We often hear advice like, "Think positive and good things will happen," or "Keep trying and eventually things will work out." While such words of wisdom certainly have merit, these well-meaning suggestions won't help you reach your goals if you're simultaneously engaging in unhealthy behavior. Recognizing and replacing the unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that may be sabotaging your best efforts is the key to building mental strength.
Try comparing mental strength to physical strength. While a bodybuilder maintains his physique with good habits, like going to the gym, it's equally important for that bodybuilder to get rid of unhealthy habits, like eating junk food. An exercise regimen won't be effective in building lean muscle unless unhealthy eating habits are also eliminated.
Similarly, building mental muscle requires hard work, dedication and exercise. In addition to adopting healthy habits, avoiding detrimental habits—like negative thoughts, unproductive behavior, and self-destructive emotions—is also essential.
Whether you're working on becoming a more patient parent or you're striving to become an elite athlete, building mental strength will help you reach your goals. Learn to identify the common pitfalls that you're prone to and practice exercises that will help you become your best self.
Here are the 13 things mentally strong people don't do:
1. Waste time feeling sorry for themselves
Many of life's problems and sorrows are inevitable, but feeling sorry for yourself is a choice. Whether you're struggling to pay your bills or you're dealing with unexplained health problems, indulging in self-pity won't fix your problems. If you're prone to feeling sorry for yourself when the going gets rough, train your brain to exchange self-pity for gratitude. Mentally strong people don't waste their time and energy thinking about the problem, instead they focus on creating a solution.
2. Give away their power
It can be very tempting to blame other people for our problems and circumstances. Thinking things like, "My supervisor makes me feel bad about myself," gives others power over us. Take back your power by accepting full responsibility for how you think, feel, and behave. Empowering yourself is an essential component to building mental strength and creating the kind of life you want to live.
3. Shy away from change
Although we feel safest when we stay within our comfort zones, avoiding new challenges serves as the biggest obstacle to living a full and rich life. Learning to recognize when you avoid change because of the discomfort involved in doing something new could be the first step in a long journey toward improving your life. The more you practice tolerating the uncomfortable feelings associated with change—whether it involves taking on a new job or leaving an unhealthy relationship—the more confident you'll become in your ability to create your future.
4. Waste energy on things they can't control
So often, we worry about all the wrong things. Rather than focus on preparing for the storm, we waste energy wishing the storm wouldn't come. If we invested that same energy into the things we do have control over, we'd be much better prepared for whatever life throws our way. Pay attention to the times when you're tempted to worry about something you can't control—like the choices other people make or how your competitor behaves—and devote that energy into something more productive.
5. Worry about pleasing others
A lot of people say, "I don't care what other people think," but often that's a defense mechanism meant to shield them from the hurt and pain associated with rejection. People-pleasers come in all forms. Sometimes you can spot one a mile away and at other times, their fear of angering others is deeply rooted. Doing and saying things that may not be met with favor takes courage, but living a truly authentic life requires you to live according to your values, even when your choices aren't popular.
6. Fear taking calculated risks
We make dozens—if not hundreds—of choices every day with very little consideration of the risks we're taking. Whether we choose to wear a helmet on a bike ride, or we decide to take out a loan, we often base our choices on our emotions, not the true level of risk. Making decisions based on your level of fear isn't an accurate way to calculate risk. Emotions are often irrational and unreliable. You don't get to be extraordinary without taking risks, and learning how to accurately calculate risk will ensure you're making the best choices.
7. Dwell on the past
While reflecting on the past and learning from it is a helpful part of building mental strength, ruminating can be harmful. Making peace with the past so you can enjoy the present and plan for the future can be hard, especially if you've endured a lot of misfortune, but it's a necessary step in becoming your best self.
8. Make the same mistakes over and over
It'd be nice to learn enough from each mistake that we'd be guaranteed to never repeat that same mistake twice. But the reality is that we're prone to repeat the same mistakes sometimes. Learning from our mistakes requires humility and a willingness to look for new strategies to become better. Mentally strong people don't hide their mistakes or make excuses for them. Instead they turn their mistakes into opportunities for self-growth.
9. Resent other people's success
Watching a co-worker receive a promotion or hearing a friend talk about her achievements can stir up feelings of envy. But resenting other people's success will only interfere with your ability to reach your goals. When you're secure in our own definition of success, you'll stop envying other people for obtaining their goals and you'll be committed to reaching your dreams.
10. Give up after failure
It's normal to feel embarrassed, discouraged, and downright defeated when your first attempts don't work. From a young age, we're often taught that failure is bad, but it's nearly impossible to succeed if you never fail. Mentally strong people view failure as proof that they're pushing themselves to the limits in their efforts to reach their full potential.
11. Fear alone time
In today's fast-paced world, obtaining a little quiet time often takes a concerted effort. Many people avoid silence and solitude because the lack of activity feels uncomfortable. But time to yourself is an essential component to building mental strength. Mentally strong people create opportunities to be alone with their thoughts, reflect on their progress, and create goals for the future.
12. Feel the world owes them anything
It's easy to get caught up in feeling a sense of entitlement. But waiting for the world—or the people in it—to give you what you think we're owed isn't a helpful life strategy. If you're busy trying to take what you think you deserve, you won't have any time to focus on all that you have to give. And everyone has gifts that can be shared, regardless of whether they've gotten a "fair deal" in life.
13. Expect immediate results
Wouldn't it be nice if everything in life could happen at the touch of a button? We often grow so accustomed to our "no lines, no waiting" world, that our brains begin to believe that everything should happen instantaneously. But self-growth develops at more of a snail's pace, rather than at lightning speed. Whether you're trying to lose weight or develop a more gracious attitude, slow and steady wins the race and expecting immediate results will only lead to disappointment. Mentally strong people know that true change takes time and they're willing to work hard to see results.
The good news is, everyone has the ability to build mental strength. But to do so, you need to develop self-awareness about the self-destructive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that prevent you from reaching your full potential. Once you recognize areas that need work, committing to mental strength exercises will help you create healthier habits and build mental muscle.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of the international bestselling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.