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How to become Mentally Stronger

I don’t think there is a day that goes by where I don’t hear someone talking about mental toughness.

From athletes to business executives, the media analysts are always focusing on individuals having that unique ability to overcome mental roadblocks. Phrases such as “they had the mental fortitude to stay in there”, or “despite the tense environment, they were grace under pressure” permeate the airwaves. There are even some situations where these highlighted individuals have books written about them, or they’re chosen to receive special awards for their heroics. And while many of these people are very deserving of what they’re given or rewarded, there seems to be something missing every time I hear about the next great story.

The truth is, nobody really focuses on how to become mentally tough. They only highlight those that are.

In a country that is constantly seeing the suicide rate skyrocket, you would think that the media in the United States might have some interest in digging deeper to find out how the aforementioned group worked their way to the level they are at today. Surely, what separates these “stars” isn’t something we aren’t able to learn. If we take the time to study these cases, we can easily find a path to follow, right? Many experts think so. However, their advice is scattered all across the board:

There will be a percentage that will tell you that experience is the greatest teacher of them all and that the only way to become mentally tough is to accumulate as many positive and negative experiences as possible. Others might try to convince you to follow written personality traits you must adhere to because all mentally resilient people exhibit these traits in their daily lives. And while these two points could be sound pieces of advice to follow, there is one additional way that I believe absolutely works 100% of the time.

To be mentally strong, you have to physically challenge yourself.

Take a moment to think about that sentence. Please note that I’m not trying to magically pull the rug from underneath you and declare it opposite day. Rather, I’m providing you the exact method I used to get to the level I am at today.

You see, a few years ago, after finding inspiration through a volunteer role, I decided to sign up to run in my first half marathon. I completely ignored the fact that I wasn’t in shape to do so, or that my furthest race to date had been only a 5k. Yet there I was, putting on my running shoes and trying my best to build myself up to run all 13.1 miles. In the beginning, I was completely rubbish. I couldn’t even run a half of a mile before I was completely gassed. My muscles were sore, my body was tired, and I continuously doubted myself. What I soon realized is that when I exhausted myself physically week after week, running provided me a unique way to power my actions based on my attitude and thoughts alone. With time, I convinced myself that no matter what obstacle I met, I was going to cross that half marathon finish line as fast as I possibly could. 

When race day finally came, I did just that. And as I sit here typing this post, I can tell you that I am at a far greater mental level due to forcing myself to take up running. 

New experiences in my life that are high stress and extremely tense are now a lot more manageable. My first reaction isn’t to flee or give-up. Rather, I know that I am capable of standing in one spot taking whatever hit that comes my way. This isn’t to say that I don’t feel the pressure that I, or anyone around me, puts on my weekly duties or that I’m emotionally absent when I come across tense emergency situations. As a person, I still feel it. But for all the stressful moments that approach me today, I have the mental fortitude to get the job done or find a solution that evaporates the stress.

At the base of it all, I’ve come to find that when you’re physically empty, you’re mentally charged to get you where you need to go. In order to become stronger, you need to find situations where you have to rely on your mental state alone. 

For me, running takes me to that place where my thoughts and attitudes directly determine how, when, and why I finish.

If you’re a person that needs to raise your level, I challenge you to find an activity that will do just that. Go out and find what works for you.

John Quayle