There are people out there who seem to be superhuman. No matter what life throws at them, they get through it even stronger than before. It’s not just that they’re smart. And it’s not just that they’re hard-working.
These individuals are mentally tough. Imagine the biggest person you see lifting weights at the gym. Now imagine that instead of being insanely strong externally, they are so internally. Particularly in the mind. Where you can’t knock a physically strong person over with a simple push, neither can you deter a mentally strong person with a simple bout of bad news.
Here are four habits you can use to become mentally tougher. Use them to weather whatever comes your way.
Vivian knows herself well enough to know one thing: if it had happened to her, she wouldn’t survive.
Dickie lost everything in the stock market crash. Vivian would have too if not for her father’s conservatism. In Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, Vivian must purchase the house she and Dickie are living in. A house Dickie can no longer afford to own. A house Dickie is now forced to sell to Vivian, thus changing their power dynamic and, according to Vivian, ending their relationship as they know it.
Vivian was lucky. She walked away from the crash relatively unharmed. But what if she hadn’t? With little schooling and few skills, her newfound poverty would have been hard to escape.
Don’t be a tragedy waiting to happen like Vivian. Instead, develop your skill set today. Follow your interests and let those interests turn into competencies. That way, no matter what happens, you always have options. For instance, if you lose your job, you can start freelancing.
Keep It in Mind
Viktor Frankl was imprisoned in World War II concentration camps for three years.
Separated from everyone he loved, signaled out as a goner, Frankle faced death at every turn. Yet, he persisted. He continued to fight. And he lived to tell the tale. What kept him going? As mentioned in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he says that the hope that one day he would be reunited with his family as well as be able to finish his life’s work kept him moving when so many others couldn’t.
Frankl used the promise of tomorrow’s fulfillment to keep him going.
In your own life, you can do the same. Ask yourself what a meaningful life looks like. Start working in that direction. As obstacles arise, keep that vision in mind. It will give you the strength to persist.
It Is (Always) Your Fault
There is a line from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand that goes something like: If someone punches me in the face, I don’t blame the person who punches me. I blame myself for not getting out of the way.
The default state for many is to place blame on the other person. If you don’t get the job, you blame your boss for being incompetent. If you don’t lose weight, you blame your trainer for not doing a good job. And if your relationship fails, you blame the other person for not seeing a good thing when it’s in front of them. When you blame the other person though, you miss out on a valuable opportunity. An opportunity to learn and do better.
I’m not saying you need to be a pushover. Rather, I’m saying that in any situation where things go awry, forget about the other person entirely. Instead, say I am 100% at fault for this happening. What can I do better next time?
Claim full responsibility. Reflect on where you went wrong. Decide what you will do differently in the future. Become stronger because of it.
I’m Not Hungry
In Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha seeks out a better life. At times he wants wealth. At others, spiritual enlightenment. Through it all, Siddhartha uses three tools to achieve his aims. Three tools you can use as well. Siddhartha notes that:
“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.”
Siddhartha knows that, even if everything goes sideways, he can always move ahead through the use of thinking, waiting, and fasting. Thinking so as to come up with the best solution. Waiting so as to both give himself time for that idea to arise and for the right opportunity to strike. And fasting so that food isn’t his main driver. So that he doesn’t make decisions out of hunger but out of rightness.
You have those same three tools. At the end of the day, you don’t need much. So long as you can think, wait, and fast, you will be able to overcome any obstacle.
*Note: Fasting may not be for everyone. That’s not really the point though. The point is that the mentally toughest recognize that they only need a few core things in order to persist. Everything else is superfluous.
Move Forward with Mental Toughness
You can develop mental toughness. You can strengthen it within yourself like you would for your arms or legs at the gym. Through practice, you can learn to weather whatever storm is before you. Implement the four habits noted here. Watch as your confidence grows. For your reference once more, the four habits that can make you mentally tougher are:
- Pursue your interests. Develop them into skills.
- Work towards a fulfilling life.
- Accept full responsibility in every situation.
- Realize you don’t need much in order to thrive.
I’ll close with one final story. Years ago, I elected to take only cold showers. I wanted to become mentally tough like those cited earlier. I figured that by forcing myself into uncomfortable situations, I would become more resilient. More able to endure difficult times.
And I was partly right. But I was also partly wrong.
The cold showers did give me experience doing something unpleasant. It gave me something I can turn to when feeling uncertain of my fortitude. It also was terrible though and I only did it for a few weeks. Just because something is outside your comfort zone, doesn’t mean it’s worth changing your life over.
The long-winded takeaway from my story: experiment with the four habits. If one of them helps, keep doing it. But if it’s like me with the cold showers, feel free to drop it. Just like you would with an exercise you despise doing at the gym.