Boot Camp to Build Your Mental Strength

It takes more than willpower to change the way we feel about things, the way we see and think about the world and the way we behave and interact.  We can’t be happy all the time, but we also can’t constantly worry about things out of our control. What you believe about yourself matters — negative thoughts aren’t productive or healthy. Emotions and perspectives can fluctuate. Use these basic mental strength training exercises to build mental muscle and positively affect many areas of your life.

Woman prating yoga
  1. Examine your core beliefs. 
    • Core beliefs are the very essence of how we see ourselves, other people, our world and the future. Core beliefs develop over time, usually starting in our childhood and continuing as we experience significant life events. These beliefs influence our thoughts, behaviors and emotions. 
      Here is an example of how a core belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Lisa has a core belief she is not good enough and often feels incompetent. If she were to interview for a job and be rejected for the position, she would automatically assume it had to do with her lack of skill and inabilities, further strengthening her core belief that she is inadequate. Instead, Lisa should consider the fact that there were many highly qualified applicants, herself included, but only one candidate could be selected. She must learn to realize that situations like this do not reflect inadequacy on her part.
  2. Replace exaggerated negative thoughts with more productive and realistic thoughts.
    • Rather than telling yourself “I can’t do anything right”, say “although I have some areas in which I can improve, I also have plenty of strengths such as ____________.”
  3. Don’t waste brain power on things you can’t control.
    • Expend your mental energy wisely. Worrying about things that are out of your control, such as the weather (i.e., worrying whether the BBQ you have planned for this weekend will get rained out), creates unnecessary additional stress for both your mind and your body. Did you know that about 85% of the things we worry about never actually happen? And, if what we worry about does happen, 80% of us said we handled the outcome better than we thought we would. People who let go of worries instead of stressing over them are much healthier than those who don’t.
  4. Be OK feeling some discomfort. 
    • The human experience includes a wide range of emotions, and it is unrealistic to think we should feel happy 100% of the time. Emotional pain and distress are an inevitable part of life. We must learn how to tolerate negative feelings. Start by accepting that you are feeling a certain way and then focus on avoiding self-destructive behaviors that would only temporarily relieve the discomforting feeling. For example, if you are stressed at work, eating comfort food or sweets may feel good momentarily, but it will only lead to greater distress as feelings of guilt and shame are likely to follow.
  5. Reflect on your progress daily.
    • At the end of each day, ask yourself what you learned about your thoughts, behaviors and emotions. What did you do differently that positively impacted your ability to strengthen your mental muscle? Maybe even find a way to reward yourself for the small changes and progress you’ve made.
Denver Health Medical Plan Staff Writer