Article by Amy Morin
The human brain is naturally predisposed to reach for and achieve goals. Don’t just set one big goal, like “I want to lose 50 pounds.” Set more manageable short-term goals, too, such as “I want to work for 30 minutes without checking my phone” or “I want to reply to all of my emails by noon today.”
With each goal you achieve, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to succeed. You’ll also learn how to recognize when your goals are unrealistically ambitious and when they’re not challenging enough.
Becoming mentally strong doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to temptations every day. Make your life a little easier by modifying the environment.
If you want to work out in the morning, leave your shoes next to the bed at night and sleep in your gym clothes. If you want to eat healthier, remove the junk food from your pantry. When you set yourself up for success, you won’t exhaust your mental energy trying to resist the urge to sleep in or to dig into a bag of potato chips.
Discomfort can lead people to look for unhealthy shortcuts. Rather than deal with a problem, they reach for something that provides immediate emotional relief, like drinking a glass of wine or binge-watching their favorite show. However, those short-term solutions can often create bigger long-term problems.
Practice tolerating discomfort by reminding yourself of the bigger picture. Push yourself to work on your budget even though it causes you to feel anxious. Run on the treadmill when you feel tired. Don’t escape the discomfort. The more you tolerate discomfort, the more confidence you’ll have in your ability to do difficult things.
Strive to develop a realistic but optimistic inner monologue. Reframe catastrophic thoughts. Instead of “This will never work,” try “If I work hard, I’ll improve my chances of success.”
You can’t eliminate all of your negative thoughts. Everyone has rough patches and bad days. By replacing those overly pessimistic thoughts with more realistic expectations, you can stay on course and equip yourself to manage the bad days.
You make the best decisions when your emotions and logic are in sync. If all your decisions were emotional, you wouldn’t save for retirement because you’d be too busy spending your money on what makes you happy right now. If all of your decisions were logical, you’d live a boring life devoid of pleasure, leisure, and love.
Whether you’re buying a house or thinking of a career shift, consider the balance between your emotions and logic. If you’re overly excited or especially anxious, write down a list of the pros and cons of moving forward with the decision. Reviewing that list will boost the logical part of your brain and help balance out your emotions.
It’s hard to stay the course unless you know your overall purpose. Why do you want to earn more money or hone your craft?
Write out a clear and concise mission statement about what you want to accomplish in life. When you’re struggling to take the next step, remind yourself why it’s important to keep going. Focus on your daily objectives, but make sure those steps you’re taking will get you to a larger goal in the long run.
When you don’t perform as well as expected, examine the reasons why. Look for an explanation to help you do better next time, but don’t make excuses for your behavior.
Take full responsibility for any shortcomings. Don’t blame others or the circumstances for your missteps. Acknowledge and face your mistakes so you can learn from them and avoid repeating them in the future.
You won’t improve by accident. Purposely challenge yourself.
Of course, what’s challenging to you might not be to someone else. Analyze where your comfortable boundaries are, and then pick something slightly outside those boundaries and take one small step every day. That could mean speaking up for yourself when it’s uncomfortable or enrolling in a class you don’t feel qualified for. Push yourself to become a little better today than you were yesterday.
When you’re tempted to put off something, use the 10 minute rule. If you’re eye the couch at the time you planned to go for a run, tell yourself to get moving for just 10 minutes. If your mind is still fighting your body after 10 minutes, give yourself permission to quit.
Getting started is often the hardest part. Once you take the first step, you’ll realize it’s not nearly as bad as you predicted and your other skills can help keep you going.
The next time you think you can’t do something, prove yourself wrong. Commit to doing one more pushup at the gym or closing one more sale this month. Your mind will want to quit long before your body needs to give up. Prove to yourself that you’re more capable than you give yourself credit for, and over time, your brain will stop underestimating your potential.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, college psychology instructor, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, a best-selling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages. In addition to private consultation, Amy provides mental strength training to individuals and groups through her Mental Strength eCourse, speaking engagements, and workshops.