Creating Mental Strength: The Power to Endure Despite Life's Challenges
Getting rid of mental junk food and learning how to harness the spiritual fortitude that lies within your soul.
When you want to work your muscles you go to the gym. It takes sweat, time and endurance but eventually you start seeing change. You feel better and have more stamina.
What about our mind? Emotional stamina takes us through those tough times we never saw coming. More than willpower, it is our ability to deal with challenges and unexpected circumstances. We usually discover our mental muscle when we confront a great life test. Sometimes we become shaken and realize that we are weaker than we imagined.
How can we help ourselves develop strength under pressure?
Getting Rid of Unhealthy Habits
To be physically strong, we stop eating junk and start lifting weights.
To be emotionally strong, let’s do the same.
Begin by getting rid of mental junk food. Feeding yourself unhealthy beliefs about your life story, your potential to succeed or blaming others accomplishes nothing. This is like downloading a virus on your laptop. You’d never do it because you know the harm it will cause, so why damage yourself emotionally?
Start clearing out your emotional malware:
*clear out unhealthy beliefs in yourself. Stop saying things like “I never win”, “No one ever likes my ideas”, “My life’s impossible”. We are doomed to failure if we see ourselves in a negative light.
*clear out unhealthy beliefs about others. Stop comparing your life. Stop resenting other people’s success. Challenge yourself to get off Facebook and Instagram a few hours a day. See what happens. Don’t limit yourself by believing that other people control the way you live. Maybe there are people in your life who frustrate you but you choose your reaction. My mother A”H would always say, “Don’t allow people to live in your head rent free.”
*clear out unhealthy beliefs about how life happens. We are used to getting whatever we want with a click of a button. We have forgotten how to wait for things. Amazon Prime delivers into our car trunks in no time. We expect. We want. We get. Instant gratification makes life feel complicated when we don’t have our dreams fulfilled quickly. If this is our attitude we will be left feeling frustrated and disappointed.
Ask: Which unhealthy beliefs are preventing me from mastering my life?
Exercise Mental Weights
Step 1: Work Your Core Muscles
This means that we identify our strengths, our values, and our beliefs. Let’s ask ourselves these basic questions: Do I believe in my ability to succeed? What could I dedicate my time to? What type of person do I hope to become? Focus and clarify a life goal. Set daily targets that are doable even if they may seem small. These goals can be character traits such as working on not losing it when things go wrong. An example is keeping control when you misplace your wallet. Think of it as starting with 5 pound weights and increasing as time goes. Work your way up; what happens the next time someone says something that really angers you?
Step 2: Allocate Your Energy
If we use a huge amount focusing on worries or negativity, how much energy remains to think positive?
Clear away the habit of allowing others to discourage you, belittle your dreams, or placing yourself in ‘worry mode’. You can’t strengthen your core by wasting energy needlessly.
The moment your head starts taking you to a negative direction, counter the thought with a positive one. Negativity and worrying are ‘brain drains’. We require brain power to strengthen our mental fortitude.
Step 3: Find Perspective
Perspective means that we decide to focus on the good or the purpose that every situation has. Yes, there may be times that it is difficult to see the positive. This translates into ‘mental strength’.
In life we often ask why? Why did this happen, why did I have to go through this? In Hebrew, ‘why’ translates into ‘lamah’ which can be read as ‘limah?’-- for what purpose? We don’t simply ask why me? We move on to ponder. What is the purpose of this challenge? What can I learn, how can I grow, what is the potential here to discover something about myself that I never knew before?
This brings us to endurance; to greatness instead of giving in to failure. Perspective allows us to pick ourselves up and keep on walking despite the stress weighing us down.
See the good now. Ask yourself how to strengthen your values and beliefs despite the disappointments. Success will come when you are able to handle life and maintain self-worth.
Mental strength means that we overcome, even triumph, when life brings hardship.
We need more strong moral role models in our lives-especially the lives of our children. We need to learn from those who created a life of blessing through ‘living strong’.
We have been deluged with witnessing the failings of too many men and women who have succumbed to human frailty.
I have been blessed with parents and grandparents who survived the flames of the Holocaust and inconceivable loss but who endured mightily. When I think of mental strength, I know that I have been privileged to witness the power of the human spirit. Growing up we were never fed ‘emotional junk food’. We were always aware of our ability to create, to find purpose, to keep walking and never ever give up. My father whose entire family perished began life anew and never sank into sadness. He lived with a joy that I still miss today.
My mother was once asked by a university student after she spoke: “Rebbeitzin, you always have a smile on your face. You’ve gone through so much in life, the concentration camps, and the loss of your husband. How can you always be smiling? Tell me, does your smile start on your lips or in your heart?”
My mother replied that she had never really thought about it, but now that she was asked the question she realizes that her smile must start on her lips. “In my heart I have many worries. I know pain. But once I place a smile on my lips, it travels to my heart and makes everything easier.” She demonstrated once again the power to endure, to create connection, to overcome and not fall into despair despite the hardships we face.
Each generation has its challenge. Each person faces his or her life test. We can discover the mental strength to endure and harness the spiritual fortitude that lies within our soul.