by Dr. Travis Bradberry, Coauthor EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE 2.0 & President at TalentSmart
Mental strength is a choice and a discipline, not an innate quality bestowed upon the lucky.
We all reach critical points in our lives where our mental strength is tested. It might be a difficult friend or colleague, a dead-end job, or a struggling relationship.
Whatever the challenge, you have to be strong, see things through a new lens, and take decisive action if you want to move through it successfully.
It sounds easy. We all want good friends, good jobs, and good relationships.
But it isn’t.
It’s hard to be mentally strong, especially when you feel stuck. The ability to break the mold and take a bold new direction requires that extra grit, daring, and spunk that only the mentally strongest people have.
It’s fascinating how mentally strong people set themselves apart from the crowd. Where others see impenetrable barriers, they see challenges to overcome.
When Thomas Edison’s factory burned to the ground in 1914, destroying one-of-a-kind prototypes and causing $23 million in damage, Edison’s response was simple:
Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again.
Edison’s reaction is the epitome of mental strength—seeing opportunity and taking action when things look bleak.
There are habits you can develop to improve your mental strength. In fact, the hallmarks of mentally strong people are actually strategies that you can begin using today.
1. They’re emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is the cornerstone of mental strength. You cannot be mentally strong without the ability to fully understand and tolerate strong negative emotions and do something productive with them. Moments that test your mental strength are ultimately testing your emotional intelligence (EQ).
Unlike your IQ, which is fixed, your EQ is a flexible skill that you can improve with understanding and effort. It’s no wonder that 90% of top performers have high EQs and people with high EQs earn $28,000 more annually (on average) than their low-EQ counterparts. Unfortunately EQ skills are in short supply. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people, and we’ve found that just 36% of these are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen.
2. They’re confident. Mentally strong people subscribe to Ford’s notion that your mentality has a powerful effect on your ability to succeed. This notion isn’t just a motivational tool—it’s a fact. A recent study at the University of Melbourne showed that confident people went on to earn higher wages and get promoted more quickly than others did.
Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right. – Henry Ford
True confidence—as opposed to the false confidence people project to mask their insecurities—has a look all its own. Mentally strong people have an upper hand over the doubtful and the skittish because their confidence inspires others and helps them to make things happen.
3. They say no. Research conducted at UC Berkeley showed that the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Mentally strong people know that saying no is healthy, and they have the self-esteem and foresight to make their nos clear.
When it’s time to say no, mentally strong people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” They say no with confidence because they know that saying no to a new commitment honors their existing commitments and gives them the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.
The mentally strong also know how to exert self-control by saying no to themselves. They delay gratification and avoid impulsive action that causes harm.
4. They neutralize difficult people. Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. Mentally strong people control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find common ground and solutions to problems. Even when things completely derail, mentally strong people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.
5. They embrace change. Mentally strong people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.
Only when you embrace change can you find the good in it. You need to have an open mind and open arms if you’re going to recognize, and capitalize on, the opportunities that change creates.
6. They embrace failure. Mentally strong people embrace failure because they know that the road to success is paved with it. No one ever experienced true success without first embracing failure. By revealing when you’re on the wrong path, your mistakes pave the way for you to succeed. The biggest breakthroughs typically come when you’re feeling the most frustrated and the most stuck. It’s this frustration that forces you to think differently, to look outside the box, and to see the solution that you’ve been missing.
7. Yet, they don’t dwell on mistakes. Mentally strong people know that where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinders performance. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy, which produces positive emotions and improves performance. Mentally strong people distance themselves from their mistakes, but they do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success.
8. They don’t compare themselves to others. Mentally strong people don’t pass judgment on other people because they know that everyone has something to offer, and they don’t need to take other people down a notch in order to feel good about themselves. Comparing yourself to other people is limiting. Jealousy and resentment suck the life right out of you; they’re massive energy-stealers. Mentally strong people don’t waste time or energy sizing people up and worrying about whether or not they measure up. Instead of wasting your energy on jealousy, funnel that energy into appreciation. When you celebrate the success of other people, you both benefit.
9. They exercise. A study conducted at the Eastern Ontario Research Institute found that people who exercised twice a week for 10 weeks felt more socially, intellectually, and athletically competent. They also rated their body image and self-esteem higher. Best of all, rather than the physical changes in their bodies being responsible for the uptick in confidence, which is key to mental strength, it was the immediate, endorphin-fueled positivity from exercise that made all the difference.
10. They get enough sleep. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your mental strength. When you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins, which are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. Unfortunately, your brain can remove them adequately only while you’re asleep, so when you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc by impairing your ability to think—something no amount of caffeine can fix.
Mentally tough people know that their self-control, focus, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep, so they make quality sleep a top priority.
11. They’re relentlessly positive. Keep your eyes on the news for any length of time, and you’ll see that it’s just one endless cycle of war, violent attacks, fragile economies, failing companies, and environmental disasters. It’s easy to think the world is headed downhill fast. And who knows? Maybe it is. But mentally strong people don’t worry about that because they don’t get caught up in things they can’t control. Instead of trying to start a revolution overnight, they focus their energy on directing the two things that are completely within their power—their attention and their effort.
Bringing It All Together
Mental strength is not an innate quality bestowed upon a select few. It can be achieved and enjoyed.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
Want to learn more? Check out my book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0.
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.