10 Mind Tricks to Make You Mentally Stronger

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“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” Laird Hamilton

I believe in placebos. When a doctor gives me a prescription, I’m taking it largely on faith that it will address the problem. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the clinical trials for the medicine, much less conducted my own. If it makes me feel better, then I don’t examine why.

In the same way, I’m perfectly happy with mind games. I’ve learned over the years we can talk ourselves down from the ledge and get us back to where we need to be. When you face a challenge, when an obstacle looms large, when you’re stuck, progress may be as close as a thought.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve developed many tricks for mental toughness and resilience. Here are some ideas for how you might get out of a bad mental or emotional place. These are things I say to myself:

1) “It might as well be me.” In my work in Information Technology, I was on-call for many, many years and would often be awakened in the middle of the night to address some problem. Over that time, I decided no one was going to be perfectly equipped to deal with every possibility. In that respect, I was as good a choice as anyone to handle it. Next time you have to deal with something difficult, just say to yourself “It might as well be me.”

2) “Failure isn’t fatal.” The paraphrase of a Winston Churchill quote is a reassurance we can come back from a defeat. As Babe Ruth said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Similarly, when you fail, you have eliminated another way not to succeed, so you are making progress.

3) “Will it matter in five years?” The things, which were of so much concern to you five years ago, at least many of the small frustrations of life, seldom matter today.

4) “Remember who you represent.” I sometimes remind myself I represent my company, my school, my family, my team, and other groups I love. If I quit on myself, I’m also quitting on them, so that’s not going to happen.

5) “You’ve done harder things than this.” It’s true. If you’re a woman who has had a baby, if you’ve gotten a college degree, if you’ve survived a bad illness, if you’ve come back from an injury, then remind yourself the current challenge is no worse.

6) “Eye of the Tiger” Almost every male I know has been inspired at some point by the training scenes in the “Rocky” movies. Maybe it’s Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” or The Script’s “Hall of Fame.” (Or maybe, if music isn’t your thing, Aragon’s speech at the Black Gate is more to your liking.) I’m happy to derive inspiration wherever I can get it.

7) “This too shall pass.” There was a time when Mike Tyson seemed invincible in the boxing ring. That is until an unknown named Buster Douglass defeated him. Those difficulties and challenges, which seem like unmovable mountains, often fade over time.

8) Association/Disassociation. Joan Nesbit Mabe, a world-class distance runner and inspirational friend, taught me about this technique over 20 years ago. It’s usually applied to physical challenges, but can also be thought of with regard to feelings. The basic idea is that sometimes you need to be exactly mindful of what is going on (association), but sometimes it helps to disassociate from it. Or, as one of my exercise instructors says when we are dying at the end of class, “Don’t even think, just do it!”

9) Remember what other people have to do. You know there are soldiers investigating urban warfare situations, parents making life and death decisions about their child, teachers dealing with children who they suspect are being abused. There are all kinds of tough things people face very day. Let the fact that they move forward keep you going.

10) “They said it couldn’t be done.” Don’t you feel a rush of adrenaline when someone tells you that you can’t do something? Don’t you want to prove that person wrong? While I usually try to keep things positive, sometimes you just need to show someone who says “It can’t be done” what you’re made of.

No matter what you face, you have the ability to face it with dignity and courage. If there comes a time when you must go down to defeat, go down swinging.

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