I was surfing the net, minding my own business when I came across an article on Mental Toughness. With #StayHomeStaySafe in full swing I've been indulging in reading articles instead of books, since my brain seems to not be able to stay focused longer than a few minutes. It got me thinking, how would being more mentally tough help us to manage our lives better in these uncertain times?
What is Mental Toughness?
Once upon a time it meant to power through difficult times; to basically soldier on, but in recent times it has started to refer to a person's ability to navigate their life through both the good times and the bad. Someone who is mentally tough is able to not just resiliently and valiantly power through difficulties and failures but is also flexible and adaptable. They are able to quickly evaluate what needs to be done and pivot when needed. To me this is what makes the new definition more appealing. It does not mean that you doggedly fight a war that has no winning outcome, but rather you are able to reflect and readjust depending on the changing circumstances in which you find yourself.
Mentally tough also means that you are able to manage your emotions as well. You understand that your emotions play a vital part in how you show up in the world. A person who is truly mentally tough works though emotions in order to make conscious decisions. They also know how to ask and receive help as well as, how to listen to both themselves and those around them.
Some of the advantages of being mentally tough are:
Increase your ability to manage stress better: You are better equipped to handle every day situations as well as moment of crisis. You do not feel as overwhelmed by life.
Improved sense of well being: As you begin to manage your day to day life better, your confidence and self esteem increase.
Improve your performance: Increasing your mental toughness leads to overall improvement in the way you show up in your life whether it is at work, at home, in the gym.
The good news is that it is a skill that anyone can learn and adopt into their life. So how then does a person become more mentally tough?
Mindset Is Everything!
Your mind is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. According to Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., every area of human endeavour can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. She introduces two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset, where a person believes that abilities are fixed and are therefore less likely to flourish and a growth mindset, where a person believes that abilities can be developed. If you want to become more mentally tough, then developing a growth mindset will be your first step. Having a growth mindset will allow you to become more open and responsive to changes when they arise.
Nix Limiting Beliefs
Your mind is like a garden, if you do not tend to it, weeds will invariably overtake it. Over the years there have been various research projects done on the quantity and quality of human thoughts per day. It was found that the average person has anywhere between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thoughts, 80% were found to be negative and 95% were the same repetitive thoughts from the day before. Studies also show that 85% of the things we worry about never happens and of the 15% that did happen, 79% of the participants found that they could either handle the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.
What does any of this have to do with limiting beliefs? Our thoughts are made up of an amalgamation of our upbringing, culture, what we've read and seen in the media, what we have experienced in life and what we've been told by others among other things. If 80% of all of it is negative and not even of your own making, then examining the quality of those thoughts become of paramount importance. One of the techniques that I've tried when a negative thought comes up is to ask myself "Is this true?" and if the answer is yes then I ask " As evidenced by?" Usually after doing two to three round of this line of question either leads me to realize my faulty thinking or helps to come up with mitigating strategies to help me succeed in my task.
Learn From The Past And Then Leave It There
So many of us are dragging along the baggage of our past and it is HEAVY! The past is exactly that, the past. You have no control over many of the things that happen in life, especially in your childhood. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to change it, but you do have control over how you react to it now. You can either see it as a lesson learnt or you can continue to allow it to steal your joy in the present. I know, I know, it's easier said than done. Whenever I feel the past has a hold of me I take a deep breath and say to myself "I did the best I could, with the resources I had available to me. Now I know better, I will do better" and then I exhale slowly. Always remember, your past does not define you. As long as you are alive, you have the opportunity to grow and learn. That also holds true for your loved ones. Look to your past and those in it with forgiveness and compassion, including yourself.
Learn To Fail Well
No one gets it right 100% of the time. There will be setbacks and failures. Mentally tough people know that failure is an opportunity to begin more intelligently. Consider failure as feedback; nothing more, nothing less. Yes it will sting and there will be feelings of sadness. Feel the feelings, just don't unpack and live there. I usually give myself a period of time to "wallow" then at the appointed time I get back up and start again. Remember failure does not make you a bad person. It also does not negate your value as a human being. It is just feedback.
Fall In Love With The Process
I've fallen in love with the mantra "Progress Not Perfection." When you focus on the process, you are less likely to beat yourself up when things go wrong. You are also willing to begin where you are. Too many of us tell ourselves that we will wait until we can get it perfect before we do something or when we are not perfect and fall short we diminish ourselves and our worth. There is a process to every single thing that we do bar none. Focus on the moving along the path of point A to point B and eventually you will get to where you want to go.
Celebrate Your Wins And The Wins Of Others
Contrary to what the world would like us to believe, there is enough for all of us. You do not need to dim someone else's light in order for you to shine. You also do not serve yourself or others by shrinking yourself. Celebrating wins generates feelings of well being and happiness. It also helps to motivate you and others to stick to it. You may also become a beacon to someone else who is watching you and inspiring them to try. Celebrating success also creates positive energy which will attract like minded individuals to you.
Find Your Why
Mentally tough people know who they are, what they want and why they want it. They create goals and work diligently towards achieving them with lazer focus. They develop habits that support their life goals and objectives and where necessary they enlist the help of like minded individuals to provide them with support. But all of this starts off with knowing your why. If you don't have a compelling why for doing it, then odds are it will be very difficult to stick to your life plan. It is not as easy as it looks to be mentally tough. There is a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into building the life that you want and if you aren't then you will get derailed every time you hit a bump in the road. Sit and ask yourself, why do you want to achieve these goals and then stick it up where you can see it every day. Alternatively, you can practice visualizing as part of your daily routine. Top tier athletes swear by this strategy as a way to keep them focused on their goals.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries ensures that you are not overextending yourself which can lead to burnout both personally and professionally. This can lead to feelings of powerlessness. Remember it is okay to say no. As a matter of fact, it is even encouraged. You cannot be all things to all people all the time. You also cannot do everything all by yourself, ever single time. Developing healthy boundaries also protects you from toxic behaviour which can drain your energy in the short term and your self esteem in the long term.
Take Time For Yourself
Even the most hardcore athlete will tell you that there needs to be time to rest and rejuvenate. Taking time for yourself gives your the ability to return more energized, whether it is reading, watching your favourite shows, spending time with friends and family. Mental toughness and physical well-being also goes hand in hand. Exercise can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in our brain, which in turn improves our neurotransmitters. The result: Increased energy levels, better mood, reduced stress, improved mental clarity and cognitive functioning. This along with practices such as mindfulness and deep breathing, leads to higher self esteem, increased creativity, social connection and overall sense of well being.
Develop A Practice Of Gratitude
In every day, there is always something to be grateful for; always. Granted some days it may be harder to see it than others, but it is always there. Gratitude gives us some much needed perspective. As human beings we tend to focus on doom and gloom, just look at the news and the ratio of TV Shows/Movies that are on the gloomy end compared to the those on the brighter side. Taking the time to focus on gratitude allows us to step back and identify the good in our lives, even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.
Becoming mentally tough is not available for some and not for others. It is a skill and like any skill it can be learnt. It requires commitment and stick-to-it-ness. You will not get it perfect in the beginning and that's okay. We're not focusing on perfect. Every day wake up and try, try again.
"Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful." -Mark Victor Hansen