“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
We live in turbulent times. There are fewer guarantees and more uncertainties these days. Thankfully this also means there are lots of opportunities to be had. And if you and I are to overcome the obstacles in our way and seize the opportunities, we’re going to need strong minds.
Mental strength means you understand how to manage your emotions, adjust your thinking, and choose to take positive action, despite your circumstances. It’s knowing deep down that every little struggle is progress. And if you really want it, you’ll do it, despite failure and rejection and the odds. Every step forward will be tough, but will feel better than anything else you can imagine. You will ultimately come to realize that the struggle is not found on the path, it is the path. And it’s worth your while.
Being willing to walk this path of resistance is what mental strength is all about. And it’s something Angel and I cover extensively here on our blog, in our book, and with our course students on a daily basis. Why? Because 90% of our problems as rational human beings are the byproduct of learned mental weakness. In other words, over time we’ve heard a succession of lies from other people about what we need and what we don’t need – about what we can and can’t do – about what is and isn’t possible for us – and we subconsciously believed every word.
What’s worse? We now tell some of these lies to ourselves and we live by them every day.
Which means it’s time for us to unlearn these lies for the sake of our own mental strength:
- It wasn’t supposed to be like this. – We all have an idea in our heads about how things are supposed to be, and sadly this is what often messes us up the most. Realize this. Expect less and learn more. Let go and let life grow you – let it test you. You won’t always understand it and that’s OK. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. And then just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. Mentally strong people are appreciative of the obstacles in their path because they know the obstacles are necessary stepping-stones. So keep going, keep growing, and someday you will be able to describe your entire life in just one sentence: “It didn’t go as planned, and that’s OK.”
- Disappointment and sadness are not necessary. – Having an excessive preoccupation with happiness can actually lead to an unhealthy attitude towards negative emotions and experiences. Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid negative emotions – rather, they accept both positive and negative emotions and let these feelings coexist. This is a key component of their resiliency. Trying to be happy 24/7 is futile; we need to focus on being whole instead. Disappointment, frustration, sadness and failure are part of your wholeness – all of these things help make you who we are. Happiness, victory and fulfillment are nice things that also happen to you, but they don’t teach you and help you grow nearly as much.
- This situation is definitely bad. – There’s an adage in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, “There is no good or bad, there is only perception,” which was later echoed in Shakespeare’s famous quote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Truth be told, the way we perceive a situation has tremendous power to either help us or harm us. So often, we react emotionally and project negative judgments onto a situation, when the first key to overcoming a challenge is to view things objectively. In the long run, it usually isn’t what you have or where you are or what you’ve been through that makes or breaks you; it’s how you think about it all and what you do next. (Read Man’s Search for Meaning.)
- There’s no hope. – Mentally strong people know the opposite of defeat is not courage; the opposite of defeat is hope. And there’s always hope. When you lose something good, don’t think of it as a loss, but as an experience that gets you back on the path you were meant to travel. Ultimately, the measure of who you are is what you do with what you have at any given point in time. It’s important to remember that you have enough, and you are enough, always. Stay strong. Think clearly. Even when it feels like things are falling apart, they aren’t.
- You don’t really have any other choice. – Have you ever met a happy, successful person who regularly avoids responsibility, blames and points fingers and makes excuses for their unsatisfying lives? Me either. Because happy, success people are mentally strong. They accept responsibility for how their lives unfold. They believe their own happiness and success is a byproduct of their own thinking, beliefs, attitudes, character and behavior.
- Successful people follow the rules. – Break the rules. Don’t break the law, but break the rules. You don’t need to measure up to other people’s benchmarks. The psychological root of most unhappiness lies in external validation, which happens when you try to measure your self-worth based on the opinions of others. But it’s not what others think… it’s what you think about your life that counts. You, and only you, get to decide what kind of life you want to live. Other people’s goals and expectations don’t matter that much in the long-run. (Read Choose Yourself!)
- There is always an easier way. – The path of least resistance is often the path of least reward. You need to do hard things. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. As Einstein once said, “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work.” You must run to be a runner. You must write to be a writer. You must actively work on a business venture to learn how to run a successful business. There is no substitute for doing the work. So meditate on this every day: “I will do the work. It won’t be easy. It will be worth it!”
- Now is not the right time. – The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. And when it comes to your goals, later is always the wrong time to do the right thing. Why? Because time is passing. So stop waiting for the right time; it will never come. Make a decision and take a chance. You have to dare to do it, because life is too short to wonder what could have been.
- You need more to be happy. – Mentally strong people know that gratitude is the best attitude adjustment. The more goodness you see, the more you create, and the more good things you have to smile about. Happiness doesn’t start when “this, that or the other thing” is resolved. Happiness is what happens now when you appreciate what you have.
- You need to be perfect to be impressive. – If the face you always show the world is a mask, someday there will be nothing beneath it. Because when you spend too much time concentrating on everyone else’s perception of you, or who everyone else wants you to be, you eventually forget who you really are. So don’t fear the judgments of others; you know in your heart who you are and what’s true to you. You don’t have to be perfect to impress people. Let them be impressed by how you deal with your imperfections. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- You have a great reason to hate them. – The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back. It’s about forgiveness. And it doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past or forgetting what happened. It just means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life. Remember, the less time you spend hating the people who hurt you, the more time you’ll have to love the people who love you.
- Loved ones should always agree with you. – Mentally strong people know that someone who loves you won’t always agree with you just to make you happy. If anything, they will say what needs to be said, sincerely, regardless of whether or not you want to hear it. Why is this good news? Because close relationships grow stronger only when two people are able to share their innermost feelings and thoughts about themselves and each other. To be fully seen by someone in raw form, and be respected anyhow, is what love is. It’s about acceptance and truth over agreement and ruse. And, sometimes, it’s agreeing to disagree and being OK with it.
I want to leave you with this to think about…
In 1914, the great inventor Thomas Edison experienced a devastating hardship. His entire laboratory burned down to the ground, and years worth of his work was ruined. Newspapers described the situation as the worst thing to happen to Edison, but that was a lie. Edison didn’t see it that way at all. The inventor instead chose to see his circumstances as an invigorating opportunity to rebuild and re-examine much of his current work. Edison reportedly said shortly after the fire, “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.”
Now that’s what I call mental strength!
The floor is yours…
What other self-defeating lies do we often tell ourselves? What’s one self-defeating lie you once believed was true? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.
Photo by: Mark Rochefort
I would add the lie: Everyone else knows what they are doing (or at the very least, knows more than you). NOT true at all.
So many people believe this. It’s not true. Everyone is exploring or struggling in their own way. Nobody was handed a manual or an instruction guide for life – everyone is just figuring it out using their gut instinct, some brain power and a little trial and error. Don’t let yourself think otherwise…
Oh, yes… the little lies we tell ourselves and each other. This is something I’ve been working on – both not telling and not listening too.
The lie I would add is a variation of #10: You are not enough just the way you are. You need to be more. etc.
Your book has been helping me with this realization of this lie. This line from the Self-Love chapter really spoke to me and continues to keep me on track:
“Don’t lose YOU in your search for acceptance by others. Be aware that you will always appear to be a little less than some people prefer you to be, but that most people are unaware that you are so much more then what they see.”
Thank you, yet again.
Ben Pruett says
The one lie I was controlled by was that I should put EVERYONE else in my family first at all costs. And that cost was to me and my feelings of self-worth. If I didn’t put others first, then I wasn’t any good, helpful, kind, etc. I was almost 40 before I learned the TRUTH – I have to take care of myself too before I can truly care for the ones I love. I have been telling others this truth ever since.
Sandra Pawula says
That’s an amazing story about Thomas Edison! This is just so true, “We live in turbulent times. There are fewer guarantees and more uncertainties these days. Thankfully this also means there are lots of opportunities to be had. And if you and I are to overcome the obstacles in our way and seize the opportunities, we’re going to need strong minds.”
And, the wonderful thing is that neuroscience has proven that we can indeed change our brains, change our minds. As you point out, it’s a matter of persistence and dedication.
One of the “lies” I sometimes tell myself is that some people just have good fortune!
I think it’s also important to note that emotional avoidance isn’t good in the long run. That it’s OK if I’m feeling negative emotions. Acknowledging and accepting it will help me understand and deal with it. Self-validating my feelings will also help me in managing my emotions.
Walter P. says
THANK U! & THANK You All…I will get the book!
Judy Carpenter says
Some of the things you mentioned are harder than others for me. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and abandonment depression. I went through a lot of therapy and am now in charge of me. But I often have to step back and think whether something is really as bad as it seems or not. And whether I can do something about a problem or should I accept and move on. I am glad to say the time of those decisions gets shorter and shorter. Your list helps me clarify many things. Thank you.
Karun Advani says
All of the points in this post is spot on! Great article.
I personally think that one of the amazing traits of every successful person is the way that they have a plan B for everything. If not a plan B, then a plan C and so on. Very rarely do you see a successful person shell-shocked by things not going according to plan. They are ready to face any situation with enthusiasm and carefully thought out back ups in case something goes wrong.
Thank you for another good read!
I once thought I had to live in a way the world was presented to me. Now I am convinced that i can shape it.
Point 2 : Disappointment and sadness are necessary is a lesson I am very happy to learn.
I have been telling myself the lie that “once I make more money I will be happy.” Or, “once I lose weight I will be happy.” Or “once I do xx, things will be better.” I appreciate the art of gratitutde, and learning how to be thankful for life as it is. Your blog has helped me to realize that I am where I am supposed to be and that my life, right now as it is, is OK.
That we can’t control how we feel. We can’t control what happens around us but we can control our reactions to what happens and we can change how we feel.
Thank You Marc, this was a wonderful article. I was always concerned about what other people thought Most especially my family members. Then I realized their opinions and perceptions of me and my life could only be formed thru their own filters. And ultimately didn’t matter. They are not living my life with the hardships and heartbreaks successes and on going emotional strength that continues to grow with each passing day. Just remember take things one day at a time weather it be success or failure happy or sad, easy or struggle always seek out the positive things from an experience and grow from it. Even when it seems like a hopeless situation you ll find an answer that works for you if you work hard enough to find it no matter what. Otherwise you will find yourself stuck i n the same spot forever and not fulfilled. It is striving to grow and learn from our hard times in this life that make us all stronger and better people.
Knowing that the path is supposed to be hard is nice. It’s how I know I’m on the right path, when I feel things getting too tough and life piling up I know I’m doing the right thing. I get uncomfortable being comfortable, being comfortable means I’m not working hard enough. Thank you for another great post.
David Rapp says
These are all great points! I think one of them is the change vs. control shift. If you love control, change is difficult. If you love change, control is problematic. Its balancing these two dynamics that is true mastery. I have found that 90% of my stress was caused by perceived radical change or loss of control.
SO the big lie is you cannot change what you cannot control, and you cannot control what you cannot change. As long as you can change your mind and control your emotions, there is nothing you cannot change or control…because you maintain yourself.
I’d like to add a corollary…people set great stock by their opinions. There’s a reason for the old saying about opinions. Your opinion is meaningless unless you act on it.
Linda B says
I have heard this saying. I’ve believed in it. However, I’ve been learning some new ways of thinking, some new ideas. As a result, I believe that making a comment/giving an opinion, or choosing not to make a comment or give an opinion is action. And, even if, after making the comment/giving an opinion, I don’t act on it, it may cause someone else reading/hearing it to act on it. To make a change in their life. Here is a passage that got me started to think this way.
“That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything–every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate–is always changing, moment to moment. Pema Chodron, A Tibetan Buddhist Teacher
Maureen Sullivan says
This article is phenomenal… much needed information at just the right time. #6 – break the rules…not the law, just the rules – speaks volumes. Best advice ever. THANK YOU – yep, all caps!
I would add, the myth of progress. There is no inner development for mankind as a whole. We are no different than we were 10,000 years ago. Internal evolution can only be attained by the individual. Many lies of our society are built around the false idea that mankind is headed somewhere.
Wow. Are you spying on me? This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. I was spitting mad when I opened my email and started reading your daily dose of wisdom. I was mad because I had just opened a previous email concerning my collage and the changes that are coming. I am very unhappy about the changes because I am a planner. I set goals and work toward them. Carefully planning each step. LOL!
I am much calmer now after reading this post. I did some research on-line , then sat quietly and thought about the changes and how they will affect me. I have decided that I will “roll with it”. I will wait and see exactly what changes take place and I will figure out how to make things work for me to achieve my goals, not in spite of the changes, but, because of the changes. I got myself to think this way by writing an angry letter to the collage president, not a sent letter, just for me to get it all out. Let the anger go, determine exactly what I’m angry about and look at why I’m angry about it. I then did some checking on-line and gathered more information, looked into my options and further assessed the situation.
I can still achieve my goals. This situation is neither good nor bad, it just is and I must figure out how to make it work for me. A new plan is formulating as I type this.
Mitch K says
Would anyone in authority nowadays be able to let Edison fail a thousand times, or after his third unsuccessful light bulb would he find himself out on his ear, with his whole industry knowing him as a “failure” and a “drain on resources”? So often today you get one chance and if you don’t succeed immediately that’s your lot.
Gregory Feoz says
As others have mentioned in their own way, the lie that we need to somehow live up to everyone’s expectations is what has hurt me over the years. I’m just now getting used to it not bothering me anymore.
This article came at the right time. In the past, I was always looking for validation from others. It was so bad that I would actually feel guilty for doing well when my friends weren’t.
I realized loving myself is key to breaking down all insecurities about myself. Nobody else knows how much effort I put in to get what I want, so only I can truly love who I am. Whether it’s my weaknesses or strengths.
Also, I’ve always struggled to fit in and everyone was always telling me what to do and how I should present myself. I was unhappy whenever I did that. There is strength in walking away from people. If they’re valuing their judgement over you, you have to value yourself over their judgement.
Sometimes we feel that our life crumbles because a person leaves our lives, but then again as long as we are sincere and thoughtful, better things are really going to happen to us.
It’s always mind over matter. I am really grateful you guys are keeping up with this blog. It really spurs people on and may God bless your lives for doing that 🙂
Napoleon Nalcot says
Some of the very mentally strong of people I saw are the ones living in areas devastated by the super typhoon Haiyan last November 8, 2013 in the Philippines. These people have lost almost everything and yet they can still manage to smile and to think about rebuilding.
Many people will say a lot about something; many will come out with their own brand of voice to make a statement. But the truth is they don’t have all the answers.
In the end, when all of the methods already tried and failed, you will find out that you only need either of the two: that life has no solution at all (as it is not a problem), or you are the solution yourself.
Life is difficult and full of chaos and uncertainties. But these are what will make it a very beautiful experience. As long as you keep hoping, there’s always got to be a bright side of everything you’ll come to see about.
Loved the Edison story! So inspiring. It just really shows that perception is what shapes your life and having a positive outlook is the key to progress and success.
Another common lie: success is measured by______ (income/fame/personal achievement/your child’s success/apply to your situation).
As a teacher, I don’t measure success the same way others do. And it’s taken awhile to figure out that being a good educator is more than grades in a grade book. What is it for you?
Balaclava Blogger says
#10 is particularly true. I find that people use their ideal of perfection to procrastinate and postpone taking action towards their dreams.
“It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.”
-Carl von Clausewitz
Thank you for changing the way I think. I just bought the book and am looking forward to being more positive about situations… thanks again.
Hi, Great article, thanks for sharing.
Yeah. Strong minded people have a different kind of mindset. They have a fresh outlook for life.
I believe Negativity/Negative thinking is a luxury. They are only for people who have too much time. 🙂
For someone who is on his path in life, pushing himself outside his comfort zone, there s juts no place for negativity and blame.
Find out how successful people keep themselves away from negativity here: gameligit.com/lasting-happiness-fresh-perspective
Thank you. Each and every day I learn something new from your blog.
Marc Chernoff says
@All: I’ll admit, in the past I have been guilty of telling myself some of the lies you have added here in the comments. The key take-away though, for all of us, is that we now recognize these issues as “lies” and can choose to think differently. As always, thank you for the continued food for thought.
Debie Grace says
Thanks for these perspectives 🙂
Mike Cheliak says
I’m not good enough. That’s one that I have wrestled with through my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have shifted greatly in my self-worth and I am very aware when the “I’m not good enough” Gremlin rears his ugly head. It’s just part of “doing the work” and something I enjoy very much.