13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

How Mentally Strong Are You?

Amy Morin first appeared on my radar when her blog post 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do was published. The post went viral and was viewed over 10 million times. Behind the powerful advice was an equally powerful story, one mixed with tragedy but also with hope and resolve.

Using her expertise as a clinical social worker and therapist, Amy works to help people facing setbacks reach for happiness and success.  Whether you are depressed or doing well, studying these 13 ideas will make you mentally stronger.

After reading her new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success I was so busy talking about it and giving copies to friends that I forgot to circle back and interview her.  I’m now pleased to share our conversation in the hopes it may help others going through tough times.

 

“When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self.” -Amy Morin

 

3 Parts of Mental Strength

How do you define mental strength?

Mental strength has three parts: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Building mental strength involves learning to regulate thoughts so they’re helpful and realistic, understanding how to control emotions so your emotions don’t control you, and discovering how to behave productively despite your circumstances.

 

“Don’t allow inaccurate beliefs about your abilities to hold you back from success.” -Amy Morin

 

From Grief to Mental Strength

What inspired you to first write about mental strength?

13-Things-Mentally-Strong-People-Dont-Do coverI’ve always been interested in psychology and resilience. Over the years as a therapist, I’ve really enjoyed helping other people learn how to increase their mental strength. But in 2003, my interest became personal.

I had been working as a therapist for about a year, and things were going well for me both professionally and personally. But my life changed in an instant when my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. She and I had been very close, and I certainly learned a lot about mental strength first-hand as I managed my grief.

Then, on the three year anniversary of my mother’s death, my 26-year-old husband died from a heart attack. Dealing with such a sudden and major loss in my life was incredibly painful. I was able to take a little time off work, but I eventually had to return to my job as a therapist. Helping other people address their problems in my therapy office while privately dealing with my own grief taught me a lot about mental strength.

A few years later, just as life was looking pretty good again, I experienced another major loss. I had just gotten remarried when my father-in-law, whom I had grown incredibly close to, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Unlike my previous two losses which were both sudden and unexpected, this time I knew what was coming.

As my father-in-law’s health deteriorated I wrote my original list, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” It was meant to serve as a reminder of all the things I needed to avoid if I wanted to face the future with courage and strength. About two weeks after I wrote the article – in the midst of it going viral – he passed away.

 

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” -John Powell

 

Train Your Brain for Happiness

You’ve been through so much grief. Your pain is now benefiting many who are learning lessons from your experience. Part of the subtitle of your book is Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success. How do you train your brain?

Training your brain for happiness and success is not the same as chasing happiness.  When people chase happiness, they give in to instant gratification, and it leaves them feeling unhappier than ever. Building mental strength is about working toward your goals and living according to your values, both of which lead to happiness over the long haul. Training your brain for happiness involves paying close attention to all the choices you make each day and examining how those choices impact your mental strength.

Building mental strength is very similar to building physical strength. If you wanted to become physically stronger, you’d need good habits – like going to the gym. But you’d also need to get rid of bad habits – like eating too much junk food. Training our brains is similar. We need good habits – like thinking positively, but we also need to get rid of bad habits – like shying away from change.

 

“Mental strength is built by regulating thoughts, managing emotions, and behaving productively.” -Amy Morin

Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity


Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

 

Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.

 

Embracing Change

 

You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.

 

“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman

 

Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!

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Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!

 

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming

 

You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).

 

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett

 

In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.

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One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.

 

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker

 

Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?

Are You Living or Existing?

Photo by ’James Wheeler on flickr.

I met Kimanzi Constable somewhere between the blogging and Twitter worlds and heard his story.  He was stuck in a dead-end job, unhappy, and going through life in a way that was existing, but not thriving.  He decided to do something about it and began to change his life.  As he describes it, he decided to “stop settling, stop making excuses.”

As he began to change his life, he self-published two ebooks, which sold over 80,000 copies.  A short time later, a publisher called and he ended up with a book deal.  He quit his job, becoming a speaker and a coach.  His first published book is Are You Living or Existing? 9 Steps to Change Your Life.

9 Steps to Changing Your Life

  1. Identify Your Dreams
  2. Get Fit
  3. Get Rid of the Negative
  4. Fix Your Money
  5. Nail Down Your Plans
  6. Make the First Moves
  7. Tie Up Loose Ends
  8. Make Radical Changes
  9. Pay it Forward

Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book because for twelve years I had settled and made so many excuses to not live the life I truly wanted to lead. After many struggles and victories and tears I realized a lot of truths that I thought could really help people who were and are in the same position I was in. I wanted to show everyone that anyone can live the life of his or her dreams with the proper plan. I’m living proof; this book is my game plan on paper.

What’s the difference between living and existing?

The difference is realization, attitude and action. You start by realizing that time is one resource we’ll never get back, so we can’t afford to waste it doing things that won’t better our life. Then have the right attitude towards everything you do, viewing opportunities as a blessing and not another task on your to do list. Action means not wasting your life away watching the latest prime time shows. It means getting out and creating amazing experiences. At the end of your life you won’t remember all of the stuff you got or shows you watched. You’ll remember incredible experiences and times you impacted the lives of others.

Describe the moment when you had enough and decided to go for your dreams.

New Beginnings

Image courtesy of istockphoto/clu

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”  Frank Herbert

Today I’m announcing personal news.  I am stepping down from my role as CEO of Ingram Content Group and turning over the leadership reins to John Ingram.

Five years ago, I joined Ingram in large part because I was excited about the possibilities ahead for the company.  Excited to work with John Ingram, I signed up to accomplish certain goals, and those goals have all been met one by one.