The average workplace is a real mix of personality types. There’s the confident, the diffident, the focused – and then there’s the resilient type. These people are typically calm, cool under pressure, organised and capable. They can make work seem easy. So what’s their secret? Why do they seem better able to deal with the ups and downs of their work life and how do they seem to stay so in control?
Their secret is mental strength – their ability to not allow external things to affect their internal sense of self. The good news is that this is something everyone can learn to do. Take a look at these key habits mentally strong people develop to frame their outlook on life.
They don't expect to be happy all the time
Western society is obsessed with happiness. We want it and expect it and, often, if we’re not feeling it, we think we have failed. This applies to our work life as much as our life in general.
Mentally strong people tend to show a greater sense of perspective than others. They take a point of view that says you can’t be happy all the time. If you expect to have periods of time where things are hard, progress is slow and things don’t go to plan then you’ll be able to deal with them more easily. It’s a point of view that shares a lot with many eastern philosophies and religions where individuals and their actions are often seen within the context of longer time scales, and it’s a good tool to understand that - vital though today’s tasks and targets seem - they really aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of our existence, or the key to our happiness.
By embracing the negative as well as the positive, resilient individuals can avoid mental issues that can arise when people attempt to block out difficult emotions.
They live in the present
Living in the moment isn’t easy. Often we can get stuck worrying about mistakes we’ve made in our job or worrying about where our career is going. We can again take our cue from eastern philosophies that centre on the idea that we only have the moment we are in and there is no point in being anxious about what is behind us or ahead of us. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to understand the benefits of this approach. Mentally strong people are engaged with the world around them and focused on the task at hand. Resilient people will often be the first to jettison ideas like blame and instead of looking at why the group is in a certain situation they’ll take the “we are where we are” stance and focus on how to fix things.
In recent years mindfulness has been linked to increased brain power and wider physical health benefits too.
They don’t feel entitled
You can expend enormous amounts of energy feeling angry and resentful if you think you are entitled to get what you want at work. You are not, and mentally strong people realise this. “Why me?” is a not a phrase in their vocabulary, they know that stuff just happens and no one gets to live without difficulties and challenges. Accepting this as a fundamental part of being human helps to reframe difficulties as a part of everyday life, and frees you up from feeling angry when things don’t go your way.
Mentally strong people are not afraid of failure. In a risk-averse society we often avoid change and difficulty because we’re worried about making mistakes. Paralysis, anxiety and fear can quickly overwhelm us and if we run into trouble, it’s natural to think about giving up. Mentally strong people know that failure is an integral part of success. They’ll learn from a mistake and try again, do it differently and try again. The most successful people are often people who have failed many times.
Persistence is the determination to keep going, even when things get tough, as well as the self-confidence to know that when something does goes wrong, you can learn from the experience and start again.
But they know when to give up
Does it sound like we’re contradicting ourselves? Well we’re not. Albert Einstein famously said "The true definition of madness is repeating the same action, over and over, hoping for a different result". The crucial point about trying again is to do it differently, to learn. But there comes a point when the most persistent, the most optimistic and the clearest thinking person will realise that given all they can control, it is the right time to admit defeat and walk away.
From the mental to the physical. Keeping fit brings numerous mental and physical benefits. A study conducted at the Eastern Ontario Research Institute found that people who exercised twice a week for 10 weeks felt more socially, intellectually, and athletically competent. They also rated their body image and self-esteem higher which, in turn, is linked to higher levels of overall confidence and greater mental strength.
They get enough sleep
This one simple habit can make an enormous difference. Sleep is thought to help your brain sort through and store memories from the previous day. It allows you to recover mentally and physically and helps keep your emotions on an even keel.
Ensuring you get enough sleep takes a lot of self-control but the mentally strong know that it is worth the effort. Instead of working late every night, prioritise your sleep and you will be noticeably more productive in the office the next day.
They know that the journey is the destination
If there is a single approach to life that can help you stay mentally strong it is this: the belief that challenges and difficulties do not get in the way of your working life, they are your working life. Embracing adversity as part of the human experience helps reframe turbulent periods as part of the bigger picture.
It may sound like a tall order, but if you can learn to see the obstacles in life as one of its greatest gifts, you are well on your way to becoming one of those resilient people whose mental strength will be a valuable asset in any workplace.