This week I want to flip the table and focus on letting go of some unhealthy mental habits. By letting go of unhealthy mental habits we are better able to be resilient, to bounce back from adversity. This ability to be resilient, not getting stuck in the muck, is one of the keys to sustaining a happy and healthy life.
Amy Morin, a clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author of the bestselling book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, believes that everyone has the ability to build mental strength, but most people don't know how. Amy says, "We spend a lot of time talking about physical strength and physical health, but much less time on mental strength and mental health. We can choose to perform exercises that will help us learn to regulate our thoughts, manage our emotions, and behave productively despite our circumstances - the 3 basic factors of mental strength. No matter what your goals are, building mental strength is the key to reaching your greatest potential."
Amy covers the following 3 areas of destructive beliefs that rob us of our mental strength.
Unhealthy beliefs about ourselves
This includes feeling sorry for ourself, having a pity party. and replaying the story of negativity, the story of what's gone wrong over and over. Nursing it, cursing it and rehearsing it.
Getting stuck in the place of "why me?" Why is this happening to me? Why is that happening to me? What's wrong with me that I have these things happening to me? Why does this happen to me when wonderful things happen to other people? Playing the comparison game. Comparing ourselves to others and harboring resentment for our circumstance in life. This kind of thinking keeps you stuck, keeps you focused on the problem and keeps you from focusing on the solution.
This category also includes ignoring uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Sweeping them under the rug, avoiding and denying yourself from dealing with them, instead of feeling them and moving through them.
Unhealthy beliefs about others
It can be easy to get stuck in the belief that other people have the ability to control us. When we think that other people control us, we give away our power. There are very few things in life that we absolutely have to do. For instance, you don't have to work late tonight, that gives away your power. You have a choice. There may be a consequence for your choice, but you do have a choice.
Instead of saying, "I have to work late tonight", say " I choose to work late tonight" and then list the reasons why. I choose to work late tonight because it will make tomorrow an easier day. Or, I choose to work late tonight to demonstrate what a dedicated employee I am, to show that I will do what it takes to get the job done, etc. This subtle shift is impactful to our brains. It's telling our psyche that we are in charge and we are choosing to find the meaning behind what we decide in life. Otherwise, you should be saying no and not doing it.
Another example is saying, "My boss drives me crazy!" Maybe your boss is not the nicest person, but it's up to you how you react. You are in control. Instead, consider thoughts like...my boss is teaching me patience, my boss is teaching me diligence, my boss is teaching me compassion, or whatever it is that allows you to find meaning in the experience. Finding meaning in the experience shifts our thinking to something purposeful versus useless and annoying.
Unhealthy beliefs about the world
Unhealthy beliefs about the world include thoughts that the world owes us something. Thinking if we put in enough hard work that we deserve success. Amy says, "Feeling that success is going to fall into your lap like some cosmic reward is going to lead to disappointment." We want the world to be fair and the world is not fair. The world's not always going to feel fair. The world's not always going to feel just.
Understanding and coming to terms with the idea that the world is always going to feel fair and just helps to release this unhealthy belief.
Changing our mental habits requires diligence. It means paying attention to our thoughts, words and beliefs. Catching ourself, stopping and intentionally choosing a different thought pattern, a different speech pattern and ultimately a different set of beliefs. It doesn't happen overnight, it's a conscious decision, a way of life.
Small changes, small steps create impactful ripples in the direction of mental strength and resilience. What is one small step that you can take today to create a healthy habit and/or to let go of an unhealthy habit? It doesn't have to be grandiose, just one small step in the right direction.