There are many misconceptions about what it means to be mentally strong. At its core, mental strength is about regulating your thoughts, managing your emotions, and behaving productively, despite the circumstances you find yourself in.
Assessing mental strength, however, isn't quite as simple as assessing physical strength. You can tell a lot about how physically strong someone is likely to be by simply looking at them. A big bicep probably means that person can lift some weight. But you can't tell if someone is mentally strong based on a quick glance. Much of what determines mental strength happens on the inside.
Honest self-reflection is the key to building mental strength. Knowing your strengths and being willing to work on areas that need improvement can help you become mentally stronger.
How Well Do You Regulate Your Thoughts?
The conversations you have with yourself play a major role in your overall well-being. While everyone uses harsh self-criticism at one time or another, talking to yourself like a trusted friend is the key to building mental strength.
It's important to think realistically. Overly negative thoughts can prevent you from taking productive action. But overly positive thoughts can be harmful, too, because you might be left unprepared for the realities you face.
Ask yourself these questions to assess your mindset:
1. What inaccurate conclusions do I draw about myself?
2. What types of things do I beat myself up over?
3. What excuses do I let myself make?
4. What's my definition of success?
5. What do I tell myself when I fail?
6. What is my self-worth based on?
7. What do I think when I'm rejected?
8. What type of self-doubt do I experience?
9. When do I become overconfident?
How Well Do You Manage Your Emotions?
Contrary to what some people believe, mentally strong people don't suppress their emotions or ignore their pain. In fact, they are acutely aware of their emotions and recognize how those emotions impact how they think and behave.
Mentally strong people face uncomfortable emotions, like fear or anxiety, when doing so helps them reach their bigger goals. Rather than escape or avoid discomfort, they use healthy coping skills to deal with distress.
Ask yourself these questions to assess your ability to manage your emotions:
1. How do I respond to emotional pain?
2. Which emotions sometimes get the best of me?
3. Which fears prevent me from reaching my greatest potential?
4. Which emotions do I avoid the most?
5. When do I feel happiest?
6. Which emotions lead me to behave out of character?
7. What strategies do I use to boost my mood when I'm down?
8. Can I recognize when my emotions are starting to get out of control?
9. What do I do when I notice I'm starting to feel sorry for myself?
Do You Keep Your Behavior Productive?
Building mental muscle is all about knowing when to change your behavior vs. when to change your environment. While there may be times when you can work on self-discipline to help you better resist temptation, there may also be times when you need to change the environment so you can be your best self.
Sometimes, productive behavior involves doing things you don't feel like doing. Other times, it's about performing behavioral experiments that prove your negative predictions wrong.
Developing mental strength will help you overcome obstacles and respond to hardship in a more effective manner. It will also help you make the best choices for yourself, even when those decisions aren't popular.
Ask yourself these questions to assess your behavior:
1. When do I give up too soon?
2. When do I keep going longer than I should?
3. Do I recognize when my behavior isn't in line with my values?
4. Do I take care of my body well so my mind can be at its strongest?
5. Which mistakes do I make over and over again?
6. When do I seek short-term solutions that lead to long-term problems?
7. What prevents me from taking action toward the goals I want to achieve?
8. Do I devote my time and energy to things I believe are most important?
9. How do I sabotage myself?
Build Your Mental Muscle
Everyone has the power to build mental strength. And no matter how mentally strong you may be, there's always room for improvement. Develop daily habits that make you mentally strong and strive to become a little better today than you were yesterday.
Want to know how to give up the bad habits that keep you from being mentally strong? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
This article first appeared on Inc.