Our habits sustain us during difficult, challenging times and make us mental toughness. When life deviates from our plans and we encounter unexpected setbacks, our habits and routines help us to stay on track.
They influence our behavior, spurring us forward, practically on autopilot, when we’re beset with difficulties and under pressure.
When we adopt good habits, our actions and decisions become more consistent. We become less susceptible to our impulses.
The longer our habits have been in place, the more deeply ingrained they are and the more confidence we can have in them. The challenge is in forming them and making them stick.
This section will first discuss how your habits, both good and bad, affect your mental toughness. Then, you’ll learn how to develop good habits that last.
This system is simple and easy. Most importantly, it works. Lastly, we’ll explore five daily habits that are pivotal to developing and maintaining mental toughness.
Your Habits Are the Key to Your Mental Toughness
When we think of habits, we typically associate them with action. That is, our habits are things we do. But the truth is, they represent much more than that.
Our habits signify what is important to us. They reflect our values and priorities. If we adopt a good diet and regularly exercise, it means our health is important to us.
If we meditate each morning, it means we value starting the day with a peaceful, stress-free state of mind.
On the other hand, suppose we constantly eat junk food, refuse to exercise, and regularly argue with people online about politics. These habits also suggest our values and priorities.
Perseverance is as much a habit as brushing your teeth before going to bed. It’s a behavioral response we train ourselves to carry out in certain circumstances.
Like any habit, it has cues that trigger us to take action. The good news is, we can create these cues to help us develop this habit.
This process, developing habits that make our behaviors more consistent, is a vital part in developing mental toughness.
It eliminates our need to rely on willpower, motivation, and inspiration, all of which are fickle and fleeting. Instead, we can rely on the routines and systems we design to prompt our behavioral responses to stress and pressure.
With that in mind, let’s discuss a simple method for adopting habits that’ll strengthen your psychological and emotional resilience.
A Fast-Track Guide to Developing Any Habit (And Making It Stick!)
Leo Babauta, founder of ZenHabits.net, once said with regard to adopting a new habit, “make it so easy you can’t say no.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that simple statement.
In fact, it expresses one of the most important principles to developing a new habit: start small. For example, suppose you’d like to start exercising on a daily basis.
You might be enthusiastic and tempted to start your new habit with a 45-minute workout on Day 1. Don’t do that. Instead, take baby steps. Start with a 5-minute workout.
This first step is likewise important when developing habits that strengthen your tenacity and resolve. For example, imagine that you feel overwhelmed at your job.
You’re exhausted and finding it difficult to focus. But you want to develop a habit of perseverance.
Rather than rolling up your sleeves and working for hours nonstop, commit to focusing for a 5-minute time chunk. Make it so easy you can’t say no. The next step is to make slow, incremental progress.
There’s no need to grow your new habit by leaps and bounds. This isn’t a race. In fact, striving to progress quickly is likely to do more harm than good.
For many people, doing so is a recipe for failure. Take small steps forward. Returning to our previous example, don’t try to advance from the initial 5-minute time chunk to working in 45-minute time chunks.
Instead, take a small break (perhaps 60 seconds) after the first 5-minute time chunk. Then do another. And another. After you’ve done that successfully a few times, break up your work into 10-minute time chunks.
Take 2-minute breaks between them. Once you’ve proven your ability to focus for 10 minutes at a time, work in 15-minute time chunks separated by 3-minute breaks.
If you follow this process, you’ll eventually build your habit to the point that you should break it down into reasonable portions.
For example, let’s say you’ve improved your focus so that you’re able to work without distraction for hours on end. That’s quite a feat! But it doesn’t mean you should work for hours on end. In this case, it would be more beneficial to work in relatively short time chunks.
For instance, work for 45 minutes, and then take a 10-minute break. Repeat this process four times, and then take a 30-minute break. Working in this manner will help you to maintain your momentum.
Additionally, your focus will suffer less erosion because you’re giving your brain a chance to recharge at regular intervals. The final step in developing a new habit is to design cues that trigger your desired response. It’s easy to do.
The key is to be consistent. For example, suppose you’re training yourself to continue working after taking short breaks. The problem is, you’d rather abandon your work and watch your favorite show on Netflix.
Try this: pick a short, inspiring song. End each break by listening to it. Immediately after the song finishes playing, begin a new work session.
This will cause your brain to create an association between the song and your next action (in this case, getting back to work).
The next time you hear the song, you’ll feel compelled to get back to work. You control these cues. You get to design them. That means you run the show whenever you decide to adopt a new habit.
This simple habit development system doesn’t preclude slip-ups. In fact, you almost certainly will slip up now and then.
Don’t worry about it. It’s a natural part of the process. Forgive yourself and move forward. Now that you have a reliable method for adopting new habits, let’s explore five that’ll increase your mental toughness.
Read more: 3 Ways to Stay Calm and Keep Anxiety Away
5 Daily Habits That Will Improve Your Mental Strength
Success in any difficult endeavor requires a number of traits, all of which are linked to mental toughness. We’ve discussed most of them already.
They include grit, tenacity, resolve, and a positive state of mind. They also include discipline, persistence, and the willingness to delay gratification.
The following habits align perfectly with these traits. They reinforce them, and in a few cases are instrumental toward building them in the first place.
Develop these five habits and you’ll find it easier to courageously face any challenges that come your way.
Habit 1: View your past as training for overcoming future adversity. We tend to let our past define us. We allow earlier events, along with our responses to them, to decide who we are.
Our values and convictions are often entwined with what has happened before in our lives. Sever this connection. Condition your mind to view your past as nothing more than training for the future.
Things happened. You responded. Perhaps you made mistakes. Now, it’s time to learn from them. Your past is merely instruction that provides you with insight into how best to respond down the road.
Habit 2: Evaluate negative emotions immediately when they arise. As we discussed previously, negative emotions are not, in and of themselves, unhealthy.
On the contrary, research shows they contribute to mental health and psychological well-being. So it pays to acknowledge them.
Having said that, negative emotions can easily hijack your ability to make rational decisions and take purposeful action. They can quickly overwhelm you.
So it also pays to assess whether the anger, shame, sadness, panic, and guilt you experience are overblown. You don’t want to suppress negative emotions.
But it’s important to develop the habit of investigating them the moment they surface.
Habit 3: Build your self-confidence. Self-confidence is essential to developing mental toughness.
After all, it’s only possible to press onward during adversity and overcome the fear of uncertainty when you trust in your abilities.
Business magnate Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Ford didn’t dismiss the role of talent and skill, but instead highlighted the equally important role of confidence.
He recognized that our self-assuredness is critical to our success and its absence can easily result in failure.
Habit 4: Practice gratitude. It’s tempting to whine and complain when things go wrong. But it’s crucial that we acknowledge two cardinal truths.
First, whining and complaining about unfavorable conditions does nothing to resolve them.
Second, it can too easily introduce a host of negative emotions that result in further despair and disappointment.
Maintaining a positive mindset is pivotal to facing adversity with courage. Each morning, reflect on things that have gone right for you.
Each afternoon, think about everything you have for which to be thankful. Each evening, before you go to bed, contemplate the small victories you enjoyed throughout the day. Practice gratitude daily.
Habit 5: Build a tolerance for change. Mental toughness requires that you be flexible to your circumstances. When things go wrong, you must be able to adapt in order to act with purpose.
Most of us dread change. We enjoy predictability because it reduces uncertainty. Fear of uncertainty is one of the chief impediments to taking purposeful action. Building this habit entails leaving your comfort zone.
It calls for actively seeking changes that you can incorporate into your life. The upside is that doing so will desensitize you to changing circumstances, increasing your tolerance for them.
As your tolerance increases, your fear will naturally erode. The great thing about habit development is that you can advance at your own pace. Again, it’s best to start with small steps and progress slowly.
But each of us is different with regard to what “small” and “slowly” mean. Design a plan that aligns with your existing routines and caters to your available time, attention, and energy.
Habit 6: Write down three habits you’d like to develop. Next to each one, write down three things you can do starting today to develop the habit. For example, suppose you want to boost your self-confidence.
First, you might commit to saying hello to five stranger each day. Second, you may decide to immediately evaluate negative self-talk whenever your inner critic becomes bold.
Third, you might commit to saying no to others, focusing instead on your own projects and responsibilities.
I am certified in addiction counseling, public health, health education, mental health and I am also an AIDS-certified registered nurse with more than 30 years of experience and founder of Hindi health point