Life can throw a lot at you. To better navigate the stresses and strains, it pays to have mental toughness.
It’s this quality that allows us to bounce back, show perseverance, and still perform at our best, despite the trials we face.
Luckily it’s just as much of a skill as it is a trait. That means we can do practical things to bolster it.
Here are some daily habits that can help us all to build more mental strength and confidence.
1) Look for the ways fear plays a part in your decision making
If we want to toughen up, we have to say yes to things that scare us. If we aim to push our comfort zone in some small way every day, it’s going to go a long way.
Years ago I noticed a bad habit I’d unwittingly fallen into.
When presented with an opportunity I was quick to decide it wasn’t for me. I often had plenty of excuses to hand.
I’d tell myself that I if didn’t want to do it, I shouldn’t.
But when I delved deeper I realized it wasn’t quite that simple. The truth was that often fear was playing a bigger part in my decision-making than I cared to admit.
Sure, part of me maybe “couldn’t be bothered” but the other part was simply uncomfortable with putting myself out there.
Now I always try to ask myself:
Does the thought of doing this make me feel nervous in any way?
If the answer is yes, then you may owe it to yourself to try. Because nerves generally mean we care about the outcome.
And they are the scenarios we should be leaning into not running away from.
2) Take a cold shower
Maybe you’ve seen the trend on social media for ice baths.
Perhaps you’ve even wondered why anyone would voluntarily plunge themselves unto subzero temperatures.
There are plenty of suggested health benefits from cold water therapy. These include things like tackling depression, increasing energy levels, and improving circulation.
But it could also make a difference to your mental toughness.
It all comes down to tolerating discomfort.
Being able to face things that feel unpleasant gives us a sense of achievement that builds confidence.
In a small way, simply putting up with a stream of cold water for a few minutes every morning reminds you that you can choose to overcome adversity.
When we take on these sorts of physical challenges, it simultaneously boosts our emotional resilience.
3) Make time to move
I’m purposely not calling this exercise.
Because we tend to think of keeping fit as something that demands large chunks of our time.
And so we psyche ourselves out.
Because we can’t make the time for a two-hour gym session or one-hour run, we figure there’s no point.
But recent research contradicts this narrative.
The good news is that little bursts of activity can drastically improve your overall physical and mental health.
That can be anything from hitting the stairs instead of taking the elevator to waking up and doing a short yet intense 5-minute cardio routine.
Exercise helps mental toughness as it teaches us willpower, instills discipline, and boosts motivation levels.
You are better equipped to face the world when you feel good in your body.
4) Adopt a daily mindfulness practice
Meditation is often the first one that comes to mind, but there are others to choose from.
A lot of people argue they can’t bear sitting still for a static meditation (although that may be one of the signs that you would benefit from it).
But your focus and attention matter more than what it is you’re doing.
- Mindful walks in nature
- Mindful movements like Yoga or Thai chi
- Doing a body scan to check in with how you feel
- Sitting for five minutes without doing anything
Mindfulness is a great way to cope with the daily stresses of life that can get us down and derail us.
5) Watch your self-talk
Having supportive daily habits is just as much about ditching what’s not serving you as it is about introducing new things.
And if there’s one thing that most of us need to work on, it’s our self-talk.
Because we can be so used to saying shitty things to ourselves every day, it barely even registers anymore.
Yet unsurprisingly having a negative narrative follow you around all day only serves to strip away at your self-belief and self-esteem.
It takes awareness (and practice) to catch out our inner critic when it speaks. But watch out for the ways it shows up.
It may be when it jumps in to tell you that you won’t be very good at something before you’ve even tried it.
It could be when it chastizes you for any perceived flaw or error.
Carve out a few minutes every day to counteract this with positive affirmations, self-praise, and acknowledgment.
Be sure to recognize and celebrate your small wins and efforts. At the end of each day, pat yourself on the back and look back at what has gone well.
6) Call out your emotions
The greater self-awareness we can create around our feelings, the better equipped we are to handle them.
It’s not only easier to understand them, but we’re less likely to overidentify with them too.
Rather than get carried away by our emotions, when we name them, we create some space around them.
Research has shown that emotional literacy can help us regulate emotions and bring clarity.
Just the simple action of putting a feeling into words in the heat of the moment means it immediately loosens its grip on us.
When a feeling comes up, hone in on it. What exactly are you feeling? Is there another emotion that lies behind it?
For example, behind our anger often lies sadness.
When you label an emotion, you are acknowledging it. That puts you in a better place to address it and less likely to behave reactively.
7) Know your priorities and focus on one thing at a time
Multi-tasking is often seen as a strength, but it actually might be a weakness.
The evidence suggests that it can hinder your performance and you become less efficient.
Plus, when we force our brains to switch back and forth between tasks, we’re more likely to make mistakes.
When we want to find the mental strength to get things done, procrastination and overwhelm can throw us off course.
That’s more likely to happen when we don’t break down our to-do list into small and achievable steps.
Rather than striving to do it all, we need to know our limits.
Every day, identify your priorities. That means doing “first things first” and letting the rest wait.
8) Be the Captain of your own ship
This one sounds vague, so let me clarify:
It’s about taking full responsibility for yourself every single day, no matter what.
It’s making the decision to map out your own life rather than waiting for others to do it for you. Knowing your own values and goals and acting on them.
That also involves refusing to play the victim whenever bad stuff happens.
Not seeking people or things to blame, but instead looking for reframes and solutions that will support you and your growth.
- Lessons for the future
- Silver linings with the gloom
- Opportunities to take action and turn things around
Part of that will mean we need to ask:
What can I control today?
And being prepared to let go of the rest, rather than ruminate and worry about it.
9) Get a good night’s sleep
This one is a game-changer. Yet we can easily let our sleeping habits slide.
Everyone is admittedly different, so a good night’s sleep for you may not be the same as for someone else.
But the benefits of getting between 7-9 hours of shut-eye a night shouldn’t be overlooked.
It includes reducing stress and improving your mood. Both of which are clearly important for your well-being and ability to cope.
The difference between your brain being tired, and your brain rested can be remarkable:
- You think more clearly
- You retain memory more easily
- You make better decisions
- You get along better with other people
- Your reaction times are quicker
There’s no getting around it, decent sleep is essential for our body and mind to regenerate.
10) Practice gratitude
Life looks a whole lot worse when we’re focused on what we lack.
Mental toughness is achieved not by hardening ourselves to the injustices and pains of life.
The hardy people gain their strength by focusing on the good. This is what gives them the courage to rise above the bad.
It’s always going to be uncomfortable when we fail and fall. But we lighten our load by turning our face toward the sunshine.
And that’s exactly what a gratitude practice does. It’s a metaphorical way of turning from doom and gloom and back into the light.
Countless research has shown how it builds resilience in the process.
A gratitude practice doesn’t even need to be a daily thing.
In fact, some research has suggested it’s better done once or twice a week. That way, we’re not just going through the motions.
Also, don’t be tempted to keep it generic or vague.
The more detailed and specific you can be about what you’re grateful for and why, the more positive emotions it will elicit.