“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
“My dad is a blind cancer survivor. He lost both his eyes when he was in his early 30’s to a rare form of cancer. Despite this, he raised my sister and I, and took care of my mom who was in and out of rehab for alcoholism and depression. My mom is a fully recovered alcoholic now, my sister and I have graduated college, and my parents are still together and back to being happy. I’m certain none of this would have been possible if my dad hadn’t been such a resilient, positive force in our lives. My dad’s mental strength literally saved our family.”
Those are lines right out of an email I received this morning from Kristin, a new course student of ours (I’m sharing this with permission). Her portrayal of her dad is both inspiring and a wonderful reminder of the importance of inner resilience. With enough mental strength, an ordinary human being can be an extraordinary hero.
And you don’t have to be born mentally strong either. You can develop this vital trait with practice. Here are five key things people with remarkable mental strength do daily:
1. They use passion and love to fuel their drive to get the hard things done.
Life is not easy, which is why you have to do hard things to be happy in life. The things no one else is doing. The things that frighten you. The things others can’t do for you. The things that make you question how much longer you can hold on and push forward.
Because those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between existing and living – between knowing the path and walking the path – between a life of defeat and a life filled with happiness and success.
Adversity is an inevitability, and it’s much like walking in to a turbulent windstorm. As you fight to push through it, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn.
Once you come out of the storm you see yourself as you really are in raw form, still holding the passions and values that move you, and little else. These are the lusts that matter – the inner love and vows that define you. It is this kind of love that drives you forward and even when the going gets tough. It is this kind of love that strengthens the mind, body and soul. (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
2. They focus their energy solely on what they can control.
There’s a quote I’ve always loved that’s often credited to Ignatius: “Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you.”
That’s a strong way to live. It’s about using your faith to fuel positive action.
And the same premise applies to luck too. Yet, many people feel luck has everything to do with where they stand in life – whether their lives are happy or sad, successful or unsuccessful, etc. If life is good, luck favored them, and if it isn’t, luck was against them. But that’s not the whole truth.
Mentally strong people know that good luck plays some role in their happiness or success, but they don’t wait around for good luck to strike, or sit around worrying about the possibility of bad luck. They do what they can right now with the hand they’ve been dealt. Incredible progress happens in our lives when we decide to take control of what we do have power over instead of craving control over what we don’t.
The truth is, 10% of your life is decided by uncontrollable circumstances and 90% is decided by how you react to those circumstances. By not wasting mental energy worrying about what should have happened, or what might happen, you can put all your effort into making the right things happen to the best of your ability. (And then if you do get lucky, hey, you’re even better off.)
Bottom line: You cannot control everything that comes your way, but you are in absolute control of how you react to it. And that changes everything.
3. They make every action a positive one.
The most effective way to prevent what’s negative is to promote what’s positive. The best way to influence bad behavior is not to control, regulate or demand, but to inspire, motivate and lead by example. You get more reward from your efforts when they’re applied in a positive direction. So instead of rebelling against what you dislike, work to build and support what you value and admire.
The answer to despair is not to despise it, for that only adds fuel to the fire. The answer is to overwhelm it with goodness, love and proactivity. Focus your attention and energy on what’s working, and make more of it. Praise what’s good and right, useful and valuable, and help it grow stronger. Nurture and promote what you love about life. Delight in the good things, and give the full power of your awareness to them.
Be a positive force by acting with positive resolve. Ultimately, happiness comes a lot easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have. Although every day may not be good, there’s always something good about every day. Appreciating these good things, and feeding off their positive energy to create positive action, is what makes a good life in the end. (Read Begin with Yes.)
4. They are relentlessly consistent.
Years ago, when I was extremely focused on weight lifting and physical strength training, I gradually learned that you can’t be truly committed to any goal if you have a weak mind. To combat this, I wrote two simple questions on two different post-it notes and stuck one on my bathroom mirror and the other inside my gym locker:
- How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you that you were too tired?
- How many workout reps have you skipped because your mind, not your body, said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth”?
To this day, the answer to both questions is probably thousands for most people, including myself. Weakness of the mind is a real dream killer, and the only way to fix this weakness is daily practice.
Far too often we think that mental strength is all about how we respond to extreme circumstances. How did she perform on stage during that nationally televised event? Did he bounce back after his business partner betrayed him and bankrupt their company? Can she keep her life together even after suffering from a major, debilitating physical injury?
There’s no doubt that extreme circumstances test our bravery, determination and mental strength, but what about common, daily circumstances?
Just like every muscle in the body, the mind needs to be exercised to gain strength. It needs to be worked consistently to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in thousands of little ways over time, of course you’ll crumble on the one day that things get really challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Choose to get to the gym when it would be easier to sleep in. Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to quit at nine. Choose to create something special when it would be easier to consume something mediocre. Choose to raise your hand and ask that extra question when it would be easier to stay silent. Prove to yourself, in a thousand little ways, that you have the guts to get in the ring and wrestle with life.
Mental strength is built through lots of little victories. It’s the individual choices that we make on a daily basis that build our ‘mental strength’ muscles. We all want this kind of strength, but you can’t think your way to it. You have to do something about it religiously. It’s your daily actions that prove your mental fortitude.
The bottom line is that when things get difficult for most people, they find something easier to do. When things get difficult for mentally strong people, they find a way to stay on track. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Productivity” and “Adversity” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. They act as if what they do makes a difference.
And it does!
This is perhaps the most fundamental way people with remarkable mental strength change the world. And you can be one of them!
What really matters in life is not what we have, but how we use it; not what we buy, but what we build; not what we own, but what we share with the world; not our capability, but our character; not our success, but our true significance. Live a life that makes you proud – one that matters and makes a difference.
- Your positivity will inspire the world today – let it ring loudly and frequently.
- Your gratitude will give life its beauty today – express it.
- Your efforts will make life richer today – be generous.
- Your passion and love and curiosity will make a whole new set of experiences possible – open your heart and mind.
You get the idea…
You are needed. You are significant. Whatever you do will matter immensely, going far beyond you and coming back in profound ways you can’t even imagine. So always go above and beyond, especially for those who need you the most. In a world full of people who couldn’t care less, be someone who couldn’t care more.
What’s one habit or belief that has helped you stay mentally strong through good times and bad? Or on the flip side, what’s one habit or belief that has slowed you down and weakened your mental strength? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.