If you want to be mentally tougher, say goodbye to these 10 bad habits

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Life can throw plenty at you.

How well we navigate the ups and downs comes down to our mental toughness. This determines the resilience, confidence, focus, and determination we show.

And that means everything to not only your success but also your happiness.

There are a few bad habits that we can slip into that stand in the way of a strong mindset.

Let’s take a look at them so we can avoid the pitfalls.

1) Denial

Denial is designed to protect us when life gets overwhelming. But in doing so it stops us from addressing our issues and moving through them.

It can be an automatic defense mechanism. Sometimes it’s a temporary measure until we feel emotionally ready to face the truth.

But when we habitually hide in denial, it holds us back.

It shows up in avoidance strategies, some of which can become addictions.

Alcohol, food, TV, gaming, shopping, and other distractions can become a hiding place from our problems.

The antidote is self-awareness. It’s the key to getting real with yourself.

The more you get to know what makes you tick the better you can become at taking care of your own needs.

Asking yourself soul-searching questions, keeping a journal for self-exploration, and paying more attention to your thoughts and emotions are all good ways to cultivate it.

The more self-awareness we can create, the easier it is to take full responsibility for ourselves. That’s going to help us to avoid the next thing on our list.

2) Making excuses

Excuses often go hand in hand with denial. Because we have to find reasons for our avoidance.

We need to confirm why we can’t so that it doesn’t feel like a choice we’re dodging.

Whilst we like to think of excuses as explanations, they’re just justifications to help make us feel better in the moment.

When we search for excuses in life, it’s designed to shift responsibility onto someone or something else and away from us.

But yet again, we cannot become mentally tougher unless we’re prepared to be completely honest with ourselves

3) Neglecting your body

In recent years science has increasingly confirmed the strong link between body and mind.

For example, a 2023 study noted that the two are inextricably intertwined. Assistant professor of radiology at the School of Medicine’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Evan M. Gordon, says when you calm your body with meditation and breathwork, you also calm the mind. 

“Those sorts of practices can be really helpful for people with anxiety, for example, but so far, there hasn’t been much scientific evidence for how it works. But now we’ve found a connection. We’ve found the place where the highly active, goal-oriented ‘go, go, go’ part of your mind connects to the parts of the brain that control breathing and heart rate. If you calm one down, it absolutely should have feedback effects on the other.”

If you want to be mentally tough, it’s going to help to be physically strong.

That means getting exercise, which has been shown to be crucial for mental well-being as it boosts endorphins and reduces stress.

It also means ditching poor sleep habits as a lack of quality shut-eye can impair cognitive function and emotional regulation.

4) Keeping to your comfort zone

Playing small is a tempting habit we can all fall into.

Sure, we may not taste the glory but we get to feel safe. And for many of us, that’s a trade-off we’re willing to make.

In fact, we often subconsciously do it without even realizing it.

To a certain extent, we’re genetically programmed to seek out the comfort of security. That way we get to feel in control and avoid any nasty surprises.

The problem is that it also tends to unwittingly stunt our growth and progression.

In the words of wellness author Robin Sharma: “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and so gorgeous at the end.”

It’s only by pushing past our fears that we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in the process build up our tolerance to it.

5) Negative self-talk

Out of all the bad habits on our list, this is not only one of the most damaging, but I suspect the most common too.

Your inner critic is often good at flying below the radar so you don’t even see the toxic thoughts it feeds you.

But there it is, sneakily in the background criticizing, undermining, and demeaning you. No wonder this erodes your confidence and shakes your self-esteem.

We may not be able to cut off the negative self-talk completely. But what we can do is learn to question it.

We can also consciously counteract it with plenty of self-compassion.

When we spot negativity, we can decide to replace it with encouraging and positive affirmations instead.

Think of it like the old parable about the two wolves. As the story goes, a grandfather explains to his grandson that there is “A terrible fight going on inside me between two wolves.”

One is angry, regretful, self-pitying, prideful, and egotistical, the other is loving, peaceful, and kind.

When asked by his grandson which will win, he replies “The one you feed”.

6) Excessive screen time

It can feel tricky to avoid screen time, even when we want to.

Many of us work on laptops for hours and hours of the day, only to come home and spend several more sitting in front of the TV.

When once upon a time a mobile phone was a luxury item, nowadays it’s an essential.

I don’t want to demonize tech, it obviously has many uses and benefits. But we can’t ignore its downsides either.

Spending too much time on screens can negatively impact your mental health.

That’s why we all need to engage in offline activities, like going for a walk or reading a book, that promote relaxation and mindfulness.

To continue to reap the rewards whilst minimizing damage, it’s important to set boundaries for screen use and take regular breaks.

7) Rumination and overthinking

I’m a huge overthinker, so I totally appreciate this can be a challenging habit to kick to the curb.

It can show up in lots of ways:

  • Stressing and worrying about things you cannot control.
  • Overidentifying with your thoughts.
  • Feeling like you need more info to make a choice.

Rumination and overthinking create unhelpful loops where we obsess over the same repetitive thoughts over and over again.

In the process, we get stuck, so we may struggle to make decisions or take action.

They can also leave us dwelling on the past. We then get so fixated on what has gone before that it takes us away from the present moment.

It’s important to find coping techniques and practical tools that help us to stop overthinking when we feel it taking over.

8) Whinging and whining

I confess that sometimes I love a little moan. It can feel quite cathartic to get whatever is bothering you off your chest.

But it teaches us to focus on the negative side of life and feeds into this victimhood mentality where the world owes you something.

Not only that, but it also turns out, that complaining is bad for your brain.

Research from Stanford University found that indulging in moaning or even just listening to someone else do it for 30 minutes was enough to physically damage our brains.

It shrinks the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain where new memories are formed and is also associated with learning and emotions.

The truth is that we can still stick up for ourselves, express our feelings, and have clear boundaries without the need for complaining to creep in.

9) Looking to others for validation

If we want to be mentally tough, we have to be able to appreciate ourselves.

It’s normal to look to those around us for approval. It’s part of our biological drive to seek acceptance and avoid rejection.

But when it becomes a habit, it undermines our confidence to look within for guidance, as explained by psychiatrist Timothy Jeider.

“We use approval to bolster our value. That approval validates us. When our internal sense of worth fails, whether from not ever properly being built, mental illness sabotaging it, or just having a bad day of doubting ourselves, that’s when we turn to approval.”

Avoiding the temptation to gain the majority of your approval from others may mean confronting any people-pleasing behaviors like…

  • Difficulty in saying no
  • Poor boundaries
  • Constantly seeking reassurances and praise

Generally speaking, the more you focus on building self-love, the less reliant you are on others to make you feel good.

10) Perfectionism

The jury is in, and it’s unanimous:

There really is very little upside to perfectionism.

Insisting on striving for the impossible only undermines your mental strength, creating low self-worth, anxious feelings, and high stress.

It may sound strange, but lowering not raising your standards can help you become mentally tougher.

That’s because you are more likely to ditch procrastination and just give things a go. You are more inclined to keep on trying when faced with challenges because you’re not terrified of failure.

Dropping perfectionism provides the all-important conditions to live and learn — which is essential when we want to grow.

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

If you want true inner happiness, start saying “no” to these 8 things

10 everyday habits that will make you smarter, according to psychology