Do you crumble in the face of adversity? Lose perspective when you’re dealing with a toxic relationship? Struggle with managing your emotions when it comes to work-related issues? Therapists say that your mental strength plays a role in how you navigate your emotions, process information and deal with feelings of discomfort. If you’re looking to improve your mental toughness, here are seven habits of mentally strong people to consider adopting, according to those who know.
- They take time to unplug and recharge.
If you’re in a constant state of hustle, chances are you’re not taking the time to unplug and recharge. “Mentally strong people prioritize self-care and understand that they cannot pour from an empty cup — they take breaks and allow themselves time to recharge so that they won’t burn out,” says Janika Joyner, a licensed clinical social worker. You can choose how you want to unplug, whether that means taking a hiatus from social media, making midday walks a part of your routine or knowing when to give yourself a breather from work.
- They don’t believe everything they think.
As licensed psychologist and speaker Ashley J. Smith explains, mentally strong people don’t take thoughts as facts. “Hearts beat. Stomachs growl. Minds think. You don’t say ‘I am beating.’ You say, ‘My heart is beating.’ You don’t say, ‘I am growling.’ You say, ‘My stomach is growling.’ Yet, we often fail to recognize that our minds are thought-generating machines that developed with the primary job of keeping us alive.” This means that, by design, our minds are biased toward negative, threat-seeking tendencies. “You can’t trust your mind to be a neutral, objective reflection to reality,” says Smith. “Mentally strong people understand that, and they work to challenge their automatic thoughts, always questioning whether they are accurate.”
- They set realistic goals.
“Setting unrealistic goals can create and/or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and set a person up for failure,” notes Joyner. But, when realistic goals are set, people tend to accomplish them and feel motivated to set even more goals. “For example, if a person is trying to lose 25 pounds, it would be unrealistic to set a goal to do so in a week. However, it would be realistic to set a goal to lose the 25 pounds in 5-pound increments without focusing on a short period of time.” Set yourself up for success by being pragmatic with your objectives.
- They handle failure with self-compassion.
Failure is inevitable, but for many people, failure is difficult because the inner critic gets loud, says Smith. “That little voice inside our heads points out all the ways we fell short, but mentally strong people have learned to quiet their inner critic through self-compassion (essentially, acknowledging their experience and treating themselves with kindness),” says Smith. Reacting to failure with self-compassion will allow you to bounce back and move on more quickly.
- They practice mindfulness.
As Smith says, practicing mindfulness is like going to the gym for your brain. It’s easier to get lost in going through the motions of the day, but being mindful (that is, paying attention, on purpose, to some aspect of the present moment, says Smith) has both physical and emotional benefits. Mentally strong people know when to slow down and focus on the details of their surroundings. Licensed clinical social worker Rachel Kaplan recommends the simple 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness exercise to get you to start paying more attention throughout the day: Notice five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you taste. “Bringing your awareness to your sensations will help you to be more mindful throughout the day,” she says.
- They design and utilize a unique mantra.
When facing adversity, it can be easy to get caught up in the negative emotions. But according to Randi Levin, transitional life strategist of Randi Levin Coaching, creating a power word or a sentence that refocuses your thoughts is a motivational tool to self-manage and lead change. “This simple inspirational idea should be repeated out loud, when possible, every time you feel fearful, unmotivated or overwhelmed,” he says. The benefits are that this practice will bring you back to the moment and refuel your choices when you don’t believe that you have any.
- They ask for help when they need it.
Mentally strong people put the discomfort of asking others for help aside and have a deep understanding that we are wired to take part in a community to lift each other up, says clinical psychologist Cynthia King. Rather than seeing it as a weakness, they recognize asking for help as a strength that helps them get to their end goal. To do this, King recommends building a social network if you don’t already have one. “Think about the kind of folks you want to surround yourself with and start interacting, joining in and putting yourself out there — then, when the going gets tough, you have people to reach out to.”
Do you practice any of the above habits? Let us know in the comments below.