8 Proven Exercises that Boost Your Mental Strength
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The above quote is a great example of the power of mental strength.
It highlights what a strong mind can do – help you achieve great things – and the limits of simple enthusiasm – willpower is a fleeting thing.
Success, more often than not, is built on sweat and tears.
Yet, it’s so easy and tempting to give up at times. To be faced with adversity and just lift your hands in the air.
So, how do you stop yourself from doing that?
Can you exercise your mental strength and become more resilient?
The short answer is ‘yes’ and in this post, I’ll provide you eight proven exercises that boost your mental strength.
WHY EXERCISE YOUR MENTAL STRENGTH IN THE FIRST PLACE?
It’s obvious why you should go to the gym, but what is this talk about strengthening your mental resolve?
You might think I’m trying to convince you of some weird, ‘alternative facts’.
We’ve all seen the self-help guides that don’t add any value to anything.
I get it – but you really ought to stick with me on this one.
What is mental strength?
Picture a mentally strong person. Whether you imagine a real person or just think about the characteristics of a strong person, you are most likely thinking about qualities like resilience and perseverance.
This is exactly what mental strength is all about – the ability to remain calm and composed under pressure.
When a disaster strikes, mental strength helps you look beyond the disappointment and tears, quickly helping you to move forward.
Mental strength means you aren’t stifled still in the face of adversity.
You can think of mental strength as your companion. That one friend who sticks by you in good and bad times telling you to keep moving and pushing forward. It’s the inner voice of respect, trust and confidence.
The benefits of having a strong mind
Why does this resilience matter? Can’t you just curl up under blankets and cry until the bad stuff goes away?
Well, as you probably know, the real world doesn’t work like that – indeed, the quote from the movie Rocky is a perfect illustration of why resilience and mental strength matters:
Life is not going to always go your way. The key is being able to trust your inner voice that tells you don’t need to worry about the bad times.
You don’t need to be afraid of failure or sadness – you have the mindset to move beyond this, to find the silver lining and keep going forward.
Inc. listed three of the most important benefits of a strong mind. According to the post, a resilient attitude and mental strength will guarantee you:
- Feel more satisfied with what you have – your focus is on the present, not in the past or the future. You aren’t consumed by the ‘what could have been’ or ‘what should have been’, but you value what you have at that very moment.
- Perform better – since disappointments won’t get you down and you have self-belief, you perform to a higher standard. You have confidence and resilience.
- Are in control of your life and the things you want to do – you have a better understanding of what you want to achieve and the tools to keep moving towards it. You don’t let outside events paralyze you because you are aware of the things you can control and the things you can’t.
Strong mind gives you the tools to navigate the world – the ugly and the beautiful side of it.
It gives you self-confidence, resilience and self-worth. Mental strength is essentially knowledge and knowledge is power.
You aren’t second-guessing, you know you have things to fall back on and you have experience in your corner to prove the world is not going to end when the tough times happen.
THE EXERCISES YOU NEED TO ADOPT
The good news is you aren’t stuck with the mental strength you currently have.
You can train your body to run 10 miles instead of 5 and you can enhance your mental strength to stay strong in situations it used to feel frail.
If you want to become more resilient, focused and perhaps even happier, adopt these eight exercises.
Begin meditating for 10 minutes a day
Start by enhancing your ability to focus. The scientifically proven way to improve your focus and therefore your ability to have more willpower is through meditation.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find a study saying meditation is negative for you. It isn’t even just the positive impact on your mental strength – studies have shown meditation to be beneficial for your physical health as well.
Meditating can provide you with more energy, which is useful for your mental strength as well. When you have energy, you are more able to make good decisions and have the mental and physical strength to keep moving forward.
Perhaps the most convincing argument for adding the exercise to your repertoire is the convenience of it.
A 2008 study showed 10-minute daily meditation to be able to reduce stress.
In addition to feeling less stressed, the participants were also more forgiving towards their fellow peers.
If you learn to forgive, you can move on quicker and the quicker you do this the less you’ll fret over things and stifle yourself with negative emotions.
Getting started with meditation is not difficult. You can find plenty of good apps to guide you through and you can learn a basic meditation from the video with Nayaswami Maria:
Stop wasting energy on things you can’t control
You can also build mental strength by becoming better at picking your fights.
All of the world’s problems are not yours to solve and frankly, you can’t control all of them even if you wanted.
If you are able to make a distinction between things you can control and things you can’t, you can ensure your willpower is not wasted on the latter.
The truth is you will face troubling times and you will probably have a few nights where you can’t sleep. But you shouldn’t lose sleep over things you can’t solve.
The exercise is simple.
When things start bothering you and when you find yourself worrying about things, stop to think what is your role in terms of the solution.
Is the issue something you can actually solve?
If so, how?
For instance, you might be fretting over your big garden party coming up this weekend and you’ll start feeling the panic over the weather forecast.
They say it’s going to rain and you can’t stop thinking about it. Now, consider this:
- Can you stop the rain from happening? No, so you shouldn’t waste energy on feeling sorry for yourself and the guests if it rains.
- Can you ensure you don’t need to party in the rain? Yes, you can have a Plan B in place.
- What is the Plan B? The solution could be to simply rearrange the party or organize it inside the house.
So, when a problem or negative feeling/event occurs in your life follow the pattern: Can you control it? If not, stop thinking about it and if yes, focus on the solution.
Replace negative thoughts with productive thoughts
Similarly to the above exercise of cutting thoughts on things that aren’t under your control, you also need to start replacing negative thoughts with productive thoughts.
Having to organize your garden party indoors can be a bummer, but it’s just a negative way of viewing it.
A more productive way is to think how to turn it into a success indoors – focusing your energy on making use of things instead of just complaining about them.
We all fall to negative thinking – we do it because it’s easy.
It’s so much easier to sit grumpily at the train station’s café and whine about the delays than going out to figure an alternative route.
Next time you notice a negative thought – no matter what it is about – replace it with a productive one. If you catch yourself thinking:
“Oh, I can’t get this project right”
Change your thought to:
“OK I might not finish the project in time, but I can put a lot of effort in getting the facts right. Here’s how I’ll do it.”
Notice how productive thinking doesn’t mean you become unrealistic. You don’t need to replace negative thoughts with wishful thinking – “oh it’s going to rain” shouldn’t become an “I know it’s not going to rain”.
Let’s say, for example, you’re not that bright when it comes to maths. Constantly focusing your energy in thinking how you’re not good at it is not going to help you.
So, what the point of saying “I’m so bad at maths” – it’s just an excuse.
You’d rather focus on a solution or a realistic evaluation of yourself and the situation. For example, you should think:
“I’m not the best with numbers, but if I practice a bit every day, I can improve.”
“So, I might not be the best at maths, but I can use my great researching skills to solve these math-related problems”
Focus on the motivation behind actions
It can be helpful to your willpower if you start paying more attention to the motivation behind your actions.
If you view things only through the lens of “I have to do this”, you can start finding these things more boring and even depressing.
Consider this – if you wake up in the morning thinking “I have to go to work”, it doesn’t make getting to work seem appealing.
You almost decide to find it annoying, boring and you resort to feeling defeated about it.
If you, on the other hand, wake up thinking about the motivation or the ‘why’ of going to work, your whole dialogue might be different and more positive. “I go to work to finance my dream trip around the world” or “I go to work to move one step closer to my dream of becoming a CEO” sounds much more appetizing.
The exercise of viewing your motivations through actions – whether it is solving problems or getting through a difficult event – can guarantee you stay focused on the big picture.
You understand your actions have consequences and it’s up to you to make them good. It reminds you of the things that really matter – your sense of helping others feel more loved or your desire to be a better person. The exercise of finding the motivator gives you the extra kick to soldier through.
Overall, your ability to be more mindful about your decisions – even the automatic ones – can help improve your willpower.
So, don’t just make decisions but take more time to think what are the reasons that lead to this.
In terms of your automatic decisions, start paying more attention to them and occasionally mix them up.
So, when you are about to add milk to your coffee, think about why you do it?
Questioning your actions, even these automatic and non-important ones will help you focus more and become better at analyzing a specific situation.
If you occasionally change your habits around – drinking your coffee black or with almond milk – you can further ensure you understand your reasoning and you learn that change is not always bad.
Start tracking your spending and diet
You can also start improving your mental strength by keeping a closer eye on what you put on your plate and how you spend your money.
Research has found that the act of food journaling to boost willpower.
Quite simply, the act of having to write down everything you ate takes a bit of guts. You first need to take the time to write it down, but you also need to be more mindful of what you eat.
Not to mention that writing down your food consumption makes you face your decisions and perhaps learn to accept your dietary mistakes and mishaps.
Interestingly, there’s another way food journaling can help your mental strength. Tracking food can lead to healthier food choices and better health gives you more energy and resilience.
You shouldn’t just focus on tracking your food either. Staying on top of your spending can also boost your focus and willpower.
Just like with food, you become more aware of your habits.
Knowing you need to write down the additional coffee you bought on your way home can make you stop for a second and re-think the viability of your decision.
If you had to track your spending – all of it – for a week, you probably would spend differently, right?
The fact you need to write something down; to review your spending decision is enough to help you spend more time thinking about the action and whether it is the right decision to make.
Therefore, the exercise is to start keeping a daily food journal and tracking your finances. You can find apps for both purposes – MyFitnessPal is great for tracking food and apps like Mint and PocketGuard can be used for staying on top of your spending.
If you find apps stressful or inconvenient, you can use the old-fashioned pen and paper technique.
Simply jot down the things you eat and buy everyday and keep taking note of the unhealthy or unhelpful habits you might have.
No one really likes deadlines. Yet these timely reminders that tell us we need to get our act together can help build resilience, focus and willpower.
Although not a recommended tactic to use, think about the times you had a big deadline coming up and you spend the previous 24 hours just working like nuts?
It’s amazing how much focus and willpower you can sometimes muster just because someone told you they need a report done by six.
You should use the knowledge of the benefits of a deadline to your advantage.
Research has found that even self-imposed deadlines can work in adding focus to your activities. Setting deadlines will give your tasks more structure and make it harder to keep saying, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow”.
The structure can then help you organize – become better at knowing which tasks require attention know and how much you are able to get done on a specific day.
It’ll help you be more mentally resilient because you have focus and the tools to prioritize and accomplish times accordingly.
Start creating self-imposed deadlines with your To Do-list. Instead of simply listing things you must do, add a deadline to them as well. The video by Successful by Design has great tips on how to set deadlines you can actually stick to:
Get used to feeling uncomfortable
What tests your mental strength the most?
If you start analyzing it, the reasons often relate to new experiences or situations we don’t often encounter.
It’s the unexpected that can cause stress and have things go opposite to want we wanted to can push our minds into chaos.
Furthermore, it’s so easy to stay in the comfort zone.
To do the things we know we are good at doing and stick to things we know.
Why risk a holiday in Mexico if I know Argentina gives me everything I want? Yet, an easy way of building mental strength is limiting the events that we’ve not experienced.
Stepping out of the comfort zone, trying things that are unusual and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.
This makes these unwanted feelings seem less strange – if you get through the stress of being in a job interview once, the next one won’t be quite as bad.
Start by placing yourself in unusual, perhaps unwanted and uncomfortable situations, more regularly. Go gently, testing the waters with feelings that don’t cause as much stress as some others. Try a new food item every week or watch a movie that is totally out of your comfort zone.
You can even read a book you don’t find interesting. If you plough through an experience like this, you get the confidence to know you can do it.
You can then start stepping further away from your comfort zone, experiencing emotions that are not pleasant.
Go to a poem citing to speak in front of a long of people, join a language learning course or launch your own website.
Reflect on your progress
You can also boost your mental strength by reflecting on your progress.
When people start a weight-loss journey or a fitness regime, they tend to monitor how well they are doing. They measure the weight, they keep track of how far and fast they can run, or the weights they can lift.
This can help them notice the change and feel more motivated to stick with what they are doing.
Similarly, you should monitor your improvement in mental strength and resilience.
As you embark on the journey, take the following steps and make these exercises the core of what you do:
- Write down your goals. What do you want to improve? What are the specific situations or things you want to change?
- List the exercises you’ll start practicing with.
- Monitor your progress in the goal areas once a week:
- Write down any improvements you’ve noticed and think of examples where this became evident.
- Consider if there are things you’ve noticed have gotten worse or new things you want to work on.
- Keep track of the exercises you have found the most helpful, those you tend to stick with and those you don’t, and any exercises that are clearly not working as intended.
Mental strength can be trained just like your muscles. You can use the above exercises to become more resilient – to be able to control your emotions and to respond to changes in a more constructive and positive manner.
The above exercises are great for teaching you focus and to boost your willpower.
However, just like with training your muscles, you must also understand your mental strength won’t improve overnight. It takes time and effort to get your mind to where you want it to be.
It won’t always be easy or pleasant. You will encounter times when you don’t want to go through with the exercise or you don’t feel any progress.
Understanding these feelings are natural, yet fleeting moments in time, will help you move forward and stick to your training.
Indeed, knowing this is one of the signs your mental strength is already improving!