It happens to the best of us: unexpected layoffs, troubles with co-workers, being rejected for a position in a different company or department, or getting passed over for a promotion.
We’ve each heard it countless times: you may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it. Knowing this and acting in accordance with it when push comes to shove, though, are two entirely different things.
When the coast is clear, we generally hold a good opinion of our ability to weather incoming storms. Few of us see ourselves as inherently weak-willed; most of us believe we could rise to the occasion when needed. We certainly like saying it again and again when we go for job interviews.
Truthfully, though, you won’t know how mentally strong (or not) you are until you’re put to the test. According to the Harvard Business Review, mental strength rests on three main pillars: having a sense of meaning, being realistic, and being resourceful. What exactly do these entail, though?
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The biggest reason why some people seem to have endless reserves of self-motivation and resilience is that they know their purpose. It isn’t enough to know exactly what you want to achieve and when. When times get tough, and you encounter one roadblock after another, it’s your “why” that will keep you going over and above anything else.
As the great philosopher, Nietzsche put it, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
At its core, self-deception is just self-destruction disguised as self-preservation. When we refuse to confront reality, we give ourselves license to find any and every excuse to escape from our troubles.
This, though, is precisely what makes challenges feel so overwhelming. The more we deceive ourselves into running away from them, the more we amplify our fears. Over time, it gradually weakens our resolve to push through to the end.
There’s a huge difference between confronting reality as it is, no matter how dismal, and falling into self-pity. Mentally strong people are realistic about the magnitude of their challenges, but they don’t look down on or feel excessively sorry for themselves.
It’s both incredibly discouraging and extremely disempowering. When you take pity on yourself, you open the door to feelings of learned helplessness, stagnation, and passivity. According to positive psychologist Martin Seligman, this is what pushes some people not just to inertia but to a downward spiral of negativity after encountering failures.
One of the greatest things we could ever do for ourselves is to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for our lives, come what may. So often, people resign themselves to their misfortunes and allow their disappointment to justify pushing the blame for failure onto everyone except themselves.
Resilient people recognise that the ball is always in their court, regardless of how battered and bruised the ball itself may be.
Human beings are inherently social creatures; social support is in and of itself a phenomenal source of resilience. It’s why the motto of the U.S. Marines–arguably some of the strongest people in the world–is “no man left behind.”
Contrary to the modern philosophy of “every man for himself,” relying on others for help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength. It shows two things about you:
Part of what makes hardship so challenging to overcome is that we tend to cling on to our indignation at being refused the success we think we deserve. Mentally strong people do not treat the world as though it owes them a living, or for that matter, any kind of success.
This can be hard to do; when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a particular project, it’s only natural to hope for its success. When that doesn’t happen, though, resilient people go straight back to the drawing board instead of being held back by the humiliating bitterness of failure.
Ruminating is one of the most dangerous mental habits you could ever have. Of course, reflecting on your failures to learn how to improve is critical. To succumb entirely to regret and “if only…” thinking, though, is altogether futile. You’ll sabotage your own future by staying stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of misery.
Things are rarely ever black and white, and neither are they ever static and unchanging. Mentally strong people understand that setbacks never last, and even the ones that seem to linger don’t always spell utter doom. They’re always able to reframe their perspectives and perceive new solutions and paths to success that they may not have seen before.
In this way, no matter what happens, they’re able to make the most of it because they know that there’s always something to be gained, learned, and improved upon after every failure.