Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Mental strength
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
How strong are you? No, I’m not talking about your physical strength – how many push-ups you can do, how much weight you place on the barbells or the number of pull-ups you can do. Rather, I’m talking about your mental strength.
Truth be told, however, mental strength is much like physical strength in that it requires ongoing, consistent maintenance and, like your physical body when it’s not consistently worked on and strengthened, could begin to atrophy.
So what IS mental toughness … and why is it important?
Mental toughness means having a strong backbone, daring, fortitude, guts, mettle, moxie, perseverance, tenacity and toughness. Whew!
When you are mentally strong, you know it. On the other hand, when you are mentally weak, you know that, too.
Mental strength is about having the ability to persevere in pursuit of a goal, no matter how long it takes or how many roadblocks pop up to derail you. For example:
- Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts, they never coast through a workout, and they polish off a great workout with a great accompanying attitude, disallowing difficulties, frustrations or competition to sabotage the goal.
- Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. There is a clear goal, a clear vision, and all behaviors and strategies lead to that goal and vision. They do not let short-term frustrations derail their pursuit of that long-term goal. They don’t shirk their own responsibilities; in fact, they lead their subordinates by being the first one to roll up the sleeves and get to work.
- Mentally tough employees deliver their work product in a more consistent fashion; they are clearly loyal to their employers, and their work ethic, their attitude and their willingness to go the extra mile and/or pick up the slack of another is part of their DNA.
How can we work to enhance our mental strength? Your grit and your determination and your perseverance become part of your defining traits. You go above and beyond.
For example, as an athlete, if the coach calls for nine reps, you do 10; if s/he says to be ready to go at 10 a.m., you are ready to go at 9:30; if coach expects excellence in attitude and work ethic, you are already there! Prove to yourself – in a thousand small ways – that you are equipped and positioned for greatness!
You see, mentally tough people do not have to be more talented, more intelligent or more instinctive; rather, they just develop daily habits that contribute to a mindset that won’t be denied, that will always go the extra mile, that will NOT fold in a moment of despair or frustration and WILL stay the course! Throw as many obstacles in front of the mentally strong person as you can – then watch him/her hopscotch over them one by one.
Mental toughness will allow you to push past exhaustion, to flick the doubt that could be looming and to avoid distractions or naysayers that want to cast negativity over your pursuits. Being strong mentally allows you to see the goal beyond the boulders in the road. Mental toughness is not about the talents you have, the genes that contribute to make you uniquely you; rather, it is developed and maintained through your consistent work, your passion for excellence and your desire to win!
To build your own mental strength, remember:
- Clean up your behavior! Identify qualities or strategies or other sabotaging behavior that needs to be eliminated; instead, adopt healthier behavior to be spotlighted. For example, giving up when something is too difficult, yielding to stiff competition or avoiding change that requires stamina and flexibility – all are behaviors that need to be deleted in the quest for a tougher mental mindset and strength.
- Regulate your emotions! If you find that you tend to feel sorry for yourself, fear the commitment a certain goal will require or worry about failure, it’s time to do a gut-check. Tell yourself and follow through: “Regardless of the enormity of my emotions, I will persevere and tackle any misgivings that could derail my pursuits.”
- Tune into your thoughts! Identify any negative thoughts that cast doubt, fear or hesitancy in your own mental strength. Rather, proceed with positive thinking, which promotes confidence and grit!
When you are mentally strong, you will be living your best life! No hurdle is too great, no obstacle too big and no deterrent too profound to keep you from driving toward the goal. And when you reach it, no victory is minimized – but it arrives with a sense of pride and bliss!