Characteristics that make mentally tough people what they are

thomas-edison-quotesIf things are going wrong (and they often do, if Murphy is to be believed), how you cope up with it gives an indication of how mentally strong you are. If you see an individual all riled up because the job he thought was his for sure did not fall into his lap, you know that the mind is not in the best shape. So that we may understand how to deal with adversities that life puts before us, it is important to understand how mentally strong people deal with situations and what traits they employ to get there. Mental strength is an amalgamation of emotional intelligence, grit, resilience, self-control, mental toughness and mindfulness. Here is a quick glance at how mentally strong people behave, according to Ryan Holiday, the author of the forthcoming book Obstacle is the way:

They can see things for what they are
It is important to know that good, bad and ugly are just states of mind. Essentially there is no difference between them but how we perceive situations. Every situation comes with its share of pros and cons. It is our thought that makes things good or bad, and Shakespeare observed that centuries back.

Mentally tough people can see a circumstance objectively, without too much emotional colour. The first key to overcoming a challenge is to see things objectively. Even the best laid plans need objective thinking to make them flower in the right fashion.

Don’t go by first impressions. Let a situation pan out, get a bird’s eye view of the scenario. Once you do that, you will know that you can control only so much. Once you do that, a bad circumstance won’t hurt you that much and you will figure out creative or out of the box solutions to deal with it.

They know nothing is really theirs
U G Krishnamurti got it right when he said that happiness without unhappiness is unnatural. Yes, all of us deserve to be happy but that does not mean bad times won’t knock your doors. The Huffington Post says this about it: An attitude of entitlement — thinking that we deserve to get what we want most or all of the time — can make it much more difficult to deal with challenges when they come around and take you by surprise. This is a particularly common roadblock for Generation Y, according to Gen Y expert Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire, who observed that many Millennials have “unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback.”

We need to understand that every plan is subject to unforeseen changes, simply because life works mysteriously and in its own way. Don’t hold on to what you think you deserve. You just have to live every day as it comes, without putting a stamp on what you think is yours or should go your way.

They keep a cool head almost always
If there is one thing that is true, this is it: you cannot be happy at all times. However, what you can do is keep things on an even keel. Never get ruffled, keep a cool head and that will bring emotional stability, which is the best weapon in an adverse situation. Since, emotional stability tends to increase with age, it isn’t surprising that we become happier with time.

They are not thinking about being happy always
If the thought that crowds your brain is “How can I be happy?”, you are probably going to be sad. It can lead to an unhealthy attitude towards negative emotions and experiences. Mentally strong folks understand that negative emotions exist along with positive ones, and they accept all of it graciously. By letting different feelings co-exist, they become resilient. Positive traits like optimism exist because there is negativity. ‘Trying’ to be positive all the time actually means that we are being blind to the fact that it is not always true and bad feelings do get us sometimes. The idea is to balance them out, and let them be a part of your being without being ruffled by them. Social researcher Hugh Mackay argues that our cultural obsession with happiness can be dangerous, and that instead of worrying about being happy, we should concern ourselves with being whole.

They are optimistic, but refine it with realism
People who are tough mentally know how to pick themselves up after a storm has hit their lives. Instead of getting upset, feeling hopeless and giving up in the face of obstacles, they use it as an opportunity to think smartly again and re-draw their plans to fight the problem at hand. They are optimistic, but go about it in a realistic manner without grandiose ideas that have no foundation in reality. They have the hopefulness of optimists and the clarity of pessimists – the best way to fight adversity. They tend to think of alternate plans with greater ease instead of brooding over spilt milk.

They live in the now
The problem with the past and the future is that they do not exist. And mentally tough people understand this. They never dwell in what went wrong in the past nor do they keep anticipating what might happen in the future. They live here, in the now. And that allows them to see things as they are, and not how they should have been or should be. This is not about being in a meditative state. It is about being truly practical. Whether they meditate or not mentally strong people tend to have a mindful, attentive way of connecting with the world. Even science has demonstrated that mindfulness really can boost your brain power. Living now means living without baggage, and we all know how heavy baggage can get.

Mindfulness practice has been linked with emotional stability, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity.

They go after their goals with great persistence
Mentally strong people simply do not give up. They persist in the route of their dreams and devise practical ways of getting there. They are thoughtful about it and do not get let down. They simply persevere. This is a fundamental quality of resilient people. Or as psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth puts it, they have grit.

In her studies of students in a number of different educational environments, Duckworth found that grit more than any other single quality (IQ, emotional intelligence, good looks, physical health) accounts for students’ success. “Grit is passion or perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out — not just for a day, not just for a month, but for years — to make that future a reality,” she explained.

But they know somethings need to be forgotten
While having perseverance counts, it is equally important to understand that somethings, no matter how hard you tried, may not bear fruit and you have to let it go. Letting go, that is another trait of mentally tough people. A mentally strong person, after trying everything she/ he could to the best of her/ his ability, can actually say that it is time to let go.

The ability to recognise that you can control only your own actions, and not the results of those actions, gives us great mental power. This is not resignation, but recognition. This allows you to rethink your plans and come up with something that might be a better opportunity. Often mentally tough people do that by bending around a problem that refuses to bend. They adapt by using the wisdom that is around us if we have the heart to see it.

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Quick story on mental toughness

Inventor Thomas Edison’s laboratory burned down in 1914. The fire took years of work with it. This was possibly the kind of setback nobody could recover from. However, Edison did not despair. Instead he chose to see it as an opportunity to take another look at everything that he had done. He started on the road of re-examination with these words: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.”
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They know they have one life and they love it
While some might call it fatalism, the truth is the love of one’s fate is a secret weapon of mentally strong people. They accept their life and that makes them love their lives even more. They are not defeated by life, but they merge into their lives and live it with as much verve as they can despite the problems. This is what the philosopher Nietzsche meant when he used the term ‘Amor fati’ or ‘love of one’s fate’ to describe actual joy. Holiday says that this simply means you do not have to tolerate the situation around you or control it. The idea is to understand that it is probably the greatest thing happening at the moment, because there is no other way life happens. The greatest joy is in embracing the things that happen to you. Mentally strong people are grateful and appreciative of obstacles because of the simple fact that obstacles are life itself.

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