You have somewhere around 70,000 thoughts each day and those thoughts influence every emotion you have and every choice you make. While you can’t control the automatic thoughts that first pop into your brain, you can control how you respond to them.
Believing your self-doubt, worrying incessantly about things you can’t control, and ruminating on the negative will drain you of the mental strength you need to be your best. Reframing your unhelpful thoughts, refusing to dwell on the negative, and purposefully training your brain to think differently, however, can help you build mental muscle.
When you choose to take control over your inner dialogue, you’ll become stronger. And the stronger you become, the more likely you are to experience kinder, more productive ways of thinking. It’s a positive cycle that you can create by purposely changing the way you think.
Here are seven strategies that will help you think like a mentally strong person:
1. Replace BLUE thoughts with true thoughts.
Everyone experiences cognitive distortions sometimes (irrational and inaccurate thoughts). And while there are many types of distortions, the acronym BLUE sums up the most common thinking errors: blaming myself, looking for the bad news, unhappy guessing, and exaggeratedly negative thoughts.
When you catch yourself experiencing BLUE thoughts, respond with a more realistic statement (or true thought). When you think, “I’m going to fail,” you might respond by thinking, “All I can do is my best,” or when you think, “I always mess everything up,” remind yourself of the times when you’ve succeeded.
2. Change the channel.
Problem-solving is helpful but ruminating is harmful. Dwelling on things you can’t change, rehashing things that already happened, and worrying about things you can’t control will keep you stuck in a dark place. When you catch yourself ruminating, change the channel in your brain.
Distract yourself with something that requires your attention and gets your body moving. Go for a walk, talk to a friend about an unrelated issue, or perform a household chore to get your mind off the issue. Changing the channel will help you switch your brain to a healthier way of thinking.
3. Argue the opposite.
When you find yourself focused on a catastrophic outcome, argue the opposite. List all the reasons why something may go even better than you expect.
Arguing both sides–the overly negative and the overly positive–can help you land in a more realistic middle ground. It can also help you see that there are lots of possibilities, and the worst case scenario is only one possible outcome.
4. Express gratitude.
Studies show the benefits of gratitude range from increased happiness and reduced chances of depression to healthier relationships and better sleep. Some studies have found that grateful people live longer.
Whether you write in a gratitude journal before bed or you identify what you’re thankful for over dinner with your family, gratitude only takes a couple of minutes of your time. And thinking about all the things you have in life could be one of the most powerful tools you have to ward off toxic emotions, like self-pity and envy.
5. Practice mindfulness.
We live in a world where everything–from your smartphone notifications to advertisers–are constantly vying for your attention. It’s easy to get distracted and to go through life on autopilot. To really feel alive, you have to be in the moment.
Studies on mindfulness show that it reduces stress, improves psychological well-being, and enhances concentration. Mindfulness takes practice, however. So set aside a few minutes each day to simply be in the moment and start practicing mindfulness throughout the day.
6. Ask yourself what you’d say to a trusted friend.
When you’re wrestling with a problem, it can be difficult to find a solution because your emotions affect the way you perceive the issue. But, it’s much easier to give someone else advice because you’re removed from the situation.
So, whether you’re struggling to decide if you should apply for a promotion or you can’t figure out how to get out of debt, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” Reflecting on the advice you might give someone else can help you develop the clarity you need to make the best decision.
7. Embrace a little self-doubt.
You don’t have to eliminate all self-doubt in order to succeed. In fact, studies show embracing a little self-doubt could help you perform even better than people who are completely confident. You’ll likely study harder for a test when you question your ability to ace the exam or you’ll stay more focused in the game when you think your opponent has the advantage over you.
You can’t always control the outcome but you can control your effort and your attitude. So focus on trying your hardest and your self-doubt may actually help you perform at your peak–if you’re willing to embrace it.
Build Your Mental Muscles
Changing your thoughts is just one aspect of mental strength; you also have to perform exercises that will help you manage your emotions and take positive action.
Start with one simple exercise and begin practicing it regularly. Then, you can begin adding new mental muscle building strategies into your daily routine to help you become mentally stronger.
To make your mental strength exercises most effective, eliminate the unhealthy habits will drain your mental strength. Giving up the mental habits that are holding you back will help you work smarter, not harder.
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