Imagine a man who is starting a new job. He feels socially awkward and nervous, so he avoids chatting with his new co-workers. As the weeks drag on, fewer people try to chat with him when he passes them in the hallway. As a result, he thinks to himself, “I must be socially awkward.” This makes him even more avoidant of his coworkers and makes his co-workers even less friendly to ward him.
Have negative thoughts ever sabotaged your success or happiness? Most people have bad mental habits that drag them down like weights. And even if you are doing just fine, improving your mental habits will help you live up to your potential and be more resilient to future stress.
In this article, you will learn 13 ways to upgrade common mental habits. By the end, you’ll know how to:
- Replace self-pity with gratitude.
- Protect your power by forgiving others.
- Embrace change rather than shying away from it.
- Focus on things you can control rather than things you can’t.
- Become comfortable with displeasing others.
- Learn to take calculated risks.
- Come to terms with your past.
- Avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
- Collaborate with other people instead of envying their success.
- Be tenacious and accept your failures.
- Embrace alone time.
- Focus on giving rather than taking.
Mastering these habits is like building a muscle: It takes concentration and practice, but if you put in the work, you’ll get closer to being your best self, whatever your circumstances might be.
Replace Self-Pity With Gratitude
One day, Jack broke both his legs when he was hit by a school bus. In the weeks that followed, his frantic mother kept talking about the “horrible incident” and warned that his legs might never fully heal, even though the doctors had predicted a full recovery. Jack became irritable and sad. His mother, worried about the traumatic impact of the “horrible incident,” took him to a therapist.
Rather than pitying Jack, the therapist joked about Jack’s wild experience and helped him write a funny story called How to Beat a School Bus. Most importantly, he told Jack’s mother to focus on being grateful that Jack was alive. Before long, Jack was upbeat and cheery, and eventually he made a full recovery.
Long-distance runner Marla Runyan, who ran the New York City Marathon in just over two hours, has a master’s degree and is a bestselling author. She’s also legally blind. When Marla was 9, she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, which caused her eyesight to quickly deteriorate. But she developed a passion for running and went on to set world records at the 1992 and 1995 Paralympics. Runyan’s secret recipe for success was seeing her illness as an opportunity to become a world-class athlete rather than an unfair setback. This mindset enabled her to create an amazing career and inspire mil-lions of people.
No matter who you are, you will experience sorrow and pain. Although sadness is a healthy emotion, rumination and self-pity are destructive. Jack’s and Marla’s stories illustrate that by being grateful, you can overcome just about anything. Whether you keep a gratitude journal or regularly take a few moments to think about how lucky you are, find a practice that helps you focus on what you have rather than what you don’t. As an added benefit, such a practice will improve your health. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that grateful people have stronger immune systems, sleep better, and enjoy an overall better quality of life than the average person.
Protect Your Power by Forgiving Others
Oprah Winfrey could hold a lot of grudges if she wanted to. As a child, she was teased for being so poor that she had to wear potato sacks as dresses. She also experienced repeated sexual abuse as a child and became pregnant at age 14; her child died shortly after being born. But Winfrey worked hard at several media jobs, eventually landing a position as a TV news anchor. It seemed like her hard work and resilience were finally paying off. Then she was suddenly fired. But rather than stewing in resentment for her boss, Winfrey focused her energy on creating her own talk show. By the time she was 32, she was a national hit, and by 41 she had built a net worth of $340 million. She’s used her wealth and influence to help disadvantaged people around the world and inspired others to realize their potential. She could have resented all the people who hurt her before she was successful. But she chose to focus on her future instead.
Choosing forgiveness has been clinically proven to increase your pain tolerance, reduce stress, and help you live longer. To become more forgiving, start by identifying your words and thoughts that make you seem like a victim. Stop talking about how someone made you do something or about how you have to do something you don’t want to do. Instead, think about what you are choosing to do, and take full responsibility for how you spend your time and energy.
Embrace Change Rather Than Shying Away From It
Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, wake up earlier, or go to the gym regularly, making a change can be daunting, and it’s easy to shy away from it by creating excuses.
But making excuses ultimately limits your potential and cheats you out of a fulfilling life.
Try these five steps the next time you want to make a personal change:
- 1. Create a 30-day goal for yourself. Don’t set out to transform your life overnight — you’ll get discouraged when it doesn’t happen.
- 2. Establish concrete, daily behavioral changes to work toward that goal.
- 3. Anticipate obstacles and plan how you will respond
- to them.
- 4. Establish accountability. Get friends and family to support you and check in on your progress.
- 5. Monitor your progress. Hold yourself accountable by writing down your progress each day. Keeping track of your small achievements will keep you motivated when the going gets tough.
For further inspiration, imagine the person you want to become. Every positive change you make or goal you achieve brings you closer to becoming that person.
Focus on Things You Can Control
Terry Fox was diagnosed with a severe form of cancer at the tender age of 18. His treatment required amputation of one of his legs. His chances of survival were just 15%.
Fox understandably felt like he had lost control of his life. But he soon became inspired by a story of someone with a prosthetic leg who ran the New York City Marathon.
After his operation, Fox began running and completed a marathon himself. He then organized a fundraiser that involved running a marathon-length route every day, all the way across Canada. Halfway through his journey, Fox got sick. People were inspired by his courage and ambition and kept donating to his cause even though he had to stop running. He died a few months later but managed to raise $23 million for cancer research. In his terrifying situation, Fox focused on what he could control and died in peace as a result.
Do you find yourself spending time or energy trying to prevent bad things from happening, wishing that other people would change, or trying to manage every minor aspect of a situation? It’s good to be determined and detail oriented, but assuming that you have full control over your destiny is exhausting. Additionally, it can make
you feel overwhelmed and, paradoxically, give you less control over your situation, because you will throw away your energy and resources trying to control things that you simply aren’t able to.
Start accepting things that you can’t do anything about, such as traffic, illness, or unpleasant people in your life. Remind yourself that you can’t control all your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.
Become Comfortable With Displeasing Others
Mose Gingerich was raised in an Amish community, where he was taught a strict set of values and belief systems. As a young adult, Gingerich felt that he did not fit into this community and that life in the outside world would be more fulfilling. According to his community’s rules, abandoning the Amish way of life meant that he
would permanently lose all contact with everyone in the community, including his family. Gingerich investigated the outside world and ultimately decided that leaving was the right choice for him. Although being disowned by his childhood community hurt, he moved away, started a construction company, and became happily married.
Getting rejected or criticized by others hurts. But doing something that doesn’t align with your aspirations or values will hurt even more in the long run. To build mental strength, get used to risking disapproval and catch yourself when you let your people-pleasing tendencies take control of your decisions.
Learn to Take Calculated Risks
Othmar Ammann was a Swiss engineer who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. Ammann worked his way up the career ladder at the Port Authority of New York City until he finally became director of engineering. As long as he could remember, he had dreamed of being an architect. So at age 66 when most people
don’t want to take any more risks he left his coveted job and started his own architectural firm. Ammann’s venture was successful, and he created architectural masterpieces until he was 86 years old.
Amman’s story illustrates that taking calculated risks makes the difference between living a mediocre life and living the life of your dreams. Do you struggle to make important decisions in life? Do you sometimes impulsively make a decision because thinking about the consequences is too anxiety-provoking? Are you holding back
on your dreams because worst-case-scenario outcomes scare you too much? If so, emotion is probably interfering with your ability to make logical choices.
Our emotions don’t always align with actual risks. For instance, although the odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 5,000 while the odds of dying in a plane crash are roughly 1 in 11 million, many people are more afraid to fly than to drive.
To keep your emotions in check:
•Review the pros and cons of taking a risk.
•Imagine the worst thing that could happen if you took a risk.
•Come up with a plan for what you would do if the
worst-case scenario came true.
•Ask yourself how much the decision will matter in
This exercise will help you balance emotions with logic and make better choices.
Come to Terms With Your Past
Everyone has unpleasant memories from childhood or past experiences that can make it hard to move forward.
But if you let your dark past haunt you, you will miss out on a bright future. Remember how troubled Oprah Winfrey’s childhood was? Imagine what would have happened if she had spent all her energy ruminating on what happened to her instead of creating an amazing life. To make peace with your past, recognize the emotional toll
of dwelling on the past rather than moving forward. Then forgive people who may have hurt you and change behaviors that keep you stuck in the past. Moving on from your past is hard work. Seeking professional help as you do this is always a wise investment.
Avoid Making the Same Mistakes Over and
In the mid-19th century, Rowland Macy founded a dry goods store in a small, quiet town in Massachusetts. To promote his store, one summer Macy organized a large parade through his town. But it was extremely hot that day, and almost no one showed up. Macy’s business failed because it didn’t get enough publicity and was too
far from most people. But he learned a valuable lesson from his experience. He opened another store in bustling New York City and
began holding parades every year in the fall, when the weather was cooler. His store became a massive hit, and Macy’s went on to become one of the biggest chain department stores in the world.
When something goes wrong, it can be tempting to beat yourself up over it. But the truly mentally strong ask themselves two questions when they make a mistake:
What could I have done better, and what will I do differently next time?
Collaborate With Other People Instead of Envying Their Success
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the beloved chocolate candies, could have become a serious threat to Milton Hershey’s chocolate dynasty. One of Hershey’s employees,
H.B. Reese, began building a rival candy company in the same town while he was still working at Hershey’s chocolate factory. Most employers today would be angry or resentful, but instead of eyeing Reese’s actions suspiciously, Hershey gave him his full support, providing Reese with special equipment to make his vision of the
peanut butter cup a reality. The two men collaborated for their entire lives, and eventually the two companies merged.
Resentment and envy are common human traits, but with the right mindset, you can build on other people’s success and power rather than wallowing in envy. The next time you feel a twinge of envy for someone else’s success, think about how you can celebrate their accomplishments and work with them in the future.
Be Tenacious and Accept Your Failures
Here’s some news: Tenacity, not talent or luck, is the secret to success. If you want to live up to your potential, commit to self-compassion by focusing on learning and improving rather than achieving or trying to be “the best.”
A 2012 study showed how powerful the self compassion mindset is. Students were given a chance to improve failed test scores. Half the students were guided through an exercise in self-compassion and personal improvement, while the other group focused on bolstering
their self-esteem. The first group studied 25% longer and scored higher on the next exam than the second group.
Embrace Alone Time
Do you reach for your phone, switch on a TV show, or tune into your favorite radio station every time you are by yourself? Today’s society pressures us to be surrounded by people either physically or virtually all the time.
While this might help you feel important or connected, mentally strong people know that real alone time can lead to rejuvenation, inspiration, and reflection.
Try regularly setting aside an hour to think about your life goals and whether you are on track to fulfilling them.
Listen to your feelings and identify any negative emotions that need to be addressed. Keeping a journal or meditating during this hour can be a powerful tool to clean the clutter out of your mind, the same way you would defragment a hard drive to make it run faster.
Focus on Giving Rather Than Taking
In 2013, a teenager named Ethan Couch killed four people while driving drunk. In court, his lawyers argued that
Ethan suffered from “affluenza,” meaning that his coddled upbringing had made him incapable of understanding his responsibility to follow the law. Remarkably, Ethan got off without any jail time, reflecting society’s tolerance for the ideas that the world owes certain people
more than it owes others. When something bad happens to you, you might be told, “You deserve better.” It might feel nice to hear this,
but the more you buy into the lie that the world owes you something, the more miserable you will become when reality doesn’t match your expectations.
Remember Terry Fox, the cancer victim who dedicated his last ounce of energy to serving others? Throughout his undeserved battle with cancer, Fox never lost sight of his focus on giving, and that gave him the peace he needed to contend with his brutal circumstances.
Whether you’re trying to get along better with your coworkers, create genuine friendships, or find a career you love, stop thinking that the world owes you something in return for your hard work. Instead, focus on what you can contribute. You will be far happier for it.
Recognize That Results Take Time
We live in a fast-moving world, where queues are disappearing and you can get almost any product almost immediately just by pushing a few buttons. This sets you up for disappointment when you don’t achieve your goals overnight. The truth is that whatever goal you have, achieving it will be tough, and it might take longer than
you think. The histories of today’s industry leaders illustrate this point. For example, Amazon wasn’t profitable for it’s first seven years of operating, and Apple’s first iPod was on the market for three years before sales really took off. So whatever your goal is, commit to consistent practice, and don’t expect results in the immediate term.
Mental strength isn’t just about trying out some habits and declaring that you’re tough. It’s about incorporating strategies into your day-to-day life, seeing what works for you, and persisting until you get results. Which of the following strategies can you start using today?
•Replace self-pity with gratitude.
•Protect your power by forgiving others.
•Embrace change rather than shying away from it.
•Focus on things you can control rather than things
•Become comfortable with displeasing others.
•Learn to take calculated risks.
•Come to terms with your past.
•Avoid making the same mistakes over and over
•Collaborate with other people instead of envying
•Be tenacious and accept your failures.
•Embrace alone time.
•Focus on giving rather than taking.
As you begin incorporating these strategies into your life, monitor your behavior, emotions, and thoughts to see where you are continuing to sabotage your success and happiness. Reflect on your negative feelings and try to let them go, replacing them with more positive ones. Be persistent in this practice, and you will become truly mentally strong.