Resist unnecessary mental time travel
Here’s how I think about mental strength:
Mental strength is the ability to control your mind instead of being controlled by it.
So becoming mentally strong doesn’t mean you are able to exert complete control over everything that goes on between your ears.
Mental strength means understanding which parts of your mind you can control and being able to do it well when it matters. For example:
This habit is so simple that it’s incredibly easy to miss. Now, you might be thinking to yourself:
I think I’m pretty honest about how I feel…
Maybe. But I’d be willing to bet you’re not quite as honest about your emotions — especially the really difficult ones — as you’d like to believe.
For example: Suppose you had a big argument with your spouse last night. And as you get into work this morning, one of your coworkers asks you how you’re doing. And without giving it a second thought you immediately say I’m good. How you doing?
This is a textbook case of being emotionally dishonest.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself:
I mean, I know that I’m not feeling great this morning because of that argument. I just didn’t want to say anything about it since it’s not really appropriate to talk about personal issues at work.
First of all, Do you really know how you feel?
I mean, on some vague, superficial level I’m sure you know that you feel upset. But what emotions specifically are you feeling? Unless you squeaked in a therapy session before work this morning — or did some serious self-reflective journaling before bed — I doubt you actually understand how you’re feeling with any kind of granularity.
My second point is that even if it’s inappropriate to go into detail about your marital problems at work, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about how you feel at all.
For example, in response to your coworker’s question, you could have said:
Here’s why this matters…
Luckily, you can teach your brain the opposite message — that, however painful, difficult emotions aren’t dangerous — by simply being willing to talk about them honestly, both to yourself and others.
This doesn’t mean you have to go around pouring out your heart to every coworker and Starbucks barista you encounter throughout the day. But taking 3 seconds to acknowledge your emotions honestly, rather than avoiding them, is a powerful way to build your mental strength and emotional resilience over time.
2. Resist unnecessary mental time travel
The majority of emotional suffering is a direct result of too much mental time travel.
Mental time travel… What’s that?
Mental time travel is the amazing ability we humans have to think about the future with our imagination or relive events from the past out of memory.
And everything from building bridges and rocket ships to getting everything you need at the grocery store depends in large part on your ability to mentally travel through time — imagining possibilities in the future and recalling memories from the past.
But like any tool, mental time travel can be used well or poorly.
Think about it…
Unfortunately, it’s easy to make the mistake of using a tool that’s really effective in many situations in every situation…
So despite all your success using mental time travel well in certain aspects of your life, you can’t assume that it will help you in all areas of your life.
A few examples:
As an antidote to destructive mental time travel, cultivate the ability to hold your attention in the present moment:
Remember: The ability to mentally time travel is a tool. Use it mindfully, not mindlessly.
3. Distinguish wants vs values
A big part of mental strength is the ability to resist unhelpful impulses:
All too often, our best intentions get sabotaged by our own minds in the form of impulsive reactions, cravings, fears, and the like.
But the trick is that it’s difficult to simply resist an unhelpful impulse…
For example: If you’re feeling the impulse to eat a second serving of dessert, simply repeating to yourself don’t eat the dessert, don’t eat the dessert, don’t eat the dessert probably isn’t going to be all that helpful — largely because your focus is still on the craving and the dessert!
The better way to resist unhealthy impulses and cravings is to shift your focus onto your values.
Instead of trying to force yourself to not eat the second serving, what if you put your focus onto why you want to resist that impulse in the first place?
Here’s the thing:
Instead of trying to resist your unhealthy impulses, outcompete them with your values.
Unhealthy impulses have some kind of motivational pull. Whether it’s the craving for chocolate or the ego-boost that would come with criticizing someone, there’s always some reason why we’re pulled in unhealthy directions.
But you can outcompete the motivational pull of momentary impulses by identifying and clarifying your values — what you really want, your ideals.
At the end of the day, true values and ideals contain much more motivating force than momentary whims or impulses. The problem is we rarely take the time to remind ourselves of our values and make them specific enough to feel compelling.
A surprising amount of mental strength comes from getting in the habit of distinguishing momentary wants from genuine values. And the more you practice it, the easier you’ll find it to resist the things you don’t want and take action on the things you do.
All You Need to Know
Mental strength is the ability to control your mind instead of being controlled by it. And it’s a skill anyone can improve with practice.
Here are three small habits that will help you build mental strength:
by Nick Wignall
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Self-Help Book / Personal Development