Mental strength is a key skill that every athlete, businessperson, or motivated individual needs to thrive. In fact, in a study of 865 students, higher mental strength was associated with less perceived stress and depressive symptoms and higher life satisfaction. But how do you improve mental strength?
In this article, you’re going to learn how to develop your mental strength, with exclusive tips from Dr. Nate Zinsser, a renowned psychologist and author of The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance.
What is Mental Strength?
Mental strength is a measure of how resilient and confident you are when facing different circumstances. Mental strength includes being able to express emotions for some people, while for others, it is about being able to keep a clear head under unfavorable circumstances.
Basic abilities that make up mental strength include:
- being able to handle your negative emotions in a healthy manner
- understanding and interpreting your emotions
- knowing what your emotions entail and what to do about them, i.e., when to engage and step back
Improving your mental strength requires that you employ rational thinking even when overwhelmed with emotions. A person with good mental strength is able to consciously choose both their actions and reactions.
Mental strength doesn’t require you to be:
- Indifferent (“tough” people often are afraid of their emotions, while mentally strong people embrace them)
- Self-reliant (mentally strong people are often aware of the essential people in their lives)
- Always happy (this can lead to toxic positivity!)
But it does require a little bit of effort.
How To Measure Mental Strength?
There are a large number of tests and exercises that can be used to look for mental diseases. However, there are only a handful of options when it comes to ‘measuring’ mental strength and health. These options don’t necessarily need tools to assess brain activity, but the concept of self-reporting or self-psychiatric diagnosis is used.
These self-diagnostics are just preliminary steps, though, that you can measure on your own to get an idea of where you stand on the mental strength and health scale. These include:
- Environmental Factors. In this step, you can use a diary or another recording device that helps you record what you did in a certain situation, how you responded to specific conditions, and compare it to how you think (in hindsight) you should have responded. For example, if you conducted a meeting and it didn’t go so well, you could potentially write down: “I didn’t plan enough before the meeting. I responded by relying on my team member to speak for me. I responded poorly, as I was visibly nervous and sweating. I should have responded by going over my notes and conducting the meeting from my notes, even though it would have taken longer.”
- Emotional Factors. How do you handle stress in different circumstances? Are you nervous on stage? Does the thought of physical exercise make your legs wobble? Taking down daily notes on your biggest stressors is key to finding the key factors that influence your mental well-being.
- Checking Your Vitals. In most instances, the heartbeat and blood pressure are two prime indicators of you almost losing it. The higher your blood pressure or heartbeat, the easier it becomes to trigger irrational emotions. Fitness watches can be particularly helpful here.
These practices should help you understand your mental capabilities and strengths better and make informed decisions accordingly.
7 Tips to Build Mental Strength
Instead of waiting for others to pick you up and guide you, you only need a mental strength strategy to improve yourself. All you need is hard work and determination.
Here are 7 tips to help you improve mental health and strength that you can easily integrate into your day today.
Identify Your Sewer and Success Cycles
No matter who you are, there are times you feel on top of the world and times you feel like you’re headed for the sewers. These times can be classified as either your Success Cycle or Sewer Cycle.
When you feel successful and happy during your Success Cycle, a myriad of benefits open up to you:
- You feel more relaxed
- Your body language naturally opens up
- Making conversations becomes much easier
- Your body secretes “feel good” hormones
- You perform better under stress
However, when you’re feeling down during a Sewer Cycle, you might notice negative effects:
- A feeling of laziness and procrastination
- Mental fogginess
- A lack of confidence
- An unwillingness to socialise
Which cycle are you on for the greatest amount of time? And which cycle are you on when it comes time to make that sales pitch or impress a new client? The key to building mental strength is to increase the times in your Success Cycle and decrease the time in your Sewer Cycle.
Action Step: Identify your triggering points for your Sewer Cycles. Does it happen when you’re with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar location? Do you spiral downwards when you introduce yourself in a bad way? Once you identify it, try to create a “flush” object. This object will help you mentally stop yourself from continuing down the rabbit hole. Whether it’s a toy toilet that you physically flush or a small box of sticky notes with your great moments on them, use this object to reassure yourself during those tough times and switch your negative emotions to encouraging ones.
The 3-Second Rule
The 3-second rule is a technique you can use whenever you’re feeling anxious or nervous about doing something. Count to 3 seconds, and as soon as you hit your mental “3,” perform the action you’re supposed to do!
This technique is a “do it or do it” rule—there is no other alternative. You can use this mental trick in many tough situations:
- Before taking a cold shower
- When heading on a video call
- Before entering a meeting room
- Before chatting with your crush
Pro Tip: The 3-second rule is designed to make you take action at just the right moment. When we feel nervous or have the “butterflies,” it’s our body’s way of naturally preparing us for action. The problem lies when we wait too long, causing more negative effects than beneficial ones. Use the 3-second rule to take action before succumbing to nerves.
Focus on Music
Humans are primal beings. We move to the groove, and a good tune serves as both a feel-good driving song as well as a tune to carry a troop of soldiers to victory.
A prime example of music helping mental strength is David Goggins. In his world record of doing the most pull-ups, Goggins set the record and used one song from the boxing movie Rocky as motivation.
Goggins listened to that one song on repeat for 18 hours straight to set the world record.
You can adopt a similar principle as well. All you need is a tune that you like, a pen and paper to write a song for yourself and a can-do attitude.
Action Step: Got an upcoming challenge you’ve got to tackle? Try listening to your favorite tune during the challenge or, if you can’t, during practice.
Respect Your Body
Physical and mental health work in tandem to make who you are. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson says, “listen to your body.”
Dwayne Johnson was struggling with depression after a critical career setback in his 20s. Where would Hollywood be today if he had given in to his depressive whims?
Now, Johnson keeps his mental strength sharp by disciplining himself with a six-day-a-week routine. You don’t have to be a fitness expert, though.
Just a simple task like a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood can prime you to stay disciplined.
Action Step: Set your daily alarms. Your body demands a routine, including when to eat, when to exercise, and when to sleep.
Achieve & Conquer
Mental weakness is often accompanied by a lack of self-confidence. To gain confidence, you need a sense of achievement and fulfillment in one form or another.
You can do this by setting small goals for yourself in an important area in your life:
- Fill out one page in your journal every night.
- Take up a new skill like learning to swim or computer programming.
- Learn how to invest and save for the future.
- Ask your crush out.
- Freshen up your resume and go job hunting.
From the workplace to your social life, hobbies, and more, give yourself reasons to feel alleviated and motivated. Want ways to conquer your goals once and for all? Check out our free goal-setting webinar: How to Set Better Goals
Pull The Mental Weeds Out & Repeat
Even if you manage to stay mentally strong, deep-rooted emotions have a way of returning during the darkest times.
The mental weeds will grow back.
And the key here is to regularly tend to the weeds. In other words, focus on what makes you feel weak and meditate on it:
- First, pick out a pain point. It could be a lack of self-discipline, being overweight, or not having good friends.
- Next, concentrate on how it makes you feel and bring forth those thoughts: “Being overweight makes me feel sad and undesirable.”
- Third—and this is the hardest part—, accept your feelings. Practice a number of meditation techniques to learn greater acceptance.
- Fourth, take action. Learn to overcome your pain point and gain mental strength along the way.
Take A Cold Shower
Wim Hof, the Dutch motivational speaker, found that taking a cold shower helps him get a better perspective of things—not to mention how it helps him open his eyes in the morning. Cold showers have a way of helping you clear your mind and focus on what really matters.
The moment you jump into the cold, that is where your mind resets. It introduces a filter in your mind as you embrace discomfort.
Mental resets are a key tool in helping you break bad habits and develop mental toughness. And yes, it is actually very beneficial to your physical health as well. Not a fan of cold showers? Try another mental reset technique:
- Do a few sprints (with rest in-between)
- Dance to your favorite tune
- Relax in a hot sauna
- Eat a strong mint
5 YouTube Videos to Watch to Skyrocket Your Mental Strength
There are several other mental strength improvement techniques that you can adopt for better mental strength. Here is some advice that we have filtered for you to help improve your overall state of mind and strength.
Amy Morin – The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist who specializes in mental strength training. Her techniques and advice have helped many people improve mental strength in a personal and professional setting. Her TEDx talk is one of the most popular mental strength training videos out there.
Wim Hof Breathing Technique
Wim Hof is a Dutch motivational speaker who is also known as The Iceman. He is known to remain calm and withstand freezing temperatures thanks to his unique breathing technique(s). Wim Hof’s techniques, such as the one mentioned above, have proven to be particularly useful for improving awareness and mental strength under the cold.
9 Brain Exercises to Strengthen Your Mind
This video has a set of very simple exercises to improve not only brain health but also its strength. It has short exercises, finger workouts, and other methods to rejuvenate your body and your mind. As functionality improves, the mind refreshes, and so it strengthens up.
Relaxing Yoga For Mental Health
Yoga is considered one of the best mind and body exercises to improve strength. The improved blood flow helps you improve mental strength for people who don’t have much yoga experience, as well as for seasonal practitioners.
Navy SEAL Explains How to Build Mental Toughness – David Goggins
Who knows how to strengthen your mind better than Navy SEALS? These are people trained to withstand even the toughest of situations and perform without error under stress. This video will help you understand how you can improve mental toughness like the Navy SEALS.
Mental Strength Mini-FAQ
Confidence is what makes possible the full expression of your capabilities. Whether you’re performing in a competitive sports game or giving a speech, having a confident and clear mind can help you fully take action.
The 4 C’s of mental toughness include controlling your emotions, committing to achieving desired results, maintaining a balance between how challenging your goals are, and staying confident in your abilities.
There are several tell-tale signs of mentally strong individuals, such as being decisive, tolerant, flexible, kind, compassionate, knowing when to quit, respectful, empathetic, and possessing the ability to think clearly, along with leadership qualities
Mental toughness can be developed and honed, hence classifying it as a skill. Unlike mental health, even when deteriorating, it can be improved and implemented at peak times. Even if mental toughness isn’t an inborn characteristic, life-changing events can significantly improve it.
Mental Strength Takeaways
Mental strength and toughness can be improved with the right motivation. It is a skill that anyone can develop, even if they aren’t born with the trait. All you need is the right motivation and strategy.
Write down these takeaways in your journal and refer to them the next time you’re in a mental bind:
- Everyone has Sewer Cycles and Success Cycles. Mental strength isn’t a catch-all skill for every situation—some people who are great at one-on-one meetings might be terrible at giving presentations. Identify what makes you fall down a spiral and what boosts your confidence to take greater control of your mentality.
- Use the 3-second rule to accomplish anything. If you feel lazy, nervous, or shy about performing something (whether it’s hopping on a video call or asking someone out), mentally count to 3. As soon as you hit 3, do the thing!
- Use music to your advantage. Pick out your favorite tunes to pump you up and gain mental clarity.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Do uncomfortable things every day, like taking cold showers or striking up conversations with strangers.
In the end, mental strength is a muscle that constantly needs to be trained. Want to become an even better version of yourself? Read on: 10 Life-Changing Steps to Become the Best Version of Yourself