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13 Things Mentally Strong College Students Don't Do

02/10/2015 10:34 am ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015
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We often hear advice like, "Think positive and everything will work out," or "Just keep trying because something better will come along." While such words of wisdom certainly have merit, these well-meaning suggestions aren't enough to guarantee success.

All the positive thinking you can muster won't help you ace that exam if you haven't been going to class. And you can keep trying all you want, but if you show up to every job interview convinced you'll never get hired, you might never land the job of your dreams. Becoming better isn't about always about adding more good habits to your routine. Instead, reaching your full potential often means getting rid of the bad habits that are holding you back.

Whether you're hoping to gain more direction for your future, or you're striving to improve your academic performance, building mental strength will help you reach your goals. To become mentally strong, you must give up the bad habits that prevent you from becoming your best self.

Gaining mental strength is a lot like building physical strength. While a successful bodybuilder needs to maintain his physique with good habits, like going to the gym, it's equally important for that bodybuilder to get rid of unhealthy habits, like eating junk food. An exercise regimen won't be effective in building lean muscle unless unhealthy eating habits are also eliminated.

Similarly, building mental muscle requires hard work, dedication and exercise. In addition to adopting healthy habits, it's also essential to avoid detrimental habits -- like thinking negatively, engaging in unproductive behavior, and indulging in self-destructive emotions.

Here are the 13 things mentally strong college students don't do:

1. Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
Many of life's problems and sorrows are inevitable, but feeling sorry for yourself is a choice. Whether you're drowning in student loan debt, or you're struggling to pass Advanced Calculus, indulging in self-pity won't fix your problems. If you're prone to feeling sorry for yourself when the going gets rough, train your brain to exchange self-pity with gratitude. Mentally strong people don't waste their time and energy thinking about the problem, instead they focus on creating a solution.

2. Give Away Their Power
It can be tempting to blame other people for when we face problems and experience uncomfortable emotions. Thinking things like, "My professor makes me feel bad about myself," however, gives others power over you. Take back your power by accepting full responsibility for how you think, feel, and behave. Empowering yourself is an essential component to building mental strength and creating the kind of life you want to live.

3. Shy Away From Change
Although we feel safest when we stay within our comfort zones, avoiding new challenges serves as the biggest obstacle to living a full and rich life. Acknowledge when you're avoiding change simply because you want to escape the discomfort associated with doing something new. Commit to facing those emotions head-on. The more you practice tolerating uncomfortable emotions, the more confident you'll become in your ability to tolerate the distress that may be necessary to reach your full potential.

4. Waste Energy on Things They Can't Control
So often, we worry about all the wrong things. Rather than focus on preparing for the storm, we waste energy wishing the storm wouldn't come. If we invested that same energy into the things we do have control over, we'd be much better prepared for whatever life throws our way. Pay attention to the times when you're tempted to worry about something you can't control -- like your roommate's GPA or how the job market is going to look when you graduate -- and devote that energy into something more productive.

5. Worry About Pleasing Others
Although a lot of people say, "I don't care what other people think," that's often a defense mechanism meant to shield them from the hurt and pain associated with rejection. The truth is, most of us want to be liked and we want those around us to be happy. But choosing a major based on what your parents want you to do, or accepting an internship that a professor wants you to take, can interfere with your ability to create your own path in life. Doing things that won't be met with favor takes courage, but living a truly authentic life requires you to live according to your values, even when your choices aren't popular.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks
We make dozens -- if not hundreds -- of choices every day with very little consideration of the risks we're taking. And in college, calculating those risks fall on your shoulders for the first time. It's up to you decide everything from what you're going to do on Friday night to what career path you're going to take. Often we base those choices on emotion, rather than the true level of risk. Making decisions based on your level of fear isn't an accurate way to calculate risk because emotions are often irrational and unreliable. You don't get to be extraordinary without taking risks, but it's important to learn how to accurately calculate those risks so you can make choices with confidence.

7. Dwell on the Past
While reflecting on the past and learning from it is a helpful part of building mental strength, ruminating can be harmful. Whether you were bullied in junior high, or still can't believe you didn't pass that class last semester, dwelling on it will only hold you back. Although moving forward can be hard -- especially if you've endured your share of misfortune -- it's a necessary step to becoming your best self.

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
It'd be nice to learn enough from each mistake that we'd be guaranteed to never repeat that same mistake twice. But, how many times have you said, "I'll never do that again," only to find yourself right back at it a few days later. Learning from our mistakes requires humility and a willingness to look for new strategies to become better. Mentally strong people don't hide their mistakes or make excuses for them. Instead they turn their mistakes into opportunities for self-growth.

9. Resent Other People's Success
No matter where you go to college, you're bound to be surrounded by people who are prettier, smarter, wealthier, and more successful. Focusing on all the things other people have however, will interfere with your ability to reach your goals. When you're secure in your own definition of success, you'll stop resenting other people for obtaining their goals and you'll be committed to reaching your dreams.

10. Give Up After Failure
It's normal to feel embarrassed, discouraged, and downright defeated when your first attempts don't work. From a young age, we're often taught that failure is bad, but it's nearly impossible to succeed if you never fail. Mentally strong people view failure as proof that they're pushing themselves to the limits in their efforts to reach their full potential.

11. Fear Alone Time
In today's fast paced world, obtaining a little quiet time often takes a concerted effort. Many people avoid silence and solitude because the lack of activity feels uncomfortable. But taking time for yourself is an essential component to building mental strength. It's essential to create opportunities to be alone with your thoughts so you can reflect on your progress and consider your goals for the future.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything
It's easy to get caught up in feeling a sense of entitlement. But waiting for the world -- or the people in it -- to give you what you think we're owed isn't a helpful life strategy. If you're busy trying to take what you think you deserve, you won't have any time to focus on all that you have to give. And everyone has gifts that can be shared, regardless of whether they've gotten a "fair deal" in life.

13. Expect Immediate Results
We often grow so accustomed to our "no lines, no waiting" world, that our brains begin to believe that everything should happen instantaneously. But self-growth develops at more of a snail's pace, rather than at lightning speed. Whether you're trying to lose weight or you want to improve your self-confidence, slow and steady wins the race and expecting immediate results will only lead to disappointment. Mentally strong people know that true change takes time and they're willing to work hard to see results.

The good news is, everyone has the ability to build mental strength. But to do so, you need to develop self-awareness about the self-destructive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that prevent you from reaching your full potential. Once you recognize areas that need work, commit to mental strength exercises that will help you create healthier habits and build mental muscle.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, college psychology instructor and an internationally recognized expert on mental strength. Her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, provides strategies that can help you avoid the common pitfalls that hold us back in life, as well as exercises to build mental strength.