We all know someone who exhibits mental strength. Indeed, we may feel that we are someone who has mental strength. But what exactly is it? We instinctively know that it relates to the ability to tough it out whether in difficult circumstances or when we’re trying to succeed at something that is challenging. We may also consider resilience to be a key attribute of mental strength or it could be displayed in people with a positive attitude. Still others might be tenacious, whatever the circumstances.
For me, the definition of ‘fortitude’ gives a pretty good description of what I consider mental strength to be (taken from dictionary.com):
mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously
But whatever definition of mental strength you use, there are a number reasons why it’s important to improve mental strength.
Mental Strength will give you the ability to keep moving
Being tenacious is a major contributing factor to the success of your goals. Life will always throw obstacles, challenges and difficulties in our way. From the birthday buns at work, to the heavy rain when you’ve planned a run or a hike. From the red tape slowing your career progress, to illnesses, and challenging relationships which take up more of our time than we anticipate.
Add to that our own inclination to be scared, fearful or just plain lazy and the need for mental strength becomes obvious.
Mental strength will determine the quality of your life.
We may believe that our circumstances determine the quality of our lives, and to some extent that may be true. But, the real determinant of the quality of our lives is our reactions to the circumstances, the setbacks and opportunities, that arise in our lives.
Being willing to take the opportunity, even though it’s scary, or you don’t have all the information or you lack some of the skills requires mental strength to override the inevitable wave of personal doubt. Added to this there will often be well-meaning ‘advice’ from those who are also scared of the opportunity you’ve been offered!
Similarly, dealing with setbacks can put us in a downward spiral or self-doubt, procrastination and ‘what-ifs’. Instead success will require you to increase your mental strength so that for every setback you are ready to push through, overcome, develop new skills or just close your eyes and jump anyway!
Mental strength will allow you to cross many boundaries in the future
As I’ve already mentioned, life will give us a few knocks. We’ll face upset and hardship, we’ll be challenged by circumstances that we never thought we’d face, we’ll want something so badly, but things just don’t work out in our favour.
But, in going through each of these struggles and challenges, we build mental strength. If we don’t allow ourselves to give up or fall apart, we’ll gain the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to ignore the part of our psyche that’s screaming to us to stop and to keep going anyway. This is fortitude. This is mental strength.
Mental strength will allow you to feel more empathy
The saying goes something along the lines of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes before passing judgement. This obviously has some merit to it, since understanding how someone feels in their given circumstances cannot be fully felt unless you’ve experienced it too. But this doesn’t preclude us from feeling sympathy for someone else.
However, when you’ve been through difficult circumstances, whether circumstantial or self-imposed, you will be more inclined to empathise with someone who’s facing their own challenges. This was fully brought home to me a few years ago when my husband suffered a heart attack. Going through that experience has taught me that we all have our challenges.
These days I call it ‘stuff’, and refer to us ‘all having our stuff to deal with’. Sometimes this is visible, sometimes not, but mental strength brought on by adversity often allows people to develop their empathy.
Notwithstanding my assertion that adversity allows us to develop our mental strength. I can think of two situations where mental strength can be a disadvantage.
Someone always has it worse
Being mentally strong can bring out the worst in other people! Maybe they don’t mean things to sound as they do, but isn’t it sometimes the case that when you’re facing down a challenge, be it a torn ligament upsetting your training routine or the car breaking down when you’re trying to get to an interview, that they’ve had it worse?!
I guess that’s the problem with problems! But this is just another example of the need to develop mental strength. People love to share their problems, but if the sharing isn’t helping you forward and is just a moan-fest then it can take quite some strength to stay on track and not be drawn into all the negatives surrounding the problem.
The contradiction of mental strength
Being mentally strong is a double-edged sword unfortunately, because we develop mental strength by experiencing or putting ourselves through difficult situations. Obviously this isn’t something that we would actively seek to do!
I think we all love the idea of having mental strength, but we’re not so keen on the pain of putting our new found skills to good use! Why would we? But for all the reasons given above, it’s always worth developing our mental strength. By all means acknowledge that it may be painful in some way, but keep at it anyway.
Developing Mental Strength
Increasing our mental strength is challenging, necessary (whether we like it or not) and ultimately rewarding. None of us want to go through difficulties or challenges. But in doing, so we develop ourselves so that we can face bigger and more challenging problems in the future.
If we choose to forgo the development posed by the challenges we face, we can become fearful for our future. We’ll be concerned that we won’t be able to achieve those things we want in life or won’t be able to cope with the ups and downs that life provides us.
In a world of problems and opportunities, we should always strive for success no matter what the circumstances. The circumstances just are. We can’t change or negotiate them, but we can choose our reaction to them when faced with our hurdles.
I have a healthy respect for my mental strength and the continual maintenance that’s required. Sometimes my fears overcome me and I lose out on opportunities, sometimes I feel like I want to give up and sometimes I just keep going anyway. My aim is to fall into the ‘keep going’ category as often as possible, regardless of the circumstances. What about you?