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.
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.
From Grief to Mental Strength
What inspired you to first write about mental strength?
I’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.
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.