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The Importance of Mental Strength

I don’t believe in victimhood. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of true victims in this world. There are still some Holocaust survivors out there (at the time of this writing), millions of violent crime victims and countless others who have seen the worst humanity has to offer. What I’m referring to is this modern-day, expanded definition of victimhood that runs rampant throughout the civilized world. The one that robs perfectly capable individuals of their dignity, self-respect and human potential.

I’m not writing this because I’m perfect in any way, because I am quite far from it. It’s to draw attention to the fact that much of what passes for helplessness today comes from a false sense of entitlement. I know many people who have beaten back far worse problems than I’ll ever face. So I can’t feel defeated for long without remembering that my own so-called “problems” aren’t all that bad. My life certainly doesn’t suck and whatever difficulties I do experience should be expected – and ACCEPTED as a normal part of life.

If you keep up with international news, or read history like I do, you should know who the real victims are. As far as I’m concerned, Holocaust survivors more than qualify. But what I find most fascinating is the strong will some of them had to survive. I once read about a 10 year-old boy who escaped a mass execution by hiding beneath a pile of naked bodies in the pit where they had been slaughtered. His mother had insisted he do whatever it took to survive, so that someone would live to tell their story. So he waited until he heard nothing but silence, then he ran for his life. He spent the next three years in the forest with a group of resistance fighters.

I’ve also read accounts of people with terminal diseases who continue to go about their daily lives, as though nothing has changed. Think what you will of U.S. Senator John McCain, but I just watched him march right back into congress the other day after being told he was dying of brain cancer. As far as he’s concerned, he’s still got work to do and it’s not over until he breathes his last. It’s worth remembering that he also spent five and a half years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. It seems to me that a prisoner of war or someone facing a terminal diagnosis would have more reason to complain than I would. I sometimes contemplate what my state of mind be like if I knew I was dying soon. I can’t say how I would take it, but studying people like this makes my problems seem a whole lot smaller.

Yes, I know. Someone always chimes in with a reminder about how not everyone is that strong. Well, obviously not. If everyone were that strong, there would be more successful billionaires, fewer suicides and probably zero demand for antidepressants. But of the ones who really are that strong, NONE of them were born that way. Our ancestors struggled with difficulties we can’t even imagine. Their strong minds were developed by facing actual threats to their survival from the time they were young. REAL PROBLEMS, not minor inconveniences. While we might not have to face such hardships today, we can strengthen our minds by tackling smaller challenges regularly – and willingly. As it turns out, developing mental strength isn’t all that different from developing physical strength.

What types of challenges am I talking about? If you’re overweight, try losing a few pounds for the sake of your health. Think about what this would do for your self-confidence if you succeeded! Why not learn a new language, just to exercise a different part of your brain? You could challenge yourself even further by waking up 15 minutes earlier each day to find the extra time you would need. Try taking the stairs for a week, instead of the elevator. Or if you never go anywhere without company, try going to the movies or dinner by yourself. It’s not going to kill you to learn how to feel secure in your solitude. On the contrary, it will make you stronger, more contemplative and less concerned about the opinions of others who can’t bring themselves to do the same. You’ll come to realize that you don’t really need those crutches.

The most confident, mentally strong individuals are the ones who are willing to run that extra mile each day. They’re the ones who do these seemingly unnecessary things just to test themselves and maybe enjoy the “high” of the resulting accomplishment. They’re the ones who always seem to feel better about themselves than everyone else. They’re the ones who aim higher than all the rest. They’re the ones who know how to handle whatever life throws at them – not because they’re better than anyone else, but because they’ve decided that it just feels better to be strong and capable. They like it enough to be tough on themselves when they don’t really have to be. They’re some of the most successful people on the planet because they are not discouraged by the same struggles that keep others down.

Why not try to open that side business you’ve been thinking about? Because it’s difficult? Well, there you go! That’s the whole point and the actual process of overcoming that difficulty is what will strengthen your mind in ways you can’t yet imagine. The process of pushing yourself a bit further each day is what you have to fall in love with, not the result. Just do it for no other reason than to prove that you can and watch what happens. If you never challenge yourself in life, you become too comfortable for your own good. The consequence of living in these comfort zones is that when tough times do come, they hurt far more than they should. It’s when people are faced with these discouraging defeats that they begin thinking of themselves as “victims.”

Make no mistake, you absolutely CAN become a stronger person inside. It won’t happen overnight, but by taking on new challenges regularly, you can condition your mind to think differently at a time of crisis. Most of the people who have made this a lifestyle aren’t planning to cross Antarctica or climb Everest. They are doing it because they believe in being able to cope with whatever life throws at them. If you’re raising kids, or even just planning to someday, you have a chance to set a strong example of how to live a good life the right way. In a world where kids are subject to so many of the wrong influences, teaching them to be mentally strong is one of the greatest gifts you could possibly offer them.

Mark Abbott

16 Comments

  1. Good Day, Mark.
    This is a fantastic read.
    I especially love your expression of “the highs we experience when we feel strong and capable”.

    Self-Actualization was well described many years ago by Abraham Maslow.
    Like you, I am not a big fan of victimhood. It has become very popular today and unfortunately, it gets confused with the real victims of real struggle.

    Teaching mental strength to children is an excellent idea, however, I find that the most difficult part of this equation is keeping the children AWAY from “toxic” influences and people.

    Are we “hardwired” for this purpose or can it be taught?

    Am I wrong to believe that some people simply don’t care enough?

    Is this related to self-esteem or is it inborn?

    Thanks, Paul

    • Hi, Paul! Personally, I believe it can be taught/learned. I’ll be the first to admit I was mentally weak for most of my life. I’m not saying I’m the strongest-willed person out there, but I have come a long way and it’s part of the reason I created this site in the first place. Just being exposed to ideas like these got me to thinking about my own life, bad habits, poor choices, etc… It helped me, so I hope to take what I’ve learned and put it out there for others. I think if it saves even one misguided youngster or helps someone who thinks they’re hopeless get back on track, then at least I’ve done something good with my life.

      I do think you’re right that some people just don’t care. At least not about concepts like these, which is a real shame. It’s evident that strength (of any kind, really) is under-emphasized in today’s world. Society is going soft, thinking that that’s a good thing. There’s more of an emphasis now on traits like kindness, empathy, etc… Unfortunately, lacking mental strength is not good for survival and we should not get so comfortable that we neglect to prepare for adversity.

      Mark

  2. Wow- this came just when I needed it. I catch myself trying to make myself a victim all the time. It is terrible and I am not quite sure why I do it. Perhaps it is because I am not quite where I want to be in life and it is less painful to blame others than to take responsibility for how my own actions. Thanks for the reminder to continue to take on challenges and improve myself. It won’t happen overnight but I will get there.

    • Anytime! And yes, you absolutely will. I believe it all starts when we begin paying more attention to these things. When you’re truly focused on improving yourself and actually begin finding answers, it’s hard not to act on them.

  3. I’ve dedicated quite a bit of time over the last year to learning how to develop mental strength and, like you said, I’ve found that by taking on new challenges regularly, I’ve been able to make huge changes in my life and my perspective.
    A great book I read recently that shows what this looks like is Jesse Itzler’s “Living With a Seal”. I thought the things I was doing were great mental challenges until I read that book and saw what it really means to challenge yourself and to become mentally strong.

    • Yes, it can involve a great deal of work. Just don’t give up! A few years ago, I found myself wondering why nothing was working for me. In fact, it was as though nothing ever had, in virtually any area of my life. Approaching 40 as such a colossal failure was profoundly depressing. Then somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that I would have been better at handling adversity if I had just pushed myself more. So while it’s undoubtedly easier to challenge yourself when you’re young, it’s still possible to turn your life around when you’re older. You just have to come to terms with the fact that you still have a few decades left and that you are worth the effort. Best wishes to you and thanks for commenting!

  4. I truly believe what you have so eloquently written about in this article.  I am a woman of faith, and I believe we all have a God-given purpose, and God never said it was going to be easy.  I believe that the trials of this world are preparing us for our mission here on earth and after we leave this rock.  It is not always easy to get through the terrible trials this world doles out, but I hold onto the fact that I have God with me through everything the devil dishes our way.  Thank you for such an inspiring article. 

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I agree. There’s no guarantee of anything here being easy, and honestly, I’m glad there isn’t. If anything, I think we learn to appreciate things far more when we have to struggle for them a bit. Thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  5. I loved this! It’s really something that can make you much stronger as an individual.

    We need to be more strong minded today in this world.It’s all about attitude because attitude is everything.

    Sometimes it takes going through a bad experience to realize what we should be grateful for.I totally agree with you that we should do things by ourselves sometimes because it does build a strong character.

    Most of the things we worry about are minor and never happen anyway.I believe that’s it’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!

    I love the challenges and I do them myself sometimes. It’s awesome!How much time do you spend alone each week?

    • Oh, I’m alone most of the time, lol. I’ve always been a loner, which is fortunate because I spent some time as a truck driver years ago and I can’t imagine what that would have been like otherwise. Even though I left the road years ago, I think it’s one of the best ways to challenge yourself, in terms of a career. Thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  6. Wow this is a good read. Makes a lot of sense what you said here. I guess it’s human nature for us to complain about every little thing, or our minor inconveniences. If only we can be more grateful of all things no matter how small or insignificant. We do have a choice, and we have to train our minds to choose what is positive. I myself need to get out of my nutshell I’ve been in for a long time and start working on the side business I’ve always wanted to do. No more excuses.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! Yes, a side business will do wonders for you in so many ways. I know it did for me.

  7. Oh fantastic read Mark, I really enjoyed it. I don’t believe I am a mentally weak person but I strive to be stronger every day. 

    To be honest it really gets up my goat the amount of times I hear people say they are offended. Everyone is offended these days at the slightest thing. I know it’s not politically correct and therefore I don’t say it but I think “just grow up”. They seem to think being a victim is a good thing!

    And now we have the term “resilience”. Everyone needs to learn how to be more resilient because apparently life is so difficult that we can’t possibly cope. Geez perhaps I shouldn’t have got started lol.

    Anyhoo perhaps my life doesn’t suck enough to be affected by these things but I also think being a student of Eckhart Tolle (if you haven’t read his stuff I think you’d love it) has taught me to be accepting of what is, to stop dwelling in the past or yearning for the future and just be grateful and live for the now.

    Great read, thank you.  

         

    • So true, Heidi. I tend to piss a lot of people off by not being politically correct, but that’s only because some things need to be said. It’s unfortunate, because until someone does bring these uncomfortable topics up, the same weak messages will continue to spread and it’ll never get better. When I think of my grandparents’ generation, I often wonder how people today would cope if they were suddenly thrust into something like the Great Depression or a world war. That honestly scares me, which is one of the major reasons why I’m trying to improve the message. Thanks for stopping by!

      Mark

  8. Hey, Mark!

    Just wanted to drop a quick huge thanks. Absolutely loved the message. And I sincerely appreciate that there are people who are spreading messages like this. Because it really is important. Many (I would say by far most) people don’t think of mental toughness as essentially a muscle one has to train. As far as I remember though, there have been even studies proving that it is (mental toughness being a muscle).

    There is nothing I would drop from the message you provided. Essentially it rings true to the very core of how people should treat life and what should be one of their core beliefs. That is “it’s not about where you’ve started, it’s about where you want to go”, and “if being a victim doesn’t get you anything, why not try’en go the other way?” The former is said and reiterated by the Greats of today’s World numerous times, the latter specifically by Wesley Chapman.

    All in all I believe that cultivating mental toughness is the most crucial muscle to develop in modern day and time. With it one can accomplish everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

    Cheers, keep spreading the good word!

    Have a Great One!

    Matiss

    • Thanks, Matiss! And thank you for stopping by. Yes, I do believe it’s far more critical than many people these days would care to admit.

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