Exercises to Boost Your Mental Strength and Why it is Important

Just like it is important to do exercises to boost your physical strength, so is it also important to do exercises to boost your mental strength.  To me, mental strength is crucial when it comes to your resilience level, being able to manage your emotions and thoughts in a healthy and positive manner and finding the strength and fighting spirit within yourself to live authentically true to yourself according to your values.  And just like our physical strength, our mental strength needs to be maintained though willpower, commitment, hard work and establishing healthy habits.  Our mental strength also does not really come forth when things are going well, and when life is simple and easy.  It comes forth when we are challenged by life’s obstacles, tragedies and hardships.

When we stay committed in exercising our mental strength, the benefits can be life changing.  Yes, it is going to take time to grow your mental strength, but with consistent exercise, you will be able to reach your goals more readily and live your life in a way that is more positive than you could have imagined.  You will be able to tackle and overcome bigger obstacles with more self-discipline and control.  You will be able to trust yourself and your inner voice more and have the confidence to do the right thing under pressing and stressful circumstances.  You will be more satisfied with what you have in your life at present, be able to set clearer goals, perform better to achieve those goals, take control of your life and the things that you want to do and use the tools that you need to make those goals come to fruition.  Saying that, this blog is not the recipe for a miracle cure, it is not going to fix your mental health illnesses with a magic wand, but it will help you into the right direction in becoming more resilient and respectful towards yourself.

Now, be aware, just like coming up with “convenient” excuses for not doing certain physical exercises, you might not always feel like doing your mental exercises.  You will most probably need to get rid of bad or unhealthy habits that is holding you back and are hesitant to let these go.  You might feel like you are not making any progress and these feelings are quite natural, but these feelings are temporary and fleeting.  If you stick to your self-motivation, confidence and inner strength, you will be able to move forward and continue with your exercises and training.  Remember who you are doing it for and believe that you can achieve what you have set your mind to.  At the end of the day, what you want is to be able to live the life that you love and if you are willing to commit and work towards it, then the benefits can be life altering in a uplifting and positive way.

There are so many exercises that will help boost your mental strength and here are a few of them which will help you get started on your new and exciting journey:

  • Replace your negative thoughts with positive thoughts

We very rarely give attention to our thoughts and how it influences the way we react in situations.  Sometimes our thoughts are exaggerated and false, for example thinking “I will never be able to do anything right”, is false and overly negative.  It is important to be aware of these thoughts, replace them with more productive and positive thoughts, but still keep it realistic and true.  Negative thoughts keep you back from reaching your full potential.  It hinders your growth towards a fulfilling and loving life, and you want to stop these negative thoughts from spiralling out of control.  Keep a guard on your thoughts, monitor them, investigate which thoughts are true or false and work towards a more balances outlook on yourself and the events around you.

  • Be aware what you spend your mental energy on

Concentrate on the things that you can control and change.  Spending brain power on the things that you cannot control drains your mental energy very quickly and it will leave you exhausted.  You will not have the mental energy to be creative and think of solutions on changing the things that you can control, like setting new goals, solving problems or performing productive tasks.  To worry and stress about things that you cannot control, will not prevent them from happening, what you do have control over though, is how you prepare for the event as best as possible, with your own abilities, talents and motivation.

  • Evaluate your core beliefs

Our core beliefs influence our thoughts, behaviour and emotions.  It develops over time and depends largely on our past experiences.  Sometimes these could be false, inaccurate and unproductive.  If you believe that you will never be able to do anything right, then your actions, self-esteem and self-confidence will reflect these beliefs and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy which can wreak havoc on your life.  Go ahead, have a hard look at your core beliefs, identify and evaluate them and modify the beliefs that is not true.  This is not going to be easy and it is going to take hard work, but when the positive changes and beliefs come into effect, it can change the course of your life dramatically.

  • Learn how to tolerate discomfort

Sometimes it is necessary to be confronted with the feeling of discomfort.  Unfortunately, sometimes the feeling of discomfort could lead to someone partaking in unhealthy actions in avoiding the discomfort, like drinking excessively or emotionally blocking off.  But discomfort could bring forth an opportunity to challenge yourself and gain the knowledge that you can make the best decisions under challenging circumstances.  You can realise that the opportunity has presented itself for you to step out of your comfort zone and that you are willing to challenge yourself and see what you are capable of.  Instead of seeing the event as devastating, you can view the situation as an opportunity to grow, learn and gain better knowledge about yourself.  Remember that you can accept your emotions, but you do not have to be controlled by them.

  • Challenge yourself

This is an exercise that is going to take patience, motivation, self-discipline and belief in yourself.  Find something that you were always interested in, for example learning to play piano, but instead of just learning how to play simple tunes, you put your goals to being able to play a Mozart song flawlessly and with ease.  You start by downloading YouTube lessons and practising every day for an hour or so (if you have a piano already).  Take one step at a time and commit to a disciplined routine until you reach your goal.  You will learn problem-solving skills, fine motor skills, time management skills and many more.  If you give yourself a chance, you can learn to trust yourself, your own abilities and determination.  It is important to challenge yourself every day, function with purpose, but in the same breath, analyse your own boundaries and set yourself challenges just outside of these boundaries.  Remember, one small step at a time.

  • Read a variety of things

Start by reading things that you enjoy, like a good novel and move on to more challenging reading material, like a biography.  Reading stimulates the brain and expands our world.  It is relaxing and a good tool for me-time.  Read a variety of things that you enjoy and try to replace an hour of television time with an hour of reading.  This is an excellent tool for strengthening mental strength.

  • Make time for the things you enjoy

You are working so hard in bettering yourself and trying all these new things that you forget about your real passions.  Remember to allocate time to the things that makes you happy and that you love doing, like exercising, cooking or knitting.  You need to take a break and these hobbies are ideal for taking a break when you feel overwhelmed.

  • Socialise more

Sometimes it is easy to gossip or talk negatively about people and situations, but here I would like to challenge you to work on becoming social intelligent in a positive manner.  The point above focused on becoming book-smart, but here it is important to understand how things work in the real world and how to work on your social skills.  You can use your book-smarts to engage in complicated and intelligent conversations, you can share what you learnt and, in the process, meet different people who you can also learn more from.  You can reach out to people from different socio-economic situations and backgrounds.  Challenge yourself to become curious, practise your listening and communication skills and expand your horizons through your knowledge that you gain from other people and their experiences.

  • Create realistic goals

The operative word here is “realistic”.  It is easy and fun to dream big, but when those dreams and goals are too high or unrealistically ambitious, it will likely lead to disappointment and demotivation.  It is okay to have a big goal or to dream big, but the steps that lead to the ultimate goal has to be reachable and realistic.  When we break a big goal into smaller reachable steps and when we reach those smaller reachable steps one at a time, it serves as a motivation and will give your confidence a boost in your own ability to reach success.

By setting up realistic steps towards your ultimate goal is the beginning to setting yourself up for success.  Using the example above (Challenge yourself) about learning to play piano, you need a piano first.  You do not need the most expensive piano in the world, so the first step would be to save your tips and extra money to be able to afford a reasonably priced piano which is in fairly good condition.  That means that you must be a bit stricter with your expenses and not succumb to temptations when you see a special on a billboard.  Little sacrifices like this keeps you from becoming mentally exhausted and thereby setting yourself up for success.

  • What if things go wrong?

You have set yourself a goal, broken it into smaller steps and worked diligently towards reaching your goal, but you have fallen short.  What now?  It is okay, take responsibility for any shortcomings, but refrain from placing blame.  Look for an explanation that will help you do better in the future but stop yourself from making excuses.  It is not always the lady’s fault who drove to slowly in front of you when you had only 2 minutes to reach your destination.  Placing blame and making excuses will not allow you the opportunity to learn and grow and will only hinder the process.  Acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them and avoid repeating them in the future. 

  • Balance

It is important to balance any decisions with logic and emotion.  If you are unsure or anxious about decisions that you must make, write down a pros and cons list.  This will help you to make easier emotional and logical decisions and serve as a motivation that you are making the right decision.

  • Prove yourself wrong

Stop underestimating your own potential.  If you think that you cannot do something, work towards proving yourself wrong.  You are capable of so much more than what you give yourself credit for.  All you need to do is to work diligently towards proving yourself wrong, thereby proving that your negative self-thought is wrong and creating a space where you can stop doubting yourself and to start believing in your own abilities.

  • Practice self-awareness and self-affirmation

I know that this is a difficult one, but it is good to be able to honestly look at yourself and be able to notice your own flaws.  It may feel uncomfortable but being able to do this creates an opportunity for growth.  Do not be afraid to look your bad habits and flaws straight in the face.  Take these flaws, come up with better alternative ways of handling situations and make a conscious effort to change your actions with healthier and better thoughts and actions.

Just as noticing and acknowledging your flaws, you also need to allow yourself to notice and acknowledge your strengths and talents.  Give yourself credit for these.  Notice your posture and make a few adjustments by standing up straight, puff out your chest and lift your chin.  Tell yourself loud and proud that you are great, how motivated, dedicated and successful you are in your efforts in bettering and strengthening yourself.

  • Be mindful

It is so easy to let our minds wonder.  We forget that by just being present in the moment will help us become more productive and appreciative of what is around us at that moment.  Make a conscious effort to focus and live in the moment, notice what beauty surrounds you and what life presents to you at that moment.

  • Allow yourself the opportunity to fail

I know that this sounds a bit unorthodox, but by practicing failing you are giving yourself the opportunity to overcome the fear of failure.  At the same time, you are also learning a new skill and by practicing you become less likely to fail.  You are teaching yourself that you are capable of more than what you gave yourself credit for in the beginning and that you have the determination to keep trying despite failing a few times.

  • Learn to say no

Saying no is not easy, it is tough, and you might be scared to disappoint people when you do say no.  The thing is that when you keep on saying yes, then you set yourself up for being overwhelmed and burnt out.  You are your best advocate and you will not be able to look after yourself when you are spread too thinly between your commitments to friends and family.  Make the effort to say no.  It is going to take practice, but it is in your own best interest.

  • Plan for setbacks

Unfortunately, life does not always go according to plan.  We cannot control external events, but we can control how we handle ourselves after the setbacks.  What you want, is to prevent dwelling on the loss, disappointment or misfortune.  Put a plan in place that will help you deal with things when they do not go according to plan.

  • Get enough sleep

It is no secret that enough quality sleep is important for your physical and mental functioning.  It helps with on-the-spot decision making and contributes to clear thinking.  Practice a sleep hygiene routine, make your sleeping environment a peaceful, relaxing and calming atmosphere and implement deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.

  • Stand up for yourself and do not care what others think

How easy is it to lose self-confidence when somebody else tells you that you cannot accomplish something?  Stand up for yourself.  Tell yourself that you have the motivation, self-determination and willpower to accomplish what you put your mind to.  Cultivate and nurture a positive self-view by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  We also tend to fall into the trap of wondering what others might think of us, but that is really not important because what they might think does not influence your pursuit towards your own goals and dreams.  Build your self-confidence, believe in yourself and keep moving forward even though others might not agree with you or see your self-determination.  I do not mean that the opinions of our loved ones does not matter anymore, use what they say in a positive light, use it to grow and build yourself and allow yourself the space to get to know yourself better and to make the necessary changes to better yourself as a person who you can be proud of.

You will notice that some of these activities require quite a lot of self-searching.  If you are already depressed and suffer from anxiety and suicidal thoughts, please do not attempt to go through these activities alone.  Rather reach out to me or a therapist close to you to help you through this and any other challenges that you might have to face in the future.  Remember, you are not alone and there is a hand of support reaching out to you.

As always, I like to end my blog with a quote or two and the following really enforces what I am trying to say in this blog.  The first one if from Swami Vivekananda saying “Throw away all weakness.  Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.” and this one from Muhammad Ali who said “Champions aren’t made in the gyms.  Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.  They have to have the skill, and the will.  But the will must be stronger than the skill.”.  As a little bonus, here is an extra quote from Bob Proctor who said “Persistence is a unique mental strength, a strength that is essential to combat the fierce power of the repeated rejections and numerous other obstacles that sit in waiting and are all part of winning in a fast moving, ever changing world.”.

As a reminder, GEM Mental Health Therapy and Coaching has decided to offer Skype Video Calls, WhatsApp Calls and WhatsApp Video Chats in order to reach as many people as possible.  I have also decided to incorporate Counselling via Email, which seems a bit unorthodox, but some clients do not have the freedom and privacy to discuss heart matters in the enclosed environment that they find themselves in at this time.  Please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can work together on your mental health as we face these challenging times.

Thank you very much for reading my blog.  I truly hope that it helped somebody, somewhere.  Please send any feedback or comments to info@gemtherapy.co.za and remember to have a look out for a new blog every week.

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