Throughout my years as a therapist I've worked with a lot of clients who thought they were setting themselves up to become mentally stronger. But rather than create an environment that helped them build more mental muscle, many of them were actually creating circumstances that were draining their mental strength.

I worked with a man who had read articles about high achievers who get up at the crack of dawn. So he began forcing himself to get out of bed at 4 AM every day. He thought being an early riser would turn him into a productive force to be reckoned with.

But rather than feel accomplished and self-disciplined, he felt worn-out and exhausted. He'd concluded he was too lazy to be mentally strong.

Or, there was a woman I worked with who was working over 70 hours a week at a job she disliked. She depended on caffeine and fast food to get through the day and her stress level was always through the roof.

She felt distracted much of the time, which weighed heavily on her productivity. So she had to work longer days to get her work done and the more hours she worked, the more distracted she felt. It led to a vicious cycle that was hard to break and she blamed herself for not being strong enough to handle everything.

While both of these individuals were intent on establishing a routine that reflected self-discipline, their habits weren't helping them develop the mental muscle they needed to become their best. They'd fallen prey to a lot of misconceptions about mental strength and their efforts were backfiring.

Becoming mentally stronger doesn't require you to inflict pain and suffering on yourself only to then blame yourself for not being able to hack it. Instead, create an environment that is conducive to building mental muscle. Here are 10 ways to structure your life so you can become mentally stronger:

1. Limit the temptations.

You might think surrounding yourself with cupcakes and being able to resist them when you're on a diet is the hallmark of mental strength. But willpower is a finite resource no matter how strong you are.

When you spend all your time trying to resist a temptation right in front of you, you won't have energy leftover to reach new goals. So rather than insist you should be self-disciplined all th time, remove temptations from your life so you can devote your energy to more worthwhile causes.

2. Establish healthy habits out of self-respect.

You don't need to treat your body like a machine or push yourself to your limits just to prove how far you can go. Sometimes, being strong is about being OK with who you are even if you don't finish the race, accept a dare, or go to extremes. Create healthy habits that stem from your desire to do better rather than punish yourself for not being good enough.

3. Keep your eyes on your own journey.

Life isn't a competition to see who can earn the most money or look the happiest on social media. Just because someone else has a stricter diet, gets more exercise, or works more hours, doesn't mean they're stronger than you. Keep your eyes on your journey.

4. Set yourself up for success.

Don't expect to become so mentally strong that you'll succeed at everything with ease. Instead, set yourself up for success by making healthy choices more easily accessible.

Put the healthy snacks within reach and the junk food in a hard to reach spot. Or, create a workspace that helps you stay on task. A few simple little changes can skyrocket your chances of success.

5. Take care of yourself.

You have to take care of your body and your mind if you want to be your best. Your sleeping habits, diet, and exercise routine play a major role in how well your mind functions. Take care of yourself if you want your mental strength exercises to be effective.

6. Know your weaknesses.

Whether you call yourself names or you struggle to manage your anger, acknowledge your cognitive, emotional, and behavioral weaknesses. Recognizing your weaknesses, however, shouldn't be about putting yourself down. Instead, identifying areas that need improvement can help you figure out how to develop a daily schedule that will help you succeed.

7. Ask for help when you need it.

Whether you need to ask your boss for help dealing with an unruly co-worker or you need to ask your doctor for help dealing with your anxiety, asking for help can be tough to do. But it can prevent you from wasting your time and energy on an issue that you can't seem to resolve on your own.

8. Develop a support team of strong people.

While your journey is an individual one, you aren't likely to become stronger without support of other strong people. If you don't have friends and family who are interested in bettering themselves, seek out people who are. From support groups to mentors, look for ways to add strong people to your team who can support your efforts.

9. Set clear boundaries with toxic people.

Whether your mother berates you for not becoming a doctor or your co-worker complains all day long, it only takes one energy vampire to take a toll on you. Set boundaries with toxic people to prevent them from having power over your life. Healthy boundaries might range from choosing to allow insensitive comments to roll off your back to ending contact with someone who isn't good for you.

10. Create a healthy environment for yourself.

Sometimes people assume they should be mentally strong enough to tolerate anything. But you won't flourish in an unhealthy environment. Getting rid of heaps of physical clutter, limiting the amount of time you spend scrolling through social media, or getting out of debt are just a few ways you can create an environment that will help you become your strongest self.

Published on: Oct 9, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.