Mental Strength Is a Skill And Here Are 13 Tips To Build It

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When the going gets tough
Never mind Bluto’s factual inaccuracy, the eternal frat boy makes a good point. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But how? That’s the question.

Like the wise philosopher Jim Belushi once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s what mentally tough people do. They rise up, dust themselves off, and find a way to make each and every setback in life a magical gift of learning experience.

Sure. But when you’re in the middle of tough times in the REAL WORLD, you don’t feel strong or resilient. You certainly don’t feel empowered to shape how you’ll emerge from this experience and become the stuff that Bluto’s motivational speeches are made of.

No, when you’re undergoing mental trauma, you feel weak and out of control of what happens. You’re the guest of honor at your own pity party, where “It’s just not fair” is printed on the place cards. You can’t help but feel what you feel, but you can’t just snap out of it either, so you end up feeling worse.

Amy Morin can relate. When she was grieving for the third time in her life before she was age 30, the widow sat down and thought about the negative thoughts she’d been having. The psychotherapist turned author wrote a list of what not to do as her own mental reminder in her viral blog post turned book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

As a therapist, she knew that feeling sorry for herself and worrying about things out of her control were counterproductive behaviors. But as a person, she couldn’t help but feel how she felt.

We’ve all felt that emotional inertia, but it’s possible to work on your mental strength like a muscle. From Morin’s viral blog post, here are 13 reminders of what mentally strong people don’t do and why exercising the mental strength to feel better is more complicated than an Animal House motivational speech.

1. Waste time feeling sorry for themselves.

“Hardship and sorrow are inevitable, but feeling sorry for yourself is a choice. Even when you can’t solve the problem, you can choose to control your attitude.”

2. Give away their power.

“No one has power over the way you think, feel or behave. Changing your daily vocabulary is one way to recognize that the choices you make are yours.”

3. Shy away from change.

“If you worry that change will make things worse, you’ll stay stuck in your old ways. The world is changing, and your success depends on your ability to adapt.”

4. Squander energy on things they can’t control.

“Pay attention to the times when you’re tempted to worry about things you can’t control—such as the choices other people make or how your competitor behaves — and devote that energy to something more productive. Accept situations that are beyond your control and focus on influencing, rather than controlling, people around you.”

5. Worry about pleasing everyone.

“Trying to make other people happy drains your mental strength and causes you to lose sight of your goals. Making choices that disappoint or upset others takes courage, but living an authentic life requires you to act according to your values.”

6. Fear taking risks.

“Emotions cloud your judgment and interfere with your ability to accurately calculate risk. Acknowledge how you’re feeling about a certain risk and recognize how your emotions influence your thoughts.’

7. Dwell on the past.

“While learning from the past helps you build mental strength, ruminating is harmful. Constantly questioning your past choices keeps you from both enjoying the present and making the future as good as it can be.”

8. Repeat their mistakes.

“View each misstep as an opportunity for growth. Set aside your pride and humbly evaluate why you goofed up. Use that knowledge to move forward better than before.”

9. Resent other people’s successes.

“Jealousy shifts the focus from your efforts and interferes with your ability to reach your goals. Recognize that when other people reach their goals, their accomplishments don’t minimize your achievements.”

10. Give up after their first failure.

“Some people avoid failure at all costs because it unravels their sense of self-worth. Even when you feel embarrassed, rejected or ashamed, hold your head high and refuse to let lack of success define you as a person. Focus on improving your skills and be willing to try again after you fail.”

11. Fear “alone time.”

“For some people, the thought of being alone with their thoughts is downright scary. Alone time, however, is an essential component to building mental strength. Use the time to reflect on your progress and create goals for the future.”

12. Feel the world owes them something.

“We like to think that if we put in enough hard work or tough it out through bad times, then we deserve success. But waiting for the world to give you what you think you’re owed isn’t a productive life strategy.”

13. Expect immediate results.

“Whether you’re trying to shed your procrastination tendencies or improve your marriage, expecting instant results will lead to disappointment. Think of your efforts as a marathon, not a sprint.”

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Shelby Skrhak

Shelby is Associate Editor of She's a journalist and podcaster turned full-time freelance writer based in Plano. She comes to after 12 years with SUCCESS magazine as digital content director. After hosting two top-rated iTunes Top 200 podcasts, she launched her own podcast called the Secret to My Success. She's a Lake Highlands native and graduate of UT-Dallas.

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