When you construct your mental strength on the firm foundations and solid framework of a positive mindset, you can overcome whatever obstacles life throws at you, writes Zeena Moolla. Find out how to build resilience and improve your mental health.
Imagine you are constructing a building. It needs careful planning, sufficient time, graft and, after its creation, consistent maintenance. Developing your mental strength can be approached in the same way. Consider yourself at the scaffolding stage. In order to build your mental resilience, you first need that vital framework in place to support your development. In this feature, we will focus on how to set a solid foundation on which to construct long-lasting, all-weather mental strength…
Money in the bank
Think of your mental strength as a bank. You need to consciously pay into that account regularly to keep a nice wad of experience to draw from. In a notebook, jot down some past experiences you feel negatively about; perhaps situations that, at the time, left you feeling a sense of self-doubt or that you’d somehow failed. Now practise reframing your perspective. Spend a little time thinking about each memory. What did you learn? Did you grow from the situation? Was there anything happy or positive about that encounter?
Next, write a positive affirmation of strength, starting each sentence with the words: “I am stronger because…” and draw on what you learned from that particular situation. For example, if one of your “negative” experiences is about a heartbreak, perhaps your affirmation is, “I am stronger because I know my boundaries,” or “I am stronger because I am no longer defined by my relationship.” With each incident you are identifying your current inner strength – gumption you might not even realize you have.
Congratulations! You’ve just opened your first mental-strength savings account. Keep these affirmations safe, in case you need to make a withdrawal from that wealth of adversity in the future.
Beat the roadblock
Reframing negative narratives into positive ones is often easier retrospectively. Let’s be honest, when your nerves are taking a battering before a driving test or first date, having the words “just be positive” bleated at you isn’t always helpful. Instead, in such situations, it’s more beneficial to think realistically.
“Even if it’s not perfect, I’ll be OK.” “I’m proud of myself for doing this.” “I can only do my best.” Adopting an internal dialogue like this will help you defeat that dreaded mental strength roadblock, fear of failure.
It’s an honour to be nominated…
Have you ever watched the Oscars and wondered if the nominees have all practised their “gracious loser” faces ahead of the big night? How hard must that be, sitting in front of all those cameras, Hollywood’s elite and millions of viewers, knowing your reaction will be scrutinized the world over?
Well, the real prep, according to many therapists to the stars, is far deeper than rehearsing a knowing smile and affable clap. It’s about not letting the Oscars be the arbiter of how Tinseltown’s cast and crew, nominated or otherwise, feel about themselves.
Sure, most of us aren’t likely to be in the running for an Academy Award over the course of our lifetimes. Yet the principle, in many aspects of our lives, is the same; if we let external validation determine our self-esteem, we’re already exhausting our mental strength.
Of course, feeling initial disappointment in such situations is understandable and totally fine, but relinquishing self-worth to something beyond our control is not. Those words, “It’s an honour just to be nominated,” repeated by stars on the red carpet, might sound like a cliché, but there’s an enormous amount of mental strength to be gained if we work at sincerely adopting such a rational outlook.
Must have GSOH
Often hugely underestimated while building our mental resilience is the tremendous power of maintaining a sense of humour. Seeing the funny side in adversity can shift a perspective and thus change our reaction to a situation that might otherwise feel overwhelming. Try it! Think of a tricky occasion – such as when it’s seemed everything that could go wrong in the day has done, or if you’ve had to confront a friend about an awkward misunderstanding – and, without trivializing your feelings, find the humour in it. Sure, it won’t change the past, but you may feel less negatively about it.
As many dog owners know, training a puppy requires a lot of positive reinforcement. Treats, walks and praise are all means of recognizing and rewarding a pooch’s good behaviour, in order to encourage the dog to sustain that obedience. Now imagine you’re that puppy!
You need to acknowledge and incentivize your own good behaviour… Jot down a moment in your life where you feel you exhibited some mental strength. Maybe it was a time you spoke up for yourself despite feeling reluctant.
Or perhaps you enrolled in a class or joined a club completely out of your comfort zone. Even if it’s just a s eemingly small thing, remind yourself that you foundthe nerve to do it, and you have that pluck within you.
Stick that piece of paper somewhere where you can see it regularly, by your bedside or on the fridge – and keep adding to it. When you clock another ten “plucky” moments, treat yourself! It could be your favourite meal, a trip to the cinema, a bunch of flowers – anything that takes your fancy. Then vow that this list marks the start of never underestimating yourself again.
Face the fear
Is there something seemingly insignificant you’re not looking forward to doing? Sorting some paperwork or cleaning the bathroom, perhaps? Maybe you’ve been putting that particular thing off for so long, you’ve now got to a point of almost dreading it? Set a date and time in your diary to tackle that task – and promise yourself you’ll make that deadline. After that, pledge to deal with a similar minor job or activity weekly. With each simple accomplishment, when you’ve faced down a fear, comes an increased resilience. This is how to build resilience.
Better to have loved and lost
Tolerating the emotions we are uncomfortable with can be incredibly difficult. Like a gruelling workout, we might be tempted to avoid facing those situations that require exertion and nerve to get through. Yet, much like with physical health, mental strength can really benefit from a certain amount of endurance. It doesn’t mean willingly subjecting ourselves to unhappy or dangerous situations, but rather embracing the emotions that come with inevitable typical life situations.
For example, the line from the Tennyson poem, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all,” might feel like little consolation to those in the throes of heartbreak – but its sentiment is true. We learn that pain can be a worthwhile price to pay for the pleasure and that we are capable of falling in love. To borrow from the workout analogy, we work through the pain knowing we’ll emerge fitter and stronger to navigate life’s often amazing unpredictability.
How to build resilience: have patience
When it comes to building resilience, experts agree that patience is vital. Sure, it can be a nuanced quality that needs boundaries on occasion, but it certainly is not an overrated virtue. So, practise patience as you go on your journey of building mental strength, remembering this is not about winning or losing, but learning and growing.
How to Find Your Mental Strength by Zeena Moolla is published by Vie, £10.99