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Ten ways to mental strength…

by
01 December 2015, at 12:00am

CHRIS WHIPP believes it is worth investing time and effort to improve mental strength and lists 10 ‘habits of thinking’ that can be practised each day to enable growth and development

FOR a variety of reasons general practice is mentally hard work. Balancing a huge and imperfect knowledge base, the uncertainty of medicine, the challenges of communicating both with our colleagues and with an ever more demanding clientele can be wearing at least, dangerously harmful at worst.

Our happiness in practice is also not as under our own control (see the chart) as we might think. This can influence our well-being by undermining our autonomy and enhancing uncertainty.

If we can, at best, have only a 40% influence on our sense of happiness, then it is worth investing time and effort to build our mental strength and we explore here 10 “habits of thinking” that can be practised on a daily basis.

Monitoring emotions

It is frequently assumed that mentally strong people suppress and control their emotions.

Having the ability to control your personal reaction to emotions can have advantages but this is just one small part of the picture. Suppressing emotions may be beneficial in the shorter term depending on the circumstances but, in the longer term, may be adding pressure to a dam that will at a later stage burst with disastrous consequences.

Mentally strong people learn to monitor their emotions and develop an ever growing sense of awareness. This allows an appreciation of a more accurate picture of what is going on and an awareness of how their feelings may be influencing their thoughts and behaviours.

In turn this opens up a wider array of opportunities for response.

It is not at all unusual in a stressful or pressured situation for the best option for action to be counterintuitive; developing this mental skill can considerably enhance outcomes.

Solving problems

One of the defining features of humankind is our ability to solve problems and our effectiveness at doing this significantly influences our confidence, happiness, sense of status and autonomy.

Actively practising and developing problem-solving behaviours builds mental strength but comes with a caveat: it can be addictive which can distract us from our prime purpose.

A second potential risk of being good at problemsolving is that it can be psychologically depressing as you seem to always move towards more and more problems.

The need is to develop the skills to stay on track and refuse to engage in unproductive activities, to solve the problems that need to be solved and leave the rest. Developing the skills increases your potential for the future; exerting control builds your mental strength and self-protection.

Managing time wisely

Central to being mentally strong is a need to recognise that time is a finite resource and to manage that time towards productive activities.

Humans frequently waste energy dwelling on the past or fretting about the future as is emphasised in the saying “The past is history, let it go; and the future is mystery, let it come.” Focusing on the “now” can free up time for effective proactive action.

Practising realistic optimism

Our instincts tend to generate a naturally conservative and negative view regarding the future in that they seek to protect from unseen and unseeable risks that frequently simply don’t exist.

Mental strength is built by challenging our instincts, “reframing” our negativity and pushing boundaries after an objective rather than emotional assessment of risk. This is not about having a positive outlook all of the time which is unrealistic but rather just about tipping the balance a little differently.

Monitoring progress

Making progress means there is a need to know where you start from, where you are headed and where you currently stand. Mental strength allows you to recognise and know your faults and develop a “no excuses” approach to improvement.

Strength and confidence grow as you realise you can face the challenges and prevail; it is not about blame but rather about objectivity and effective action. Rather than make excuses for their mistakes or failures, the mentally strong seek explanations that will help them perform better moving forward.

Practice self-compassion

Time spent beating yourself up about a mistake is time wasted, though time spent learning from a mistake can be invaluable. The mentally strong recognise the difference and collaborate rather than conflict with themselves.

The blame culture prevalent in western business seriously undermines the well-being and productivity of many employees, producing toxic working environments. Mentally strong people practise and develop self-compassion, talking to themselves as a friend. This is not about discounting the negative but rather keeping it in proportion.

Setting healthy boundaries

Mentally strong people accept full responsibility for how they think, feel and behave. Passing this power to others is very easy in the modern workplace but it builds uncertainty, anxiety and is disempowering. Setting clear boundaries is important as is behaving assertively.

Learning something new every day

An ethos of continuous learning builds knowledge, expertise and confidence in an ongoing way. Continuous sustained improvement is often the single most important driver in mentally strong people; it feeds the possibility of change which can enhance a sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Growing stronger

Linked to the above is a positive habit of building strength by viewing everyday challenges and setbacks not as problems but as opportunities for further development. Skills develop only with practice and this applies as much to mental skills as to physical skills. Mentally strong people recognise that there is always room for improvement and strive to achieve it. It is well recognised that going to the gym strengthens our body with practice and repetition: the same is also true of the mind though less well accepted in the modern workplace where unrealistic expectations are often maintained.

Striving to fulfil your purpose

In the chaotic, frenetic world within which we live it is often easy to deal with the immediate and clamouring and set aside the more existential. Successfully fulfilling your purpose in life takes time both to think about and do; mentally strong people take the time to look at the bigger picture and work out what is most important and not simply most urgent.

We are not trained well to deal with matters of uncertainty, complexity and chaos but expending the effort to engage these subjects will illuminate a range of new opportunities.

Practice may not be easy but by developing and practising the above it is possible to progressively grow and develop. For more about this topic, e-mail me: christopherwhipp@aol.com.