a number of different resilience scales to assess how resilient their clients are. They all measure similar things to do with how you deal with the world and how you interact with it.
But you don’t need to see a psychologist to assess your own mental toughness.
These are questions for you to ask yourself to help you understand your own reactions and your levels of resilience to the challenges you face in life.
- Are you generally a positive person? Do you tend to make a concerted effort to see the good in situations and in people?
- Are you able to deal with stress well? Do you have strategies for dealing with stressful situations?
- Are you comfortable asking for help from others, and talking about your emotions?
- Do you have a clear set of goals for the future, and a plan in place for achieving them?
- Do you feel you’re able to deal with new situations or unexpected changes well?
If you find that you often feel frustrated that you haven’t achieved all the things you want to, or you’re not at the place in life you could be, it might well be that your resilience (or lack of it) is the reason.
Because if you really want to be able to take the whole of life head-on, achieve everything you’re capable of and beat the self-doubt demons, mental toughness is a must.
But remember this.
There aren’t two categories of people: resilient and not. Most of us will find that our levels of resilience change over time.
Importantly, everyone can take active steps to increase their own resilience at any stage of their life.
3 traits of mental tough people
Studying eastern philosophy has taught me that there are 3 key traits of mentally tough people.
Although there are many different ways to be resilient, I believe mental toughness boils down to these 3 key things:
- Having a generally positive outlook. Mentally tough people have experience of getting through difficulties, so they are confident that they can do so again. They see bad events as temporary, not permanent.
- Being able to manage their emotions. They may feel things just as strongly as anyone else, but they can deal with those feelings.
- Having clear goals and a plan for achieving them. They know that they can deal with challenges, and so they aren’t afraid to make plans for the future knowing they can deal with changes to those plans confidently.
Once you begin to think of resilience-building as part of a strategy for life, as I do, it becomes something you weave into your life without even really thinking about it.
Being mentally tough is vital to being a happy, accomplished person and living well. Once you get this right, everything else tends to fall into place.
Here are 10 signs of mental strength that are often viewed as weaknesses:
1. Being kind.
Many people seem to think being kind means you’re a pushover or a people pleaser. But showing compassion for a neighbor, giving a colleague the benefit of the doubt, and spending your spare time helping someone with a project could be a sign of strength.
Showing kindness often takes courage and confidence. What if the recipient doesn’t want your help? What if your act of friendship isn’t reciprocated? Strong people are willing to take those social risks.
2. Changing your mind.
Changing your mind doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wishy washy or easily influenced. Instead, it may indicate you’re open to gathering more information and hearing other ideas.
Whether your ideas about politics have changed over time or your values have shifted as you’ve grown older, changing your mind might be proof you are growing and learning.
3. Acknowledging your weaknesses.
There’s a difference between speaking the truth and putting yourself down. Acknowledging you’re bad at confronting people or that you struggle to be organized might show you’re strong enough to admit your imperfections.
Acknowledging your weaknesses can also help you take positive action. You might delegate tasks that you struggle to do or you could develop a plan to help you succeed despite your shortcomings.
4. Being patient.
With so much emphasis on “hustle” these days, patience is often confused with inactivity or a lack of ambition.
But reaching big goals–like getting out of debt or getting in shape–takes patience. Real change doesn’t happen overnight and exercising the patience needed to get there takes strength.
5. Asking for help.
Saying “I can’t do this on my own” is a real act of courage. Whether you ask your boss for more assistance or you reach out to a mental health professional, asking for help requires humility and strength of character.
Mentally strong people don’t go the journey alone. They surround themselves with people who can offer assistance along the way.
If you succeed at everything you do, it means you’re living far inside your comfort zone. Making mistakes and failing means you’re challenging yourself–which is clearly a sign of strength.
Don’t let anyone convince you that your failures are proof that you’re not strong enough to succeed. Instead, view failure as evidence you’re stretching yourself as far as you can.
7. Expressing emotions.
Some people are quick to show anger but lurking just beneath those angry feelings are more uncomfortable emotions, like sadness, embarrassment, and disappointment. Yet it’s often easier to say “You’re an idiot” than to say “My feelings are hurt.”
Labeling your feelings and finding ways to express those emotions in a healthy way takes strength. It’s much easier to deny your pain or try to convince others that you’re infallible.
8. Walking away.
Whether you’re walking away from a goal because the effort it takes to get there isn’t a top priority, or you’re walking away from a heated dispute because you know nothing productive is going to happen, walking away doesn’t mean you’re copping out.
In fact, it takes strength to step away from something that isn’t working out–especially when you’ve devoted a lot of resources to a task (or a person). But walking away might show you’re willing to act in accordance with your values–even though you might face some ridicule.
9. Improving yourself.
Some people roll their eyes at someone who is reading a self-improvement book (they’re usually the same people who laugh at overweight people for hitting the gym). But bettering yourself–physically, spiritually, or emotionally–is tough to do.
Trying to become a better person shows you want to create positive change in your life. Whether you join a support group, attend therapy, listen to self-help podcasts, or attend spiritual retreats, a desire for self-growth is a sign of strength.
10. Staying calm.
“Can you believe she just stood there? I would have given him a piece of my mind!” Comments like that imply people who remain calm lack the courage to stand up for themselves.
Being able to regulate your emotions is a hallmark of mental strength. That’s not to say you won’t feel angry (anger can be a very healthy and helpful emotion) but it does mean you’ll be able to behave in a productive manner even when you feel upset.
Build Your Mental Muscles
Everyone possesses mental strength to some degree and there’s always room for improvement.
Choosing to build your mental muscles is admirable. But not everyone will appreciate your efforts. Your strength may remind them of their weaknesses–or they may fail to recognize the difference between being strong and acting tough.
But don’t let those people stand in your way. Keep working on developing the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.
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