I’ve struggled with anxiety and crippling overthinking most of my life. I’ve lost friends, opportunities, girlfriends, and many happy moments because of it. These experiences prompted me to learn everything about mental health over fifteen years.
Today, my life experience is very different, and I have coached hundreds on how to develop mental strength.
Here are the tiny habits shared by the mentally strong:
1. They no longer try to ‘fix’ themselves.
Those who believe they need ‘fixing’ — and many do — will be caught in a continual loop of insecurity. When we act as though we need to improve, we reinforce the idea that something is wrong with us and therefore maintain a negative self-image. It’s not that any of us need fixing — it’s that most of us need to let go of the idea that something is wrong with us.
We are already whole. It just requires us to truly see this.
2. Does not tolerate stressful thoughts.
The mind will continually throw up all kinds of thoughts without trying. This is a given. Strong people know this inevitability and do not allow stressful thoughts to be engaged for long. They may arise, but they are not tolerated. They are not engaged. We turn our attention to other things. This makes all the difference.
3. Uses breathing to slow thoughts.
There is a close link between breath and the rate at which we cycle through new thoughts. Anxiety reflects an overly active mind. As such, slowing down our breathing can be used to slow down our thoughts and reduce what feels like anxiety.
4. Sees the past as an illusion.
Mentally strong people know that the past is merely a concept. It is not real. People who suffer allow thoughts of the past to determine their present behavior. If they were bullied at school, they will justify thoughts about those events to determine a current personality that fears criticism, for example. This need not be.
When we can let go of the past’s hold on us, we are free to enjoy the present.
5. Exercises most days.
Those who want to maintain a strong mind understand the mind and body connection. When we treat ourselves well physically, our brains and minds benefit. The mind — you could argue — IS the body in a sense. We are far more vulnerable to unhealthy thinking patterns when we haven’t been in motion.
Life is motion. We are trying to cheat life and joy when we go static for too long.
Photo: Jonathan Borba/Pexels
6. Sees the opportunity or lesson in apparent hardship.
Little improved my life more than taking on the stoic approach that a lesson is found in every hardship. Those who suffer have tuned out their capacity to see this. It is a matter of perspective — it is not situational. Every problem is an opportunity to grow.
7. Knows ‘the gap.’
The gap is the space between a thought and a behavior response. Mentally weak people have cultivated very little by way of this gap. The strong have. They know not to react angrily when a button is pushed. Instead, they allow time to pass (gap) for the emotion to subside before carrying on.
8. Tolerates uncertainty.
Life takes on a brutal nature if we feel the (very human) need to know precisely what will happen next. This is obviously not possible. Peace is awarded to those who can let go of the need to know.
The most confident, happy people are at ease with uncertainty. They lean into it and perform better in all areas of life.
9. Chooses ease.
Many of us believe that our stress is determined by what happens in our lives — in our circumstances. This is false. Tension arises out of our thinking our personal perception alone. Because of this, we can determine our experience because we are the creators of that experience.
We can choose to be at ease. We can choose to be happy. It is internally generated.
10. Moves slowly.
Life slows when we slow down physically. Try it. Notice how those who are fidgety or move and talk quickly are often the most anxious. Anxiety is created, in large part, by trying to rush through life. We can’t process reality as fast, so everything becomes more complicated when we rush.
Slow down. You can. Everything becomes easier.
11. Understand the difference between imagination and rumination.
Mentally strong people know the tremendous power thoughts hold. They can be used to envision futures, design bridges, empathize with others, and make powerful calculations. They also know their destructive power, especially when they take the form of worry or rumination. Know the difference, and cut rumination short.
How will you know to do this? You’ll learn to stop and return to presence when you feel bad.
12. Regularly connects to pure awareness.
Awareness is taking in the world around us without judgment. When we judge, we feel the negative meaning of these judgments, creating stress for ourselves. For example, if we think that person is annoying, we will feel this thought. Awareness is our gateway beyond this.
Take a moment to listen, feel, and truly sense your environment right now without judgment, and you will know the calming power of mindfulness.
Alex Mathers is a writer and coach who helps you build a money-making personal brand with your knowledge and skills while staying mentally resilient.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.