13 Nov Cultivating Mental Toughness and Resilience
How to Build Up Your Mental Toughness Right Now
I’m currently interviewing a load of experts and the subject of mental toughness is one that comes up again and again. Call it what you will – mental toughness, resilience, that ability to bounce back, having a thick skin – one thing that is clear is that we really need it right now.
This year has been tough for everyone: there can’t be many people that it didn’t touch in some way. I lost my dad back in April, so have been sitting with grief as well as enduring the lockdown. My children left home this year, which means I’ve also had the added curveball of becoming an empty nester, as well as selling my house. My mental toughness has definitely been tested.
Cultivating Mental Toughness
And I am not the only one. So, what helps people build up their mental toughness or resilience? What can you implement in your life right now that can help you cope with the dark days? Here are some thoughts on things that may work for you.
When we are stressed we are often highly emotional and not thinking straight. We may find ourselves making bad decisions, or saying things we regret. This is because our brain’s limbic system is being activated – the primeval part of our brain that thinks we are just about to wrestle with a panther. One thing that will help enormously is learning how to calm down and step away.
People will do this in different ways. Some will find yoga and meditation work really well and these are the classics. Others like long walks in the country. Reading works for me: a good novel that pulls me in and keeps me absorbed. Active relaxation is better for us than passive relaxation, so walking, running or doing something like cooking or painting is better than collapsing on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of Rioja.
The Control Factor
Think about what’s coming at you right now. It’s likely to be a mixture of things that you can and can’t control. The trick is to separate them. Separate an A4 sheet of paper into three sections vertically. In column one, write all the things you think you can’t control – getting made redundant, what’s going on with Covid. When you move to the next section, list the things you can control – how often you exercise, the food that you eat, or the quality of work that you do. In the third section, look at what you can influence. You may not be able to control your teenage son and his behaviour, but you could perhaps influence by finding him a mentor, having discussions etc.
Being gentle with yourself at this time is something worth mentioning. So what if you want to indulge in chocolate a little more than usual. or decide to sleep in another hour (and can!). Keeping ourselves to some perfect or even punishing schedule may help foster the idea that we are being disciplined. That is not true mental toughness. Resilience is about being to bend, to be flexible. I work with wellbeing consultant Rachel McGuinness, delivering workshops on this subject, and we like to use the terms “flex” and “sway”. There has to be some give, so we don’t break!
Whilst we don’t want to wallow and ask people to join our pity party, it’s important to let others know if you are going through a tough time. Yes, they may give you a break, but being open about our struggles is vital and sets an example where others feel empowered to do so too. You don’t have to go into all the gory details, but sharing a little not only helps people understand if you are struggling, but helps foster stronger connections too.
Rediscover your strengths
Think back to a time when you delivered that great presentation, gave a great interview, asked out your partner, aced that exam or succeeded at something that matters to you. Don’t just pick one example, but make a list, a bit like a gratitude list, but focusing on your achievements. This is just for you. You don’t have to brag or show it to anyone else. Remember how good you felt, and what that allowed you to move on to. Conjure up your struggles too – how hard you worked, all those hours you put in, or how you got past your nerves. Dwell on this daily!
Cultivating resilience and the ability to bounce back is something I often work on with my clients as it’s vital for every single one of us. Although, of course, life can throw things at us in many different form. Book a session with me if you’d like to discuss navigating your own challenges.