A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Psychoanalytic wisdom for everyday life

Hard Work Grows the Mind

A meditation on the value of mental work

Today, I have been reflecting on a basic principle of psychological life:  hard work grows the mind.  We become stronger mentally and emotionally when we are challenged to reach beyond our limits.

Mental strength—what I might call self-confidence—is developed through a combination of loving parental support and personal success in facing life’s difficulties.  We may idealize an easy life, but in reality it is of little use to us, even if it were possible.  We grow to feel more capable when we do difficult things, when we face life’s challenges rather than run away from them.  If we are protected from these sorts of challenges, we wither away.  If we are urged and equipped to face them, we become stronger. 

Anne Frank put it this way:  Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.

Can you relate to this idea?  Do you ever stop to soak in the pleasure of your accomplishments, even the most basic ones?  Do you feel good when you pay your bills on time?  Do you have a sense of pride after a difficult conversation which you feel you handled well?  Do you feel satisfied when you try something new—even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, but just because you had the courage to try?  Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish a project, clean your house, kick ass in an exercise class, give a good speech, or solve a thorny problem?  These are the sorts of experiences that really build self-confidence from the inside.  Taking care of business is the foundation for a mature character.  It may not always be pleasant, it surely will not be free of pain, but it offers a chance to build good feelings that last.

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Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Bhante Gunaratana, put it this way:

View all problems as challenges.
Look upon negativities that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow.
Don't run from them, condemn yourself, or bury your burden in saintly silence.
You have a problem? Great.
More grist for the mill. Rejoice, dive in, and investigate.

I couldn’t have said it better.

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.

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Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, working with adults and couples in her private practice in Pasadena, CA.

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