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5 Powerful Exercises to Increase Your Mental Strength

02/09/2015 08:07 am ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015
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Building mental strength is about regulating your emotions, managing your thoughts, and behaving in a positive manner, despite your circumstances. Mental strength involves more than just willpower; it requires hard work and commitment. Growing stronger requires you to establish healthy habits, while also giving up the unhealthy habits that could hold you back from becoming better.

Although it's easier to feel mentally strong when life seems simple -- often, true mental strength becomes most apparent in the midst of adversity. Choosing to build mental muscle is the best way to prepare for life's inevitable obstacles.

Many exercises exist that can help you develop mental strength. Here are five that can get you started:

1. Evaluate Your Core Beliefs
We've all developed core beliefs about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Whether you're aware of your core beliefs or not, they influence your thoughts, behavior and emotions.

Sometimes, core beliefs are inaccurate and unproductive. For example, if you believe that you'll never succeed in life, you may be less apt to apply for new jobs -- and inadvertently, you may not present yourself well on job interviews. Therefore, your core beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are "always" or "never" true. Modifying core beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of your life.

2. Expend Your Mental Energy Wisely
Wasting brain power ruminating about things you can't control drains mental energy quickly. The more you think about problems you can't solve, the less energy you'll have leftover for more productive endeavors. Sitting and worrying about a major storm that's headed your way, won't prevent it from happening. You can, however, choose to use your time and energy preparing for the storm.

Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems and setting goals. When your thoughts aren't productive, make a conscious effort to shift your mental energy to more helpful topics. The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will become a habit.

3. Replace Exaggeratedly Negative Thoughts With Realistic Thoughts
Although most of us don't spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of your thinking habits proves useful in building resilience. Exaggeratedly negative thoughts, such as, "I can't ever do anything right," hold you back from reaching your full potential. Catch your negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and adversely influence your behavior.

Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts don't need to be excessively positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, "I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths." Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self.

4. Practice Tolerating Discomfort
Being mentally strong doesn't mean you don't experience emotions. In fact, mental strength requires you to become acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about how to respond.

Sometimes it makes sense to behave contrary to your emotions. For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone to continue to challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows.

Practice behaving like the person you'd like to become. Instead of saying, "I wish I could be more outgoing," choose to behave in a more outgoing manner, whether you feel like it or not. Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain, and tolerating that discomfort will turn your vision into a reality, one small step at a time.

5. Reflect on Your Progress Daily
Today's busy world doesn't lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. Create time to reflect upon your progress toward developing mental strength. At the end of each day, ask yourself what you've learned about your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Consider what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow.

Developing mental strength is an ongoing process and there is always room for improvement. Reflecting upon your progress can reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while living according to your values.

Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker and an internationally recognized expert on mental strength. Her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success provides strategies and exercises to build mental strength. Watch the book trailer to learn about her personal story behind the book.