Four Steps to Becoming Mentally Strong

Have you ever seen the TED talk on Becoming Mentally Strong? That talk got me thinking about how mentally strong I’ve become over the past four years of battling my anxiety and depression.

If you suffer from mental illness, you’re already mentally strong to me. Fighting your demons takes guts. Too many people go without treatment because they’re too afraid or ashamed to come forward as a person with a mental illness. Well, I say that’s bullsh*t! But that isn’t what this blog post is about.

This blog post is all about becoming mentally strong. Your mental strength is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly to stay in shape. These four tips will help you develop your mental strength — and become someone who sees herself as mentally strong, even if you don’t right now.

1. Using Positive Affirmations

The first step to developing mental strength is, ironically, believing that you’re already mentally strong. Repeating positive affirmations sends a message to your brain that yes, you are good enough. Even if you don’t believe them at first, your subconscious will absorb them enough times that eventually, you will start to believe them. Some affirmations I like include:

  • “I have the tools I need to cope.”
  • “I can and I will.”
  • “I am a fierce goddess.”
  • “I am a girlboss.”
  • “I keep my promises to myself.”
  • “I am a badass.”

2. Saying “No” More Often

Protecting your energy is an important part of becoming mentally strong. Your time is the most valuable resource you have; if you aren’t discerning about how much of it you give to others, you won’t have any left over for yourself. That means saying no to commitments and favors you don’t want to do, without feeling shame or remorse.

If you’re a people-pleaser, saying no is hard — but with practice, it becomes easier to choose yourself over pleasing others. In case you need them, here are some handy ways to say no when you don’t want to do something:

  • “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
  • “No, but thank you for asking.”
  • “Sorry, I have other plans!”
  • “I really can’t take on another project right now.”

And, when all else fails, remember the broken record technique from DBT: repeat yourself over and over again until the person listening finally gets the message. An example?

YOUR FRIEND: “Hey, can you help me move next weekend?”

YOU: “Sorry, I can’t.”

THEM: “Are you sure? It would be a huge help.”

YOU: “Sorry, I can’t.”

THEM: “Oh. Okay, then.”

See how being a broken record can be an effective way of communicating your needs? Like saying no, the broken record technique becomes easier with practice, so make sure you use it regularly to protect your valuable time and energy.

3. Challenging Their Negative Thoughts

You can’t be mentally strong when your thoughts are overwhelmingly negative. Even if your actions say you are mentally strong, the constant stream of negative thoughts running through your head will have a subconscious effect on your mood and the way you carry yourself. That’s why mentally strong people know not to believe everything they think. Instead, they practice challenging their negative thoughts with questions like:

  • Is this true? How do I know this is true?
  • How would I cope with this?
  • What are the costs of thinking this way? What are the benefits?
  • Will this matter in five days, five months or five years?
  • What cognitive distortions am I using?

4. Accepting Your Emotions

Finally, you can’t be mentally strong if you’re constantly at war with yourself. You need to accept your feelings, both positive and negative, and make sure you take active steps to cope with them. Radical acceptance is a DBT skill that asks you to unconditionally accept every part of yourself, both positive and negative.

You might also try the DARE technique from Barry McDonagh’s book, which states you should accept and observe your emotions, then run towards them as if you are excited by your negative emotions.

After accepting and generating excitement about your emotions, you’re then free to engage with something else that takes up your full attention. In other words, only after accepting your emotions can you ever move on from them to become mentally strong.