What are the secret ingredients to building mental strength? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
The main thing I would say is "reappraisal." Changing how you see things.
I've interviewed Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Special Forces officers. They all said that they got through their impossible training by seeing it as a game.
Walter Mischel did that famous "marshmallow study": researchers put a little kid in a room with a marshmallow. They tell the kid if they can resist eating the marshmallow for a period of time, they'll get a second marshmallow. The kids who abstained later went on to be more successful in life. The ones who impulsively ate the treat were more likely to drop out, go to jail, etc. This study has been discussed endlessly, but one thing that is not usually mentioned is how many of the abstainers managed to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow. Those that used willpower, gritting their teeth, didn't fare well. Those that tried to distract themselves did pretty good. But the kids who reframed the situation (one of the children pretended the marshmallow wasn't food, it was a puffy cloud) were able to resist so long that Mischel said the researchers became bored and restless.
And often the best reframing happens in the form of the stories we tell ourselves. Stories are the key to how the human mind works. If I told you there was a project you could undertake that meant you'd have to clean poop for a few years, get no sleep and spend a lot of money you'd never get back, you'd tell me "No, thanks." But parenthood is something most people choose to do, willingly and enthusiastically. Same thing but different story = different attitude.
If you identify as a BBQ enthusiast, turning down tender beef is hard. If you identify as a vegetarian, it's effortless. The difference? The story you tell yourself about who you are.
How you frame things is critical. We think we see the facts, but we rarely do. There's always a spin, an angle, a context, whatever. But we can choose to apply a different lens. We can see frustrating stressors as interesting challenges if we choose to. What you see is always colored by how you see it. You can't always change the former but you can always change the latter.
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