When it comes to building up our mental strength and resilience, we tend to focus too much on what we should do, and not enough on what we shouldn’t do. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with therapist, speaker and successful author Amy Morin about why it is important to be aware of our weaknesses if we want to become mentally stronger, how our bad habits can keep us trapped if we don’t identify them, how we can choose how we react to any situation, how to help our children build up their mental strength and resilience, how we can improve our mental strength during the current pandemic, and more!
As Amy talks about in her bestselling book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, it is important to focus on both our strengths and our weaknesses if we want to be mentally strong and resilient. Our bad habits tend to keep us stuck and can be incredibly counterproductive in our lives. They often mitigate the effects of what we are good at if left unacknowledged by draining our strength and leaving us feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
Some of the main things mentally strong people don’t do, for example, are:
- Feel sorry for themselves. Yes, it is okay to be sad or grieve, but self-pity can keep us stuck and make us think “why even try?”. Contrary to what people say, time doesn’t heal everything; rather, it is about what we do with our time that matters. We can learn how to feel without getting trapped ruminating on our losses. There are still things to live for even when we lose something or someone precious to us; we need to focus on what we do have, not just on what we don’t have.
- Give away their power. Watch the language you use. Try to avoid saying things like “I have to…” “I must…” or “…it drives me crazy”. Recognize that you can decide how you react and feel—you can choose in any given situation. This will make your stress work for you and not against you, propelling you into positive action.
- People please. People pleasing can be a tough habit to break, but it is worth all the hard work. When we try to please others instead of ourselves, we quickly lose sight of our values and who we are, which drains our willpower and motivation.
Similarly, in her recent book 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do, Amy describes how there are a lot of gender-based cultural pressures and societal norms that affect how women act and react, draining their mental strength. These are not exclusive to women, but are more common among women, including the need to constantly compare ourselves to others. This can be incredibly detrimental to our mental power, which is why it is important that we learn to see people as opinion holders who we can learn from, not as competitors we need to get ahead of. This puts the brain into a high state of intelligence and helps us learn, grow and build up our mental strength. It also teaches us to create our own definition of success, one based on our unique values and goals in life.
It is equally important that we are aware of certain habits that can affect the strength of our role as parents or guardians. In 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Amy points out that:
- Mentally strong parents don’t shield their kids from pain. Yes, it can be hard to see your child sad or hurt, but this is how they learn how to cope with life’s ups and downs—how they learn how strong they are and how resilient they can be. As a parent or guardian, we need to guide our children through these moments, not shield them from the hurt or pain. One way we can do this is to teach them coping skills in the moment, like making a list of three things they are grateful for when they are upset.
- Mentally strong parents are not responsible for their kid’s emotions. There is so much pressure to raise happy kids these days, but it is far better to teach them how to find their own way—we should avoid trying to make everything better all the time. We need to teach our children how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and other negative emotions, not suppress or run away from them. We need to show them how to identify and label their emotions from a young age, and teach them skills that will help them handle these difficult feelings. One great way to do this is to help your children make a “mood booster list” of things that make them happy, so that when they are angry or upset they can go pick something off the list to make themselves feel better in the moment, like listening to happy music or playing outside.
- Mentally strong parents don’t tell their children to calm down. It is far more important to teach our children how to calm themselves down, rather than trying to make them behave or act in a certain way when they are upset. One way you can do this is by helping your child create a “calm down box” with things that help them feel better by engaging their senses, like soothing music or scented lotion. When they are upset, you can tell them to go do something from their calm down kit. In this way, your child will learn how to sense their feelings and improve their own mood—you empower them to act to improve their emotions. It may require some trial and error to find what works for your child, but over time they will work out a pattern of positive action that works for them. This will build up their mental strength and confidence to deal with their issues and will help them into adulthood.
Of course, we could all use more mental strength during the current COVID pandemic! If you or someone you know is battling with all the change, uncertainty and loss, Amy recommends:
- Labeling your feelings.
- Asking yourself: what am I anxious about?
- Thinking about what you can do problem solve. How can you take some kind of positive action right now?
- Avoiding ruminating on the bad. When you find yourself doing this, argue the opposite with yourself. Ask yourself questions like “how can I benefit from this?”, “What would I say to a friend in this kind of situation?” or “What’s another way I can look at the situation I am in?”.
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22:40 What it looks like to be a mentally strong parent
36:28 How to stay mentally strong during COVID
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