I spent a year building mental strength
Here's what I learned
“How do I become mentally strong?”
Our world has changed drastically and our brains are playing catch up. The amount of information we are receiving has exponentially increased and we can’t process it all.
The very essence of relationships has changed. Friends, family, work, all are rapidly evolving structures. Facilitated by technology, our conversations are omnipresent and social media is abusing our hormonal balance with dopamine kicking in every 2’.
Our cortisol levels are out of whack. Stress and anxiety have risen because we have not been prepared for this pace of change.
And so asking how to be mentally strong is more relevant than ever. Rather than wanting to follow this noble pursuit, we must, to maintain balance. I spent the better part of last year experimenting to provide an answer and here is what I found.
Mental strength is a multidimensional pursuit. That is my personal experience. It’s not like you invest mentally in willpower and suddenly you’re strong or that cultivating tolerance to sustain pain in one domain lends that resilience in other areas of your life.
“Stress and anxiety have risen because we have not been prepared for this pace of change.”
Rather, I find that mental strength is achieved through consistent effort. A combination of physical, mental & spiritual work in the long-lasting quest for meaning.
First comes the PHYSICAL
Mens sana in corpore sano.
Or in other words, stay fit. Keep working out.
Endorphines are your friend. Ideally some HIIT type of training but realistically, whatever you like. I practice martial arts and I cycle. In the past, I was lifting weights. It makes a difference.
Follow a healthy & moderate diet
Irrespective of whether you opt for a high protein, low carb, paleo or any other diet, the fact is nutrition affects your mental state. There are two things that you should look out for when it comes to nutrition: Behavioural & physiological.
When I am talking about behavioural I refer to the effects of how you eat, rather than what you eat. For instance, if you don’t set specific times for meals your body might be frequently lacking energy, weakening your motivation and clarity of thought. Similarly, eating very fast or eating right before bed might influence your mood and sleep.
Then there is what you eat, or how your nutrition affects your physiology which in turn affects your mental strength. For instance, being drunk affects how you think and behave. You might not want to consider alcohol as a food, but so does excess sugar, so keep an eye on that. Moderate.
Suggestion: Read on nutrition, work with an expert or at least stay balanced.
Sleep well: “Humans are the only mammal that deprives themselves of sleep.” says Matthew Walker in “Why we sleep”. Invest in sleep. The negatives are too many to even list.
Then, the MENTAL work
Sometimes I wonder if I am exaggerating but if for some reason I don’t meditate for a few days in a row I find myself easier to sway and affected negatively by externalities. Another incredible sensation is that somehow I find my time from stimuli to response (I am talking about emotional responses) shortened. I’m quick to fire away. That is bad. Mental strength requires clarity as well as calmness. Together, they help cultivate wisdom. So, meditate.
Invest in therapy. I might be biased, as I have had therapy for a long time and it is now my business, but being in a safe space to talk and understand yourself, in an uninterrupted fashion, can get you a long way. You become stronger by understanding what drives you to act in ways you might later regret (driven by emotion and thus, less intelligent, more impulsive), reduces your anxiety and creates new neural pathways with positive associations. You literally fortify your brain. Invest in therapy.
Try freestyle journaling as popularized by “The artist’s way” and/or the Stoic Journal. The former aims to unleash your creativity, a core element of a healthy cognitive process. The latter aims to reduce anxiety and realign your actions and thoughts with your core values. Both have been a core part of my wellbeing, ability to sustain clarity of thought and withstand adversity. Give it a shot even if you don’t like writing.
Other creative pursuits. Painting, music, puzzles, anything that engages your brain fully needs to enter your arsenal of tools to engage your mind.
Find your purpose
Your path to self-actualization.
Buddhist teachings, Carl Jung, Stoics and Ancient Greek philosophy are a great place to start into what is, undoubtedly, a very personal journey. Nonetheless, there is wisdom in the above that has helped our ancestors throughout the aeons. Worth looking into.
Last but not least, HABITS. Learn to start and stop things in a sustainable fashion. You will need to have chosen your path first, but once you know where you want to go you will need to implement a routine to introduce the compounding effects of “every day”.
And one thing is for sure: These changes don’t result from willpower, they come from the process. Master habits and you will achieve anything you want. In case this is not obvious, here are some good books: One, two & three.
Mental strength is the outcome of a healthy, clear and purpose-driven mind.
“Mental strength is achieved through consistent effort”
If it feels like a sacrifice, it’s not a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for burn out.
- “I am not giving up my evenings, I am investing in reading”
- “I am not giving up drinking I am gaining clarity of thought”
- “I am not spending money in martial arts, I am investing in the discipline”
If it’s consistent, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s a trade-off, a net positive one.
It’s not a sacrifice. It’s an investment that falls in line with your identity. It’s a step towards your long term goals.
If you are feeling you’re sacrificing in the moment, don’t try to suppress the feeling.
Question the activity or question your beliefs.
Mark and the team at Timewith are on a mission to change the way people access therapy. They believe finding the right therapist should be simple and pain-free. By streamlining this process and connecting people with suitable therapists, we want to ensure that everyone is able to access the support they need without any hold-ups or unnecessary complications along the way.