By Anubhav Srivastava (Register for his Confidence Building Workshop Here!)
I was recently asked how to develop mental strength. I was also asked whether I ever feel low or go through the blues, because I seem to always be motivated and upbeat and trying to help others become motivated as well. I responded by saying I go through a low phase like anyone else. I also said the same is true for the celebrities of the self help field. They may hide it well but they all experience a wide range of emotions all the time. They all go through their low phases, to not feel low at all would mean that we are machines. But we are not, we are all human.
To go through the emotions of joy, sadness, anger is what makes you human. So if you are not going through those it means you are either a machine or dead. Many people wonder, should I and others in this field not feel motivated all the time? After all I am in the business of motivation. But that is like saying, “shouldn’t a doctor never experience any disease after all he or she is in the business of treating them.” It just doesn’t work that way as long as you are living. There are factors you can control and should control but can you control every negative event or problem that happens to you? I don’t think so.
People have this idea that to develop mental strength is all about feeling motivated all the time, or becoming desensitized to negative emotions or becoming some sort of a machine that is only focused on its goal and sees nothing else. That is not mental strength at all because machines have a computer chip for a brain, not a mind. In reality to to develop Mental strength means experiencing those negative emotions, acknowledging them and STILL doing your duty, still rising up to pursue your goal to the best you can no matter how disillusioned you are feeling.
Courage is not the absence of fear but having a fear and still facing it. Similarly Mental Strength does not mean not not experiencing negative emotions but pursing your goal the best you can DESPITE those negative emotions, at least initially. And then over time the more you learn to do things no matter how low you are feeling, the more you build up the strength further and make things easier and easier.
So now that we have come to a more reasonable definition of mental strength, let us come to the tips that can actually help you become mentally strong over a period of time. Remember none of it will happen overnight and you will still have low phases. But the more you make mental strength a habit the more it will become a part of you. So here are the tips.
1) Shift Perspective to Develop Mental Strength
Things become harder when you see them as hard. Things become easier when you see them as easy. Our assessment of a situation is rarely objective and mostly subjective. In other words when something “bad” happens, everyone’s definition of how bad it is will differ. Some might consider it devastating, others may see it as a minor hiccup and shrug it off. Some might even see it as a blessing in disguise. Changing the way you react when something happens to you is an important element of building mental strength and ultimately your success. If you see it as devastating it is likely that you will just give up. If you see it as something unfortunate but shrug it off moving forward becomes much more easier.
Thomas Edison’s factory once caught a terrible fire and burned down completely. There were many inventions of his in there which were a result of almost 20 years of work. As the factory went up in smoke, his employees feared the worst. At first he looked disappointed but then he said, “Great! with that factory going up in the smoke I also lost 20 years of terrible mistakes.” This was a man who had lost a huge chunk of the hard work he had done for many many years and yet shrugged off this huge setback and got back to business the very next day. That year he still made a big profit. Now that’s called shifting perspective!
2) To Develop Mental Strength, Push Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Your muscles grow when you overload them with weights they are not used to lifting, forcing them to grow. You develop mental strength when you force yourself to do things that go beyond what you can handle easily. If you are in sales, can you handle calling only 50 people a day? Try calling 60. If you are a writer can you only write 10 pages a day? Try writing 12. The more you can push yourself the more you will find you actually being able to handle more and more things in a limited period of time. Your mental strength will build up, your thresh hold for discomfort will rise, in others words what was previously uncomfortable will become your new comfort zone!
3) To develop mental strength in a sustained manner, do things one step at at time.
What happens when you try to lift a weight that is way beyond your capacity. You fail miserably. You either don’t get it off the ground or end up injuring yourself. The same is true when you try and do things in leaps. Sometimes you maybe able to do things way beyond what you thought was possible because your true capacity was much higher, but when you try to actually push way beyond your true capacity, most of the times you will not be able to do it. Great mental strength is either a trait you are born with or a skill you develop in small increments every day. So do the little things each day and over a period of times the big ones will take care of themselves.
4) Stop Seeking Validation if you want to develop mental strength
If you seek validation from others regarding everything it means you do not have a spine of your own. We all often have a fear of being judged as if our actions will not be approved by others. Well guess what you are being judged all the time anyway and if you do one thing that is ok according to someone, the same thing is judged negatively by someone else. Remember that all those judgments are anyway meaningless because mostly there is no such thing as right or wrong. It’s simply a matter of opinion. Don’t seek validation from people unless you are seeking it from a seasoned mentor specific to a particular field. Stick to your core values and what you believe is right for you. Make a habit of seeking validation only from yourself or trusted people. The less you depend on random opinions to validate your life, the stronger you will start becoming and greatly develop mental strength.
5) In order to develop mental strength, Tolerate Discomfort
As mentioned before to develop mental strength does not mean that you stop experiencing any sort of emotions. Actually it means experiencing all those emotions and yet reacting in a way that is aware and proactive instead of reactive. Becoming mentally strong means that you accept your emotions as they are and yet act in a way that is true to your values.
The more you can practice tolerating those feelings and tolerating that discomfort the more your threshold rises. The more your threshold rises the harder it will be for anyone or anything to break you down mentally no matter how massive that setback may seem to anyone else. Remember the story of Edison and how his mental strength was so well developed that even the worst of things could not affect his mindset negatively.
6. Give up limiting preconceived notions
Humans develop a core view about the world and their own lives. It takes time to develop them. They are mostly based on the things taught by the environment, for example by parents while growing up or based on past experiences. These core beliefs may not be true, after all we are prone to generalizing after one bad experience. These false beliefs can then seriously hinder any potential you have for positive things in the future. For example someone who has been taught by his family that people from other religions or races are evil and should not be trusted will have a hard time being friends or trusting someone from another race. Should they have a negative experience with a girlfriend or a boyfriend they will often judge all members of the opposite sex to be the same. If they are made fun of during a class or office presentation, it will shatter their self esteem so much that they start avoiding giving presentations all together
You can see how these one off experiences or wrong teachings can drastically affect one’s worldview or self view. Preconceived notions maybe true in isolated cases but for the most part they do not represent the truth, but only your opinion. Unfortunately your opinion will then influence your reality because your actions or avoidance of certain situations might make what you fear a self fulfilling prophecy. Take a look at your core beliefs and challenge those beliefs by taking action that is contrary to it. It may seem difficult in the beginning but soon you will realize that most of those beliefs were false. The more you can take these steps and shatter these limiting beliefs despite what your brain tells you the more you will be able to develop mental strength and change the course of your life.
7. Stop Ruminating.
What is Rumination? Rumination means that you are thinking and worrying over and over and over again about a negative event that has happened in the past or a possible negative that may happen in the future. The problem with rumination is that it doesn’t solve any problem. In fact it makes it worse. The more you try to think over a negative event you can’t control the more you deplete your mental energy without really influencing that event in anyway. Also in people who are already depressed or have anxiety, the more you do it the worse your condition gets. It also drains your mental energy so much that you don’t have any left for actual productive pursuits.
Thinking about something is only good to the extent that you can take action under your control that can influence it. Beyond that it is a waste of time. Save your energy for the more positive tasks. Whenever you feel your attention is getting focused again on an unproductive mental event, shift focus and concentrate on the more positive tasks. This will ultimately develop mental strength because the less you ruminate the more your mind can focus on healthier activities. There is a method to actually making this a habit and that will be the final point of this article 🙂
8) Develop Mental Strength by Practicing Mindfulness
In simple words, mindfulness means being aware of what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is a meditation practice that has its roots in Buddhism but it is incredibly helpful to anyone even those who aren’t religious at all.
Mindfulness will help train your mind to develop attention towards the present moment without any judgement towards the negative emotions that you maybe experiencing. The key is to observe everything with an attitude of allowing it to be there, not reacting to it and yet focusing on the present moment and concentrating on the task at hand. Concentrating on the present moment does two things, number one, it helps you focus better on the things you are actually doing. Number two, when you divert your focus to what you are doing, as a result indirectly the thing that you were worrying about fades more and more into oblivion. When you divert your focus to the present moment while still making space for the negative emotions to remain there you slowly become desensitized to it. The more you can make this a habit the easier it becomes, and the lesser you are prone to the ill effects of rumination.
Through practice, mindfulness will help you lower your rumination and become mentally healthier and stronger and ready to experience the world with peace and joy.
I hope these tips have been useful to you and you will practice them regularly to develop mental strength and improve your life tremendously. The most important thing we can all do to change our life is action. No matter what we read, without action it is all useless. So put the tips you read in this article into action and watch your life change!
The author of this article, Anubhav Srivastava is an author, motivational speaker and the director of Carve Your Destiny, a first of its kind inspirational documentary featuring some of the most famous personalities from diverse fields, who teach the viewers how they too can make all of their dreams come true. The movie itself has been seen on Youtube by close to 600,000 people. Anubhav has also been featured in numerous International and India Media outlets such as BBC , The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Rediff.com, Leicester Mercury and many others.
Email Anubhav Srivastava for coaching, consulting or motivational speaking queries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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