Throughout our lives we face change and challenges. Nothing stays the same; the good times don’t last but neither do the bad times. People and places come and go; the world changes and so does our place within it. To survive the changes we need to be adaptable and refocus on our objectives. We may have to modify who we are and how we are, in order to face the new realities. We must strive to find opportunity in adversity. Of course, all of this is easier said than done. In this article I have highlighted five key principles of mental toughness and resilience.
We are what we think. When we change our thoughts, we change how we feel and act. Rational thinking and rational beliefs are the foundations of mental toughness and resilience; they assist us in our aims, objectives and survival. Rational beliefs are flexible and non-extreme; they are based on reality and the available evidence. The emphasis is on seeing things as they really are and keeping any negative attributes in perspective and in proportion, so that we do not over-react emotionally or avoid challenges. If our thinking and beliefs are dogmatic, rigid or extreme we remain trapped in the past and are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. The key is to ask ourselves “how is thinking or behaving this way helping me to feel good or achieve my goals?”
Rational thinking is resilient thinking and helps us build our tolerance for frustration and discomfort without making “mountains out of molehills” or seeing a situation as being worse than it really is. The fact is that things could always be worse. Our rational thoughts and beliefs are essential to overcoming unhelpful emotions and behaviour such as anxiety, depression and avoidance. By changing our thinking, we change who we are, how we feel and what we do.
Mental toughness means that we take ultimate responsibility for our thoughts, emotions and behaviour, together with responsibility for our decisions and the likely consequences of our actions. Events and conditions will of course have an impact and an affect on us, but we are responsible for the things that come within our domain of influence. Events can only upset us if we allow them to. Nothing and no one can bother or disturb us unless we grant them permission to do so. We choose what we think, how we feel and what we do.
To be resilient we need to take responsibility, otherwise we will tend to view ourselves as pawns and victims. We may blame everyone and everything for our conditions rather than take active steps to change whatever we are capable of. At times we may all seek to blame the government or this or that corporation for the way our lives are, but the ultimate responsibility is still ours. We are ultimately in control.
For mental toughness and mental health in general, we need to be adaptable. We may seem mentally healthy when we are suited to the conditions around us, such as our jobs, relationships and home. However, if these conditions change and we are unable to adapt, then we are at risk of poor mental health. Change is uncomfortable but we need to accept some discomfort and pain in order to learn, adapt and survive. If we remain static and fixed in our outlook, the world moves on and leaves us behind.
Resilient people do not see themselves as victims of change. They do not complain “why me” and demand that bad things must not happen to them. Resilient people see bad events as a normal (although unwelcome) part of life; they adjust to the new reality. Evolution favours those who can adapt to new environments and realities; we must be relentless in our adaptability, ingenuity and creativity to survive. This is true of individuals and organisations.
Mental toughness and commitment is having a clear idea of what we want out of life – our goals, objectives and purpose. If we don’t know where we are going, then any road will take us there. It is healthy if our commitments extend to different areas of our lives such as our relationships, careers, health and home rather than be focused in just one or two areas. It is also helpful to be committed to things outside of ourselves such as charity work, local groups or political concerns. A key aspect of commitment is that it provides us with meaning in our lives. If we ask ourselves, “What is the meaning of life?” then our commitments and goals should provide the answer.
Having goals and being resilient means that we will keep going and problem solve in the face of setbacks and difficulties. When life knocks us down, we will pick ourselves up again. We will tolerate short-term frustration and discomfort for our long-term gain. Resilience and persistence are key; most people simply give up.
Confidence is our belief in our ability to get things done. Our confidence will vary according to different circumstances and events. For mental toughness and resilience we need to consistently increase the areas where we feel confident. We may prefer to stay within our comfort zones but the world changes and eventually all comfort zones will become uncomfortable. Our comfort zones become comfort traps.
To be more confident we need to be accurate in our appraisal of threats. If we perceive that challenges are unrealistically dangerous or threatening, then we will not take action. If we avoid failure then we also avoid success, so we need to take calculated risks and step out side of our comfort zones. To be resilient we need to be less concerned how others may view us and what we believe they are thinking or saying about us. We need to challenge our self-imposed limits and our restricted views of reality. We don’t see things as they are; we only see things as we are.
I hope you find these principles useful, there is more information and articles on my website.
Phil Pearl, Clinical Hypnotherapist.