When was your last OS!M moment? And by OS!M, I am referring to the sometimes dreaded, but always significant, “Oh, Shit Moments” of life.
Picture this: You’ve been preparing to give a presentation to the C-Suite (executives of the highest level). You have worked tirelessly for weeks on the perfect data points to reference, the right words to use and the meaningful graphics to present. You have practiced in the shower until the water turns your fingers into raisins, you have recited every word in your sleep, and now you are walking down the hall to the conference room to meet the most important people at the company. You walk in, you see what seems like a sea of stern faces glaring at you and you can’t turn around and walk back out the door. Right there in that moment, what are you thinking? “Oh, shit.”
That’s right! You just had an OS!M! This is the natural indicator that you are doing – or about to do – something important, and you are really (bleep) scared.
Fear is an interesting point of conversation. Many of us have been conditioned to believe fear is bad. True, fear can prevent us from doing something drastically asinine. However, avoiding fear can also keep you from doing something great, from learning something new, from growing as a human being.
The combination of fear and the many OS!Ms of life can cause extreme discomfort. We all want to be seen as the fearless leader, the badass boss, the mom who can do it all, and so it goes.
Too many business people want to be invincible. It’s more rare than not that a manager is comfortable with having their team see them fall on their face. It’s natural to want to be seen as the pinnacle of perfection.
Billions on Showtime has become one of my favorite series. The main character, Axe, is someone who doesn’t like to fail. In fact, he loathes it. In one scene, Axe proclaims: “I’m am not human. I am a machine. I am a fucking terminator.”
Although I applaud his unwavering confidence, most people follow the leadership of human beings, not robots. I do, however, believe that mental strength is a skill we can all benefit from and clearly, Axe’s mental strength is on point.
Resilience: Becoming Mentally Strong
We all experience terrible loss and hurdles at some point in our lives; the death of a loved one, a divorce or painful breakup, being fired from a job, suffering from an illness, or any number of life events that can be overwhelming and terrifying to confront. Some people are quick to bounce back, whereas others struggle longer, with higher incidences of depression, anxiety, and long term effects of stress that take a toll on their lives. No matter if you are on the left or the right of the spectrum, the uplifting news is that mental strength and resilience is in fact teachable and learnable. It may take a lot of practice and a number of different strategies (and perhaps work with a psychologist), but it can be improved upon over time.
I’m no expert; however, I have spent years working on improving my mental strength. Some of the strategies worked well for me, and others did not. Below are the ten methods that have helped me become mentally stronger. I hope they work for you, too.
Workout daily. Part of being resilient is that you feel, at least to some degree, that you have control over your actions and responses, and that you can problem-solve whatever challenges come up. Getting in physical shape can be very beneficial for your mental strength. When you’re out of shape physically, it can feel like you’re not in control of your body, let alone the stressors in your life. Therefore, the act of working out and being mindful of the importance of staying active can be extremely empowering.
Smile often. From Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance:
…known as the “facial feedback” hypothesis, an idea that can be traced back to Charles Darwin: just as emotions trigger a physical response, that physical response can amplify or perhaps even create the corresponding emotion. Related experiments have extended this finding to clusters of related mental states: smiling, for instance, makes you happier, but it also enhances feelings of safety and—intriguingly—cognitive ease, a concept intimately tied to effort.
Train your brain. As my dad likes to say: “Your brain is a computer. What you put in dictates the outcome.” Simple, right? No, but like any muscle, the mind can be trained. Try these three simple steps to help train your brain to be stronger than it is now: 1) The first reactions aren’t always the best ones—it usually takes some space to fully digest the situation before you can settle on the best response. Try to think about your response before responding, rather than just using the first one that comes to mind. 2) Take time to meditate. So cliché, I know, but all I can say is: “meditation truly works.” Doesn’t hurt to try, right? I use the Headspace app. 3) Every morning, before you start your day, write down a few positive affirmations (i.e. “I am…”). Or better yet, start each day by writing in The Five Minute Journal (click here to learn more).
Focus on learning. This is an extension of the OS!M. When something bad happens that may or may not be your fault, try to use it a means to learn what you could do better, rather than proof that you failed. Do not have fear in failing. When you can acknowledge that you have done something wrong, you are able to move past the shame and guilt. Many of us respond with the same patterns (e.g., defend, protect, attack, hide). Making the choice to see challenging circumstances as a learning opportunity rather than a time to protect yourself makes a big difference in your level of resiliency. At least if you fail, you know you’re trying and can learn from the mistakes you made to do better next time.
Eat healthfully. Plain and simple: you must treat your body as a temple. Good stuff in = good stuff out.
Volunteer your time to help others. Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. Volunteering gives you an identity. Volunteering establishes strong relationships. Volunteering makes you feel grateful for what you have. I don’t have scientific data to back this concept; I have donated hundreds of hours of my time and money, and I can attest that I’m a better person for it.
Do not be afraid or feel weak to seek help from a trained therapist or psychologist. Bottom line: There’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help for any health issue, including mental health. We all go to the dentist. We all go to the doctors. No one ever bats an eye when they hear someone say “I have a doctor’s appointment;” however, if someone wants to see a therapist for their mental health, people aren’t as open and uncritical. I wasn’t weak when I started therapy years ago but I did come out of the experience stronger and happier.
Stay social. It’s easy to isolate during tough times, by the logic that you’ll just plow ahead and deal with things by yourself. But this really doesn’t work. Much healthier is keeping in close touch with friends and family—it helps get your mind off things, but even more critical is that it can help you trouble-shoot more effectively. There’s something intrinsic about talking things out, vs. just thinking about them, that helps us work though problems and come up with solutions. And the social contact itself will make you realize that you’re not in it alone.
Perception beats reality. Ever hear of the “placebo affect”? Ever work longer and harder because you’re up against a deadline? Ever suddenly feel tired because you look at the clock and realize you only got five hours of sleep? It’s not about how depleted you actually are — it’s about how exhausted you think you are. Researchers call this “perceived exertion.” Your brain relies on cues from your body and environment to determine when you “should” feel exhausted. I recently had a long night and the next day, I proclaimed: “I only slept for a few hours, I’m so tired.” My friend’s response: “ You went to bed at 10:00PM and woke up at 8:00AM, you’re not tired.” Miraculously, I felt much less tired after my mindset shifted and I started telling myself I got a good night’s sleep.
Again, I am no expert but I promise these methods can only help and not hurt.
Stay healthy, stay happy and stay true to you – you are wonderful.
Thanks for reading!