How do I toughen up mentally?

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6. They are prepared

Life is a case of constant worries, battles, and altercations. Successful people are always ready. They don’t make themselves victims of occasional crisis and unexpected twists. Like a grand-master in the game of chess, they are prepared to respond for whatever tragedy life will throw at them. They find mental toughness in being prepared.

The Road to Resilience (APA)

The American Psychological Association (2014) defines resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. In other words, “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have.

It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary and that people commonly demonstrate resilience. A good example of this is the response of many Americans to the September 11 2001, terrorist attacks, and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives.

According to the APA, being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience hardships or adversities. In fact, a considerable amount of emotional distress is common in people who have dealt with difficulties and trauma in their lives.

Factors in Resilience

Many factors contribute to resilience, but studies have shown that the primary factor is having supportive relationships within and outside of the family. Relationships that are caring, loving, and offer encouragement and reassurance, help cultivate a person’s resilience.

The APA suggests several additional factors that are associated with resilience, including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and actionable steps to carry them out.
  • A positive self-view and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Communication and problem-solving skills.
  • The capacity to manage and regulate strong feelings and impulses.

All of these are factors that people can develop within themselves.

Strategies For Building Resilience

When it comes to developing resilience, strategies will vary between each individual. We all react differently to traumatic and stressful life events, so an approach that works well for one person might not work for another. For example, some variation as to how one might communicate feelings and deal with adversity may reflect cultural differences, etc.

Learning from your Past

Taking a look at past experiences and sources of personal strength may provide insight as to which resilience building strategies will work for you. Below are some guiding questions from the American Psychology Association, that you can ask yourself about how you’ve reacted to challenging situations in the past. Exploring the answers to these questions can help you develop future strategies.

Consider the following:

  • What types of events have been most stressful for me?
  • How have those events typically affected me?
  • Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?
  • To whom have I reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?
  • What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?
  • Has it been helpful for me to assist someone else going through a similar experience?
  • Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how?
  • What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future?

Staying Flexible

A resilient mindset is a flexible mindset. As you encounter stressful circumstances and events in your life, it is helpful to maintain flexibility and balance in the following ways:

  • Let yourself experience strong emotions, and realize when you may need to put them aside in order to continue functioning.
  • Step forward and take action to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living; but also know when to step back and rest/reenergize yourself.
  • Spend time with loved ones who offer support and encouragement; nurture yourself.
  • Rely on others, but also know when to rely on yourself.

Places to Look for Help

Sometimes the support of family and friends is just not enough. Know when to seek help outside of your circle. People often find it helpful to turn to:

  • Self-help and community support groups Sharing experiences, emotions, information and ideas can provide great comfort to those who may feel like they’re alone during difficult times.
  • Books and other publications Hearing from others who have successfully navigated adverse situations like the one you’re going through, can provide great motivation and inspiration for developing a personal strategy.
  • Online resources There is a wealth of resources and information on the web about dealing with trauma and stress; just be sure the information is coming from a reputable source.
  • A licensed mental health professional For many, the above suggestions may be sufficient to cultivate resilience, but sometimes it’s best to seek professional help if you feel like you are unable to function in your daily life, as a result of traumatic or other stressful life events.

Continuing on your Journey

To help summarize the APA’s main points, a useful metaphor for resilience involves taking a journey on a kayak. On a rafting trip, you can encounter all kinds of different waters — rapids, slow water, shallow water and all kinds of crazy turns.

Much like in life, these changing circumstances affect your thoughts, mood, and the ways in which you will navigate yourself. In life, as in traveling down a river, it helps to have past experience and knowledge from which to draw on. Your journey should be guided by a strategy that is likely to work well for you.

Other important aspects include confidence and belief in your abilities to navigate the sometimes choppy waters, and perhaps having trusted companions to accompany and support you on the ride.

4. YOU REALIZE WHATS REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU

I’ve said it before, but the whole digital nomad is nothing if not a lesson in prioritizing. Being forced to find balance in work, life, and travel helps you figure out what, exactly, is the most important. You may be presented with the choice between taking on a major (but optional) project at work and a side trip to Phuket—and no one else is going to make it for you. You’ll learn your boundaries and how to say "no," because you only have enough hours in a day to say “yes” to the things that actually matter.

What Makes Someone Mentally Tough?

It’s great to talk about mental toughness, grit, and perseverance … but what do those things actually look like in the real world?

In a word, toughness and grit equal consistency.

Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts. They don’t miss assignments. They always have their teammates back.

Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day. They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision. They make a habit of building up the people around them — not just once, but over and over and over again.

Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most. They work on a schedule, not just when they feel motivated. They approach their work like a pro, not an amateur. They do the most important thing first and don’t shirk responsibilities.

The good news is that grit and perseverance can become your defining traits, regardless of the talent you were born with. You can become more consistent. You can develop superhuman levels of mental toughness.

How?

In my experience, these 3 strategies work well in the real world…

6. Break bad habits

In line with practicing good, strong habits, it’s important to break habits that are bad. “Letting go of a bad habit can help you work smarter, not harder. Giving up bad habits that rob you of mental strength, like feeling sorry for yourself, will ensure your healthy habits are much more effective,” says clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author Amy Morin, LCSW.

Any habit that is maladaptive or makes it harder for you to do your best, either mentally or physically, is considered a bad habit. This requires consistency and commitment, though it’s important to forgive yourself if you slip up sometimes.

How to Get a Better, Stronger and More Confident Mind

Confidence is one of the 4C’s of mental toughness! Nurturing a positive self-view and developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and in trusting your instincts, is one of the main factors in building resiliency. So how do we cultivate a more confident mind?

Below are 10 surefire ways that you can begin building your confidence (Bridges, 2017):

1. Get Things Done

Confidence and accomplishment go hand-in-hand. Accomplishing goals, and even taking small steps towards your goals, can help build your self-esteem and confidence in your abilities.

2. Monitor Your Progress

When working towards a goal, big or small, it is important to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. In doing so, one will find it easier to monitor their progress and build confidence as they see the progress happening in real time. It helps to quantify your goals, as well as the actionable steps towards those goals.

3. Do The Right Thing

Highly confident people tend to live by a value system and make decisions based on that value system, even when it’s not necessarily in their best interest. When your decisions are aligned with your highest self, it can cultivate a more confident mind.

4. Exercise

Exercise not only benefits your physical body but your mind as well. Mental benefits of exercise include improved focus, memory retention, and stress and anxiety management. Exercise is also said to prevent and aid in depression. Confidence from exercising comes not only from the physical, visible benefits but also from the mental benefits.

5. Be Fearless

To be fearless in the pursuit of your dreams and goals requires a level of confidence. Conversely, challenging yourself by diving head first into things that scare you, will help to build your confidence. Often when we set big goals for ourselves it is easy to get overwhelmed and be fearful of failure. In these instances, it is important to gather up your courage and just keep going, one step at a time.

6. Stand-up For Yourself

To stand up for yourself when someone tells you that you can’t accomplish something is an effective way to develop your confidence. All too often we may end up believing the naysayers, as they are echoing the self-doubt we may be hearing in our heads. To nurture a positive self-view is to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. Try to do so as well when someone does not believe in you.

7. Follow Through

Following through on what you say you’re going to do, not only helps to earn the respect of others but also respect for and confidence in yourself. Developing your follow-through skills will also help you accomplish your goals and likely strengthen your relationships, too.

8. Think Long-term

Often times, we trade in long-term happiness for more immediate gratification. We can build up our confidence by making sacrifices and decisions based on long-term goals rather than short-term comforts. Finding the discipline to do so will bring greater happiness in the long-term and a higher likelihood of achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself.

9. Don’t Care What Others Think

It is easy to fall into the trap of wondering what others may think of you, but it’s important to remember that what others think actually means nothing in the pursuit of your dreams. Build your confidence by believing in yourself and continuing to move forward, even when others might not agree with you.

10. Do More Of What Makes You Happy

When we take time for self-care and doing the things that bring us joy, it helps to enrich our lives and becomes our best selves. Confidence comes when we are aligned with our highest selves and proud of it.

8. Learn to say “no”

People who are constantly saying “yes” to tasks, even when they’re overworked, have a tendency to experience higher stress levels, as well as anxiety. To be mentally tough, it’s important to learn when and how to say “no”.

Make no mistake about it, no is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, you need to avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” When it’s time to say no, just say no,” adds Dr. Bradberry.

It’s okay to set boundaries and to put your own health and well-being first. After all, you can’t say “yes” if you’re too overwhelmed.

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2. Mental toughness is built through small physical wins

You can’t become committed or consistent with a weak mind. How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you you were tired? How many reps have you missed out on because your mind said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth.” Probably thousands for most people, including myself. And 99% are due to weakness of the mind, not the body.

—Drew Shamrock

So often we think that mental toughness is about how we respond to extreme situations. How did you perform in the championship game? Can you keep your life together while grieving the death of a family member? Did you bounce back after your business went bankrupt?

There’s no doubt that extreme situations test our courage, perseverance, and mental toughness … but what about everyday circumstances?

Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop. If you haven’t pushed yourself in thousands of small ways, of course you’ll wilt when things get really difficult.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Prove to yourself — in a thousand tiny ways — that you have enough guts to get in the ring and do battle with life.

Mental toughness is built through small wins. It’s the individual choices that we make on a daily basis that build our “mental toughness muscle.” We all want mental strength, but you can’t think your way to it. It’s your physical actions that prove your mental fortitude.

4. They are adaptable

They know that in the course of their journey they will meet obstacles and challenges. They also know that things and events surrounding them don’t stay static. They foresee, anticipate, and get prepared. They have to be flexible and willing to move with change to reach their destination. This is another sign of mental toughness.

What Is Real Toughness

Real toughness is having the tenacity and the strong will to overcome adversities and the ability to still be kind and caring in the face of hardship.

True toughness is being strong inside and mentally, not just acting tough outside.

That should be the kind of toughness we want our children to develop.

As shown in research mentioned above, toughening up a child cannot make them tough.

Being nurturing and supportive parents to our kids can.

A firm and kind parent can raise a much stronger child than a mean and cruel parent can.

2. YOU RECONSIDER COMFORT

As it turns out, the things you think you need to get through the day aren’t actually that important. Having air conditioning, iced coffee, and a comfortable bed may seem like the most important things in the world (at least, that’s how I felt), but once you realize you can survive without them, you’ll see that they’re really just fluff. "Things," I came to learn, aren't all that important for my general wellbeing. As long as you have the mindset of "I can do this"—which, admittedly, takes some time to get to—you'll be able to succeed.

Reader Success Stories

  • Jayne Stone

Aug 30, 2016

    Jayne Stone Aug 30, 2016

    “Having always felt I was over sensitive, this article had clear concise steps to help manage it.”

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