In the words of Bob Dylan: Life is hard. As we get older and become (eek!) real adults, we are faced with more difficult challenges, and don't always have people around to guide us through them. Because of this, it's increasingly important to learn how to be mentally strong. The things I used to rely on my roommates to talk me through in college — breakups, bad grades, fights with parents — I now, more often than not, have to figure out on my own.
We all know how to increase our physical strength, but building up our mental strength is just as important. Growing up, I cried about everything. If I got a B on a paper or didn't get asked out by my crush, I would come home sobbing. As my mom used to put it, I needed to learn to "toughen up" or I would never survive in the real world. As annoying as that was to hear — literally all the time — she was right.
Psychologist Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do tells me in a phone interview about all of the little things you can do to flex your brain muscles. You are a strong, independent woman, and here are eight little habits that you can add to your everyday life to make you even stronger.
1. Use Your Energy Wisely
“You only have so much mental energy,” says Morin, “so you need to use it wisely." Instead of focusing on things you don’t like or don’t want to do, channel your energy into being optimistic. I read The Secret in college, and can honestly say it changed my life. The way you think really, really can impact outcomes (I swear I am to thank for the snow days we had in college), so it’s important to be positive in your everyday life.
2. Stop Complaining
It annoys everybody around you (I know this because I’m a chronic complainer and have heard the feedback), and according to Morin it actually does impede your mental strength. To kick your complaining habit, reframe the way you think about things. If you have to do something you don’t want to do (for example you’re invited to a wedding you don’t want to go to), Morin advises phrasing it in a way that will make you feel good about what you’re doing. “Instead of saying ‘I have to go to the wedding,’ think of it as something you wouldn’t choose to do if you didn’t have to, but you’re doing it because it’s important to your friends and family.” And if that fails, make sure you have an awesome plus one.
3. Write, Write, Write
This is the one thing on this list that I actually do, which makes me feel a little bit better about my own mental strength. "When our thoughts are in our head, they sometimes get scrambled,” says Morin. “Getting them out on paper helps it to make sense.” Keep a journal by your bed, and challenge yourself to write for a few minutes every night. It will help you organize your feelings, and will give you something fun to read in 10 years when you’re cleaning out the boxes under your bed.
4. Don’t Be Afraid Of Failure
If your parents are anything like mine, then you’ve heard this phrase so many times it’s started to sound like nails on a chalkboard: If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s true. “Failure is part of a process,” says Morin. “Every time you fail, look at it as an opportunity to grow and ask yourself ‘how do I become better?” It’s especially hard to find the silver lining when you’ve just been reamed out by your boss or dumped by your partner, but once you’ve pulled yourself together take it as a learning experience and move on.
5. Learn to Love Alone Time (And While You're At It, Meditate)
It’s an embarrassing thing to admit, but I suck at being alone. According to Morin, this is not atypical in the digital world, where we are all so used to being constantly connected (Phew! I’m not a weirdo!). She advises taking 10 minutes a day to silence your devices, and be alone with your thoughts. Spend the time asking yourself, “how did I do today, and how can I do better tomorrow?” It’s important to spend this time with your thoughts as a means of compartmentalizing the past and using it as a way to improve yourself in the future.
6. Embrace Change
Change is scary as hell, especially if you’re in your early 20s and all kinds of huge life changes are coming at you at once. New careers! New homes! New roommates! It’s a lot to process. When any of these major changes happen (or even little ones, like committing to a new gym), the most important thing is to gain confidence in yourself, says Morin. The more your anxiety goes up, the more your negative predictions about what’s going to happen after the change go up. Remind yourself that you can handle it, remember that change can be a good thing — especially if it means a great new apartment or an awesome new job.
7. Give Yourself Pep Talks
Ladies and Gentlemen: Stop beating yourselves up! All of us are subject to overly negative thoughts, and need agree to cut it out and start thinking more logically. "Give yourself the same advice you would give someone else, and actually listen to yourself," says Morin. For example, if your friend called you and said she was going to bomb a huge presentation at work, you wouldn’t tell her “yeah, you probably will, stupid.” You would tell them how amazing they are and that they’re going to do great. Start doing that for yourself, and believe it.
8. Lose The Self Pity
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself when something doesn’t go your way, take control of the situation and try to solve the problem at hand. Your life is in your control, says Morin, and you need to make choices in the long and short term that make you happy. If you don’t like something, guess what? You have the power to change it. Besides, whining isn’t cute on anyone.
Being mentally tough is something that is learned. It may seem difficult, but practice makes perfect.
Images: Pexels (2); Dustin Lee, Sylwia Bartyzel, Dingzeyu Li, Scott Webb, Camila Cordeiro, Morgan Sessions/Unsplash