By Dr. Caroline Leaf
How to Build Mental Toughness
Although many of us spend so much time focusing on our physical health, whether it is going to the gym, to a Pilates class or for a morning jog, we often forget to spend time working on our mental “fitness”. Yet the mind is the source of all our thoughts, words and actions; when our thinking is unhealthy, our lives will be unhealthy—even if we go to the gym seven times a week!
It is so important that we spend time strengthening our minds, since mental toughness and resilience will get us through difficult times and help us achieve success in every area of our lives. When our minds are strong, we will be able to handle whatever life throws our way; we will go from just surviving to thriving!
So what are some simple yet powerful ways you can build your mental toughness?
- Be grateful. Sometimes it is so hard to look beyond what we are going through and remember how much we have to be thankful for—we have all been there! But when we choose to develop a gratitude mindset when times are tough we can increase our longevity, our ability to use our imagination, our overall health and our ability to problem-solve! An “attitude of gratitude” actually leads to the feeling that life is worth living, which brings mental health benefits in a positive feedback loop, strengthening the mind and improving our resilience, which, in turn, helps us bounce back more quickly when life gets tough.
Spend the next week analyzing how grateful you are. Keep a record in a journal or on your phone or computer, of every time you are grateful and every time you are whiny over a seven-day period. Tally it up at the end of the seven days—you may be shocked at the results!
- Expect great things. Due to the mind-body connection, expectancy produces real, neurophysiological outcomes in our brains and bodies. If we have an expectancy mindset, we can strengthen our brains and bodies, increasing the chance that what we hope will happen actually happens. When we learn to expect good things, good things start to happen, such as better mental and physical fitness and performance. However, the opposite is also true! Thinking bad things are going to happen often allows bad things to happen! Fear is real and can build negative learned associations in the brain, which can affect the strength of our mind and negatively impact our future thoughts, words, and actions.
Every day spend a few minutes asking yourself: do I expect things to go well? Why? Do I expect things to go badly? Why? Write down your answers in a journal or on a smart phone or computer. Ask yourself if your expectations about a particular event or circumstance affected you in a particular way. Write down a positive expectation for every negative expectation you write down, and think of ways you can remind yourself of the positive expectation when you feel down. Perhaps set a reminder on your phone to think about how you expect a situation to turn out and to focus on the positive.
- Choose happiness. Yes, happiness is a choice, as I discuss in my book Think, Learn, Succeed. A happiness mindset has more to do with a sense of inner satisfaction than external consumption. It is the joy you have living the “meaningful good life” and revolves around your ability to focus on the positive, to connect with others, and to have meaningful relationships in a community. It is not just about everything going right; it is about your mind being right. The brain works significantly better when you choose to feel happy in the midst of a challenge. I have found repeatedly in my research and clinical experience and personal life that excitement rises when we adopt a positive attitude and persist in the face of a daunting task.
Laughter and play are wonderful ways to reduce toxic stress and increase happiness. Take the time to incorporate fun into your day, even if it is just for a few minutes. Watch funny videos, play a board game, watch a comedy, read a joke book, or make funny noises with your loved ones. Having fun through play and laughter is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to increase happiness. It strengthens the mind, body, and the spirit and gets positive emotions flowing!
- Step up to the challenge. Challenges can bring out the best in us. Getting to the other side of a challenge brings a sense of happiness in the achievement, toughening the mind and setting the stage for the next challenge with the addition of the new skills you have gained from the challenge. Mental training via deep thinking and understanding to build memory and learning increases the numbers of neurons that develop in the brain, particularly when the training goals are challenging. This growth of neurons with their dendrites (where memory is actually stored) means long-term, useful, and meaningful memories are formed, thereby toughening the mind and forming the basis for success.
Choose to do something every day that challenges your mind, whether it is reading a book, learning a language, or studying something that interests you. Plan ahead and choose something that will help you expand your knowledge base and help you develop self-discipline and mental resilience.
It is so important to remember that our thoughts can improve our peace, health, vision, toughness, strength, and much more. The ability to think, feel, and choose and build thoughts is really one of the most powerful things in the universe, because this power is the source of all human creativity, ingenuity and imagination. Mental toughness overflows into every area of our lives and gives us the ability to persevere and pursue our dreams.
Disclaimer: This information is intended to serve as guidelines for managing toxic thoughts, emotions and bodies and not as a replacement for professional medical advice. Please discuss specific symptoms and medical conditions with your doctor. Any use of this information is at the user’s discretion. Dr. Leaf is not a medical doctor, and nothing on this page should be seen as individual medical advice.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc in Logopedics and Audiology, specializing in metacognitive and cognitive neuropsychology. Her passion is to help people see the power of the mind and the link between science and God as a tangible way of controlling their thoughts and emotions. This article was reposted with permission from drleaf.com.