You’ve no doubt heard a million times that you should exercise. But how many people have suggested that you become more mentally fit?
I’m not just talking about doing a crossword puzzle to combat dementia -- I’m talking about becoming mentally strong. When you do, you’ll be better equipped to regulate your thoughts, manage your emotions and boost your productivity.
Here are 12 things mentally strong people do.
1. They practice gratitude
Instead of focusing on their burdens or what they don’t have, mentally strong people take stock of all the great things they do have. There are several ways to practice gratitude, but the simplest way to start is just by thinking of three things you’re grateful for each day. You can also start a gratitude journal to jot down all the good things you experienced throughout the day or adopt gratitude rituals, such as saying grace before a meal.
2. They say “no.”
“Research from the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression,” writes Travis Bradberry, Ph. D.
Saying “no” may be a problem for some, but not for the mentally strong. Instead of accepting every social invite or helping co-workers with every project, they just say “no.” This way, they can complete their own work and not overcommit themselves.
3. They overcome their inner critic
If you think you’re a failure, guess what? You’ll probably end up failing. That self-fulfilling prophecy is predicting your fate.
Instead, use that self-fulfilling prophecy to your advantage by believing you’re going to succeed. This can be a challenge, but it’s possible if you pay attention to your thoughts. Don’t ignore those negative thoughts -- acknowledge them, and then do something positive to distract yourself.
Take a look at the evidence on both sides. By jotting down the good and the bad, you’ll notice that some of those negative thoughts are irrational. Find balance: Rather than beat yourself up, look at your flaws as ways to improve.
4. They expose themselves to pain
Muhammad Ali once said that he didn't count his sit-ups; he only started counting when it hurt because those were the ones that counted.
Mentally strong people are willing to endure pain as long as there's a purpose. They don’t go through a challenging workout, for example, just to prove how tough they are. After all, science has said that there’s some truth to that old saying “No pain, no gain.”
5. They create their own definition of success
When I started my first business, things were tough -- especially when it failed. To rub salt in the wound, I saw my neighbors purchasing new cars or high school friends posting pictures of their travels.
For them, that meant they were successful. Even though my business failed, I was still successful. I had an amazing wife and was able to pick myself back up. Today, I’m a successful entrepreneur.
That’s not to boast. My point is that the successful have their own definition of success. For example, I work with freelancers who don’t make what some would consider a lot of money. But they see themselves as successful because they’re doing what they love with a flexible schedule.
6. They delay gratification
There’s a well-known Stanford University study in which an administrator left a child alone with a marshmallow for 15 minutes. The experimenter, before leaving, told the child that she could eat the marshmallow. However, if she waited until he returned, she would get a second marshmallow.
After 40 years of research, it was found that the children who waited experienced better outcomes in life, including higher SAT scores, greater career success and even a lower body mass index.
The point is that delaying gratification is paramount to success. That’s why people with mental strength are willing to put off gratification. They know that results only take place after they’ve put in the time and effort.
7. They don’t blame others
Mentally strong people never, and I mean never, blame others for their mistakes or shortcomings. They take full responsibility for their actions. Doing so means they don’t give power to others, remain stuck or become negative people.
8. They practice realistic optimism
Mentally strong are optimistic. But they also understand that they can’t be overly optimistic. As Dr. Mara Karpel explains, “It’s unproductive to believe that challenges will magically disappear or goals will be manifested without taking any action in the real world.”
Mentally strong people practice realistic optimism instead. This means they take into account the challenges facing them and focus on what they can do to accept or overcome those realities. I've found that most start with schedule things ahead of when they need to be done. This way they are optimistic and have wiggle room.
9. They acknowledge their limitations
Although the mentally strong push themselves, they also know when it’s time to throw in the proverbial towel. They’re aware of their weaknesses, and they don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.
While some leaders are hesitant to show vulnerability, doing so enables them to learn more and become better than they were yesterday. Enhancing their skill set is more important than protecting their ego.
10. They don’t compare themselves to others
Remember, the mentally strong are stingy with their time and energy. So why waste it on worrying about what others are doing? Feelings like jealousy and resentment aren’t just exhausting; they’re pointless.
Instead, they appreciate others and celebrate their accomplishments with them. This creates optimism -- which is a win-win for everyone. According to a Harvard University study, a sense of optimism may be able to reduce the risk from dying of major causes, such as cardiovascular disease.
11. They enjoy feeling scared
Most people run away from their fears, but not the mentally strong. They not only seek them out, but they also enjoy the feeling of being scared.
That may sound unusual, but they realize that being afraid pushes them out of their comfort zone. As a result, they experience new things, meet new people and learn more about themselves.
There are also health benefits associated with fear. This includes keeping your brain vigilant and alert, balancing bodily functions like your immune system and motivating you to accomplish goals.
12. They respect, and even like, their competitors
Mentally strong people aren’t afraid, intimidated by or jealous of their competitors. In fact, they respect and even like them.
They realize their competitors can be their greatest teachers. They can learn what the competition did right or wrong. They can see what differentiates them and use that as inspiration for their own next move.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had a love-hate relationship. However, both men ultimately supported and respected each other, with Gates once saying, "I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste." Jobs admitted, "I admire him for the company he built — it’s impressive — and I enjoyed working with him. He’s bright and actually has a good sense of humor."
Becoming mentally strong doesn't happen overnight, but it's worth the journey. It can make you -- and your business -- resilient enough to withstand anything.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors