Life is full of unpredictability and challenges. It is important to build mental toughness to face these moments head-on.

Things happen over which we have little control, and just when we think we have everything planned out, it throws us a curve ball. We scramble around, spending much of our time trying to channel that ball into a direction that suits us.

But the reality is that despite our best efforts, there’s not a lot we can do to change the things that are beyond our control. When our efforts don’t pay off, we get discouraged and blame the universe for our woes.

Not that this helps!

Life is unbiased, after all, and couldn’t care less how we manage the curve balls it throws at us.

But we do.

We have dreams for the future and goals that align with it. We need to let go of the tame-and-blame strategy we are pursuing and invest our energy in controlling our reactions instead, to find a way of adapting our course despite the uncertainties of life.

This is called mental toughness. The ability to take a deep breath, immerse ourselves in the experience whether we like it or not, and start doing what really needs to be done.

The good news is that it is these very moments of adversity that lead to growth and upward spirals of increasing resilience.

Here are 4 ways you can build mental toughness when the going gets tough…

1. Give Yourself a Hug

The first step to build mental toughness comes from a place of compassion. Most of us begin an avalanche of self-criticism the moment things don’t go according to plan. Phrases like “You should’ve done this”. “You can’t even do that”, “If only you had…” speed through our minds and we end up feeling totally useless and dejected.

Research shows that practicing self-compassion can help us find the strength to overcome difficulties and do the right thing. By acknowledging the challenges we face and reassuring ourselves that we are there for ourselves, we can move forward with confidence.

Knowing what we want is the single biggest predictor of success.

And yet, many of us are not very clear about it. Psychologist Heidi Halvorson suggests that writing down our goals, visualizing them, and planning the necessary steps can help us stay realistic, persistent, and resilient in achieving long-term goals.

Otherwise, we fantasize immediate results and give up the moment we come across hurdles and short-term distractions that are a natural part of every endeavor.

2. Celebrate Past Successes

The human brain evolved to look for threats to its survival. Negativity and failures often dominate our thoughts and leave a lasting impression, helping us avoid similar disasters in the future. However, in today’s world, where real danger is minimal compared to the hunter-gatherer era, our focus on the negative can blind us to the positive and good aspects of our lives.

In order for our goodness, efforts and successes to go down into our long-term memory so that we feel confident approaching our goals, we need to spend some time thinking about positive experiences and savoring them in our minds all over again. Celebrating and savoring the good is pivotal step to building mental toughness.

3. Talk Positively to Yourself

Self-talk is largely subconscious—and yet very powerful, all the same. Just like the inner critic can beat down on us when we fail, it can also talk us out of taking steps toward our goals.C’mon, there’s no way you can do this”, “Look at her, she’s way better”, “Seriously, let go before you make a fool of yourself” are all thoughts that preoccupy us when we’re about to approach something important.

In a age where social media is prominent in our everyday lives, self-doubt can creep in more often than we’d care to admit. But in order to build mental toughness, it’s essential we minimise the voice, noise and distraction that the inner-critic can bring.

Remember that self-doubt is the ego’s weapon. Talk positively to yourself for taking calculated risks despite the possibility of temporary failure. This is essential to bring your full self to life.

4. Take Action

This is the final but most crucial step in building mental toughness. Unless we take action towards our goals, we’ll continue to live in a delusionary world, yo-yo-ing between narcissism and depression.

Action is the result of accepting responsibility for our lives rather than distributing blame. It is about committing to what we believe in despite external pressures that try to pull us away.

And it is about believing, like Roosevelt, that “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”

In the end, it is worth mentioning building mental toughness is not about rigidity towards our goals. It’s about being fully immersed in the situation and thus adapting to changing circumstances.

We build mental toughness by committing to long-term goals and remaining flexible in our journey towards achieving them. This is similar to how a tree gains strength from its deep roots and supple branches.

Now it’s your turn:

  • What are the challenges that come up again and again for you?
  • And what are the strategies that help you rise above them?
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