Over the years, I've had many people enter my therapy office and ask, "How do I get to be mentally strong so I can do the things mentally strong people do?"

They have the order backwards. You have to act like a mentally strong person to become one.

I don't mean you need to act fake or pretend like you're someone you're not. But, you do need to make choices every day that will help you build mental muscle.

Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength. You need to perform exercises that will help you grow stronger and you need to avoid the bad habits that could counteract your hard work.

It's difficult at times to act mentally strong--especially when you're tired, anxious, or overwhelmed. Fortunately, these strategies can help you do things that will help you grow mentally stronger, even when you don't feel like it:

1. Practice the 10-minute rule.

When there's a task you really don't want to do--like tackling a boring project or cleaning the kitchen--it's easy to talk yourself out of it. In fact, you could easily waste an hour thinking about how much you don't want to do that task that would only take you 30 minutes to complete.

The 10-minute rule can help you get moving even when you don't feel like it. Tell yourself that you're going to do something for 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, you have permission to quit if you really don't want to keep going.

Getting started is usually the hardest part. You'll likely find that after 10 minutes you don't mind continuing. It's a great way to combat procrastination and get yourself moving.

2. Create a list of reasons why.

Your emotions can cloud your judgment and affect your behavior. Even when you have a clear goal in mind, it becomes easy to talk yourself out of doing the things that would help you succeed if you're feeling tired, sad, or bored.

I once worked with a man in my therapy office who was frustrated that he wasn't going to the gym as often as he wanted. He planned to work out every day but after a long day at the office, he felt tired. And rather than turn right to go to the gym, he'd convince himself to turn left out of the parking lot and head straight home.

To help talk himself into going to the gym, he wrote a list of all of the reasons why he should work out, like "It's good for my health," and "It makes my mood better." He posted the list on the steering wheel of his car and he forced himself to read that list before starting his engine.

Reading that list reminded him of all the reasons he wanted to reach his goal and it helped him go to the gym more often.

You make your best decisions when your emotions and your logic are in check. Creating a list of reasons why you should or shouldn't do something can help you think more logically. And raising your logic reduces a lot of the emotion that can affect your behavior in a negative way.

3. Act "as if."

When you are feeling insecure, you might decide to put off a conversation until you feel more confident. Or, if you're feeling down, you might avoid calling your friends until you're feeling happier.

But, those types of behaviors will keep you stuck in your current state. You won't get a sudden boost of confidence when you're sitting by yourself in the back corner. And happiness won't strike when you're moping around the house.

Sometimes, the best way to change how you feel is to change the way you behave. Act as if you felt confident and you'll feel more confident. Or, act as if you felt happier, and your mood will begin to shift.

Whether you want to be more outgoing or you'd like to feel braver, behave like the person you'd like to become.

Build Your Mental Muscles

Taking positive action is just one aspect of mental strength. If you want to become mentally strong, you also need to train yourself to think realistically and you need to learn to control your emotions so your emotions don't control you.

Keep in mind that being strong isn't the same as acting tough. Ignoring your pain, suppressing your emotions, and denying you need help is about acting. Becoming mentally strong requires you to acknowledge your weaknesses, embrace discomfort, and recognize when you don't have all the answers. 

Growing mentally stronger is the key to unlocking your greatest potential. You'll be more resilient to stress and you'll be better equipped to handle whatever challenges life throws your way.

Published on: Oct 22, 2018