(Post originally featured on Rodale's Organic Life. Now found here.)
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8 Little Ways To Build Mental Strength Every Single Day
By Shelby Deering
Simple steps to becoming a more resilient, mentally tough person.
You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama or Oprah to achieve mental clarity and toughness. With some practice and armed with tips and tricks, you can find mental strength and in turn, improve your thinking patterns.
We asked a gamut of mental health pros—a therapist, a mindfulness coach, and an Olympian—to weigh in on what methods lead to better mental strength. They all have gone on personal journeys to discover their own mental toughness.
Nick Holt, LCSW, a certified cognitive behavioral therapist, shares that he is a “professional and personal survivor of suicide,” facing substance abuse and mental health challenges since he was a child. Lara Jaye, CEO of Lara Jaye LLC, is an author, speaker, and mindfulness expert who once dealt with depression, a marriage that was falling apart, and substantial health issues. Joanna Zeiger, PhD, is a professional triathlete and Olympian who says that she’s not a “natural” and lived an athlete’s life littered with injuries and unmet goals.
What do these three have in common? They dug deep and uncovered grit and determination to reach their versions of mental strength. Here are 8 practices you can start doing today to build up your own.
Increase Your Awareness Of Your Thoughts
Mental strength is important, says Holt, because “the world is full of uncertainty, change, and negativity.”
“In empowering ourselves to have a more connected, disciplined, and resilient existence, we increase the likelihood of having more contentment, support, and intimacy in our lives,” he says. And all that mental strength often starts with something that is equal parts simple and challenging—awareness.
“Personally, it’s taken me a long time to connect to many of my thoughts and feelings,” Holt says. “For the majority of my life, many of my thoughts and feelings passed by without much attention. They were fused into my daily behavior. These thoughts and feelings guided my life without much consideration of the validity or usefulness of them.”
Now Holt harnesses their power by observing his own life experiences, especially when negative situations occur. “As you enter this new level of connectedness to yourself, your thoughts, and your body, you enter a path of improving your confidence and self-esteem. You become more disciplined, experience more comfort within discomfort, and ultimately, become more mentally tough,” says Holt. (Here’s how to quit your negative thinking once and for all.)
Jaye believes that awareness starts by “silencing the mind chatter.” She says, “Become aware of the radio station that is running in the background. How are you talking to yourself? What do you really believe about yourself? Journal your thoughts.
Visualization is a technique commonly applied by athletes, something that Zeiger writes about in her book, The Champion Mindset. But it’s a method that’s not limited to athletes.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of visualization,” she says. “Visualization is an opportunity to mentally practice a situation so when the situation arises you are ready to conquer it. Most of the time, people use visualization to imagine perfect scenarios. In sports, it would be the perfect race, and in business, it could be closing an important deal and going over the conversations and actions that would lead to the deal being made. These types of visualizations, where everything occurs smoothly, are important rehearsals that can instill confidence.”
She adds that visualization can result in mental preparedness for whatever may happen, saying, “Most situations in life do not go smoothly. So, imagery during visualization does not only have to be just about success, but also how to handle glitches. I call these ‘disaster scenarios.’ At some point, disaster will strike, and you will be empowered through your imaginary practice to figure out how to navigate the difficulty.”
Jaye practices visualization every morning, setting her alarm a half hour before she needs to get up for the day. “I use that time to focus on what I am grateful for in my life, and then I do a 15-minute meditation focusing on my ideal outcome of some specific situation, including how I will feel when it happens. Sometimes I’m creating my life five years down the road, other times, I’m seeing my next speaking gig and what I’m communicating to the audience. Sometimes I’m envisioning myself happy, healthy, and fit, living on a warm beach. Every morning, it resets my mind and body to remember my goal and to feel what it will feel like when it arrives,” says Jaye.
Employ Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk is the thing that overtakes those negative thoughts when they creep in. Zeiger explains that when athletes endure long races, there are always rough patches that can easily lead to negative self-talk. “Athletes tell themselves things like, ‘I suck,’ or ‘I should just quit.’”
Anyone can experience similar thoughts, even if they’re not in the middle of a race. Negativity can surface when you’re sitting in traffic, having a disagreement with a partner, or facing a health crisis. “Positive phrases during these times, [such as] ‘This will pass’ and ‘I am a warrior’ will help alleviate the burden of the tough patch,” says Zeiger. “Every day, we are confronted with situations that can cause angst. The way we react will dictate the ability to move forward quickly. Our thoughts are powerful and can change our mood quickly from positive to negative or from negative to positive.”
Come Up With A Mantra And Use It Often
Once you’ve mastered the art of positive self-talk, pick a mantra for yourself and use it often, says Zeiger. It can be a favorite quote or a personal phrase that you’ve devised that just feels right when you say it to yourself.
Having a mantra naturally arise in your thoughts will no doubt take some practice and patience. Zeiger says, “Practice mental toughness. Just because you want to be mentally tough doesn’t mean you will be mentally tough. It takes a lot of practice.”
Be Mindful And Engage All Your Senses
Mindfulness is also something that can lead to more self-awareness. Jaye separates mindfulness from meditation, saying, “People often use meditation and mindfulness interchangeably, but they are different. Meditation is a way to practice being mindful. It’s to engage in contemplation or reflection.”
Jaye recommends using meditation as a way to become more mindful, alongside deep breathing, yoga, walking, spending time in nature, dancing, and eating. “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” says Jaye. “To become mindful, you can bring all five senses into whatever you are doing in the present moment.” That means allowing yourself to fully taste your food, slowing down to feel a warm breeze, or quite literally stopping to smell the roses.
Prioritize Self-Care And Quiet Time
Peaceful moments infused with self-care rituals can help you recharge your batteries so you can practice mental toughness the next day. Holt says to practice self-care and self-compassion “daily.”
Holt adds that self-compassion can only be experienced once we choose to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the portal that can lead to an appreciation of acknowledgment, empathy, compassion, nurturance, self-care, and much, much more,” Holt says.
Zeiger knows that even athletes need to power down. She says, “Mental toughness is not just about ‘going hard.’ It’s also about knowing when to fold your cards.” And she says not to judge yourself when you need a mental break.
Jaye is an advocate for using silence to get in touch with your true feelings and thoughts. “Be still. Take that quiet time each day to reflect, offer gratitude, meditate, and become mindful of the present moment without judging it,” she says.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experience Emotions
Emotions can undoubtedly be scary at times. None of us really want to face our confidence issues or the unhappiness we experience with a spouse. But Jaye says that it’s essential to feel all those emotions as they come up so you can begin to harness the mental strength you’re thirsting for. “Stop numbing yourself,” she says. “Welcome the emotions and thoughts. Allow your body to feel.”
Jaye also recommends using something called the RAIN Method when you become overwhelmed with emotions.
R: Recognize what you’re experiencing and thinking
A: Accept your emotions
I: Investigate these thoughts and emotions
N: Non-judgement of thoughts and emotions
“Just allow [the emotions] to pass naturally, because what we resist persists,” says Jaye.
Remove Yourself From Negative Situations
And if all else fails and mental toughness seems out of reach, it might be time to simply remove yourself from any negative people, places, or situations that weaken you or affect your thoughts.
Jaye says, “Notice the people and circumstances that are triggering you. Become aware and journal your thoughts.” In this same spirit, Holt says that it’s key “deepen your commitment to yourself and the people who make you feel good.”
“It is hard to be mentally tough if you are doing something you dislike,” Zeiger points out. “If you are stuck in a situation where you are unhappy or hate what you are doing, if at all possible, remove yourself from that situation into something more likable. If it is not possible—for example, you are stuck in a job you dislike and cannot move—make a list of the positives and focus on that rather than the negatives.”
Because at the end of the day, that is the foundation of mental strength. Focus on the positives, cast the negatives aside, and fixate on being the very best version of yourself.
#anxiety #tools #techniques #cognitivebehavioraltherapy #cbt
For me, the end of the year is a time of reflection, appreciation and gratitude. It's when I carve out time to be proud of myself and my accomplishments of the year. It's when family rejoins, and tradition and ritual come to a focus. During this process of reflection, I find it natural to reflect on areas for growth, development and change.
However, over the years as I've progressed through my experience as a certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT therapist in West LA, I've noticed difficulty in executing some of the New Year's goals I set for myself. I know I am not alone in this. Much has been written about the importance of setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals. In thinking about my past goals and in remembering discussions with friends and family, identifying goals is rarely the main barrier.
Too often I think our year-end reflections get filtered through a negative filter. Instead of dwelling on my accomplishments and successes, I tend to set goals that tap into my perceived inadequacies and dissatisfactions over the past year. Sadly, the outcome of this type of filtration is that I leave myself with a sense that I am, and/or my life, just isn't good enough.
Goals of this nature can become a checklist of tasks I "need" to or "must" do, and become a basis for my own feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence and esteem, and tend to gain momentum throughout the year. Conducted through this lens, in the generation of goals, I struggle to finalize a thorough list of SMART goals and commit to executing them.
If you are someone who is able to carve out SMART goals for yourself, hold yourself accountable throughout the year and move forward in creating your ideal self and environment without distress, BRAVO! Keep up the excellent work!
However, if you find yourself struggling to set SMART goals or executing change within your life, I have a proposal for you.
In a prior post, I recommended:
We all drift from our good-enough selves. Being adaptable, resilient and committing time to reconnecting with our passions, purpose and cultivating a process to do so is most important.
Similar to the above quote, it is important to remember that we all drift from our true intentions and goals -- each and every one of us. Therefore, it is not helpful to berate ourselves for this sort of drift.
It has been much more helpful to think about the times in my life when I have lived according to my desired goals -- going to the gym on a regular basis, cultivating meaningful relationships, treating loved ones in a loving, compassionate manner -- and reflecting on how I was feeling at those times, what I was thinking in those moments and factors that led to drifting away from those ideal behaviors.
Typically, I find that when I cultivate such compassion for myself, I'm in a much better position to share compassion and nurturance with the world and others.
If you are interested in working on your goals in 2018 and think a therapist might be helpful in keeping you on track, please contact my West Los Angeles psychotherapy practice today for a consultation.
#goals #newyear #change #psychology #inspire #reflection
Mental Health and Therapy Writer. As featured on Huffington Post, Vox Media and elsewhere.