A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeve
We all have ideas about what it means to be strong. When you think about strength, what qualities are important to you? Do you think of a physical body? Or about mental fortitude?
How do we define strength?
There are several types of strength. We might initially think of physicality – the kind of strength we get from exercising and using our muscles.
But our bodies aren’t the only parts of us that can be strong. We can also have strong hearts and minds.
We define this type of strength as “The emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with difficult or distressing situations” (Lexico, powered by Oxford).
In everyday conversation, we actually discuss mental and emotional fortitude more than physical strength. We say things like
So and so is such a strong woman
How is so and so dealing with all those hardships so calmly? I would be torn apart! Now that’s strength!
When you admire someone’s mental & emotional strength, what do you think about? What actions are they taking? What characteristics do they display?
I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time. Anna Freud
What kinds of strength are we talking about?
Work Ethic & Preparation When we view someone as strong, we often think of them as “put together” or that they have all of their priorities in line with their goals. This doesn’t happen on accident – it’s a matter of hard work and preparation!
When we see strong people who are facing obstacles and handling them gracefully, it’s not because they naturally handle bad circumstances better than the rest of us. More than likely, these people have encountered obstacles before and have worked to respond in a productive way rather than lashing out. They have worked on themselves enough to be able to control the natural response we all have about panic:
What am I going to do now?!
These graceful responses also come from preparation. No one wants to think the worst is going to happen. We prefer the good parts of life; however, we the reality is that the bad parts exist. So we must prepare ourselves for the times when we know we will face hardship. When people respond calmly in the face of these obstacles, they have not only acknowledged that the obstacles will arise, but also how they need to deal with them to be successful.
Character & Values Being mentally and emotionally strong includes maintaining your character and values in the face of whatever or whoever might try to change you. While we might be influenced in small ways, hopefully for the better, we want our character and values to be steadfast.
Think about the people you admire. How would you describe their character? What qualities do they have?
Think about the people you admire. How would you describe their character? What qualities do they have? Chances are, you might consider things like being candid, empathetic, open to new ideas, and listening without assuming.
On the other hand, you probably aren’t thinking about someone who is selfish, someone who quickly bows under pressure, or someone who is so self-conscious that they make their decisions based on what others think of them.
Our values help us decide what is right and wrong. They’re what we most strongly believe to be true. We must include values when we think about emotional & mental strength because the strongest people are the ones who stay true to their character, and what they’ve designated as their guiding values. Much like a tree in a storm, strong individuals may bend, but remain rooted in what is most important.
Voice It’s one thing to be strong internally. To fortify ourselves and dig deep to find our inner strength. It’s quite another thing to do something about it.
How many times have we seen an injustice, no matter the size, but have been too afraid to stand up for what we feel is right, even when it’s something we deeply believe?
Using our voices to stand up for what’s right, and to be a voice for others who may not have a platform shows great strength. The strongest and most admirable people are those who are not only firm in their character and values, but voice their ideas to make change with their strength.
Our voice can also encourage others who need it, and ourselves when we feel our strength giving way. It is one of our most powerful tools because it’s a unique representation of our preparation, hard work, character, and values all wrapped up into a message others hear.
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.Mahatma Gandhi
How do we develop our strengths?
Self-reflection To stay true to what we believe, we must first have a clear vision of what it is that’s important to us. We know ourselves better than anyone else, which can be a tricky advantage. It means that we have a pretty good idea of what we believe (or want to believe), and we generally know how we act (or don’t act) on those ideas.
It also means that we have blind spots to things we believe we’re acting on that we are actually not.
To develop ourselves into stronger individuals, we need to reflect honestly and critically on our character, beliefs, and actions. We don’t need to share these thoughts with others, especially in areas we feel might be lacking, but we do need to be transparent with ourselves. We can’t grow if we don’t know where we are.
Practice Why do people say “Practice makes perfect”? – because it’s true! None of the strong people we admire got that way overnight. Once we are honest about our starting point, we can begin to practice the qualities we view as strong.
Do you want to be a better active listener? Or remain outwardly calm in the face of hardship?
These are goals achievable through practice and self-reflection. Will they be difficult? Absolutely. Will you miss the mark sometimes? Definitely. But they are goals that you can practice and grow every day.
Persistence We have reflected and practiced the characteristics we feel display mental & emotional strength. But what happens when we fail? When we completely “blow it” and feel that we have to start from scratch all over again?
When we fail, we must get back up and try again.
Take a moment and think about what that looks like in your life.
Failure is inevitable. It’s not something we can go through life hoping that it won’t ever happen to us because there is no way around it. When we work on building our strength, we need to consider that it requires persistence. If the strongest people gave up after a failure, the world would never grow and learn!
Albert Einstein tried to invent the lightbulb 1,000 times. He didn’t give up after 10 times, or even 500 times. He didn’t consider the 999 times before the success failures, but steps in a learning process. Persistence is key to developing our strength and learning how to use our voice.
Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them. Orison Swett Marden
What do we do when we don’t feel strong?
Question & Doubt Ourselves When we don’t feel strong, we question everything about ourselves: our character, our values, our decisions, and what we want.
Imagine a terrible day at work. Your clients screamed at you about things you couldn’t fix. Then you arrived home to find out that your dog vomited on the carpet, your spouse got a flat tire on the way home, and several kids in your child’s class at school have the flu.
In the moment when all of these things are whirling around your mind, it would be easy to think:
What did I do to deserve this?!
How could all of this happen to me in one day? Is the universe trying to send me a message?
While these are all terrible things that have, unfortunately, happened at the same time, it does not mean that you are being punished because of something you did. These nagging doubts are dangerous because they prey on your inner strength and leave you feeling more hopeless than before.
Compare Ourselves to Unattainable Standards In moments we feel weak, we compare ourselves to expectations and standards that are not realistic.
Imagine you’ve been eating healthier and exercising, but can’t yet see the results. You feel let down. You flip open a magazine in the grocery store check-out lane and see the celebrities in high fashion. You ask yourself:
How does she do it?
Why can’t I just look like her?
The reality is that many tabloids are full of photoshopped images, which means that the picture you are comparing your body to isn’t even the real thing! It started out as a human body and got erased to create a “more beautiful” woman.
We are constantly inundated with these ads and images that try to get us to purchase products that will make us so much “better” than we are. This is dangerous for our mental & emotional strength because it leads us to believe that we aren’t good enough in our own skin – which is absolutely untrue!
Compare Ourselves to Others When we feel weak, we look at others and compare ourselves and our lives to theirs. This is especially true with the current social media craze!
You’re scrolling through Facebook and you see that one of your friends just went on a fabulous vacation. The pictures, and their family, are gorgeous and you consume as many as you can find. Meanwhile, you’re comparing your own life to theirs:
I haven’t been on a real vacation in years!
We don’t have a house or kids yet.
They’re so lucky! I wish I had the money they have.
While you’re making these comparisons, you leave out the fact that you continued your education and got a higher level degree. You don’t have a house, but you pay double on your student loans so you can pay them off early. You live frugally, but work at a job you enjoy.
Comparing ourselves to others is a natural part of life, but it can be dangerous for our mental & emotional strength! We can wind up thinking that everyone else has it so much better than us when the fact is that we rarely have anyone’s whole story.
Minimize Our Successes When we don’t feel strong, we minimize the successes we have achieved.
You’ve just graduated college, with very good grades thank you very much! You’ve been faithfully searching for a job in your field for months, but have gotten nowhere. Your faithful searching turns to frantic as your savings run low. You finally reach desperation and take the first job offered to you. After all, you have to eat & pay your bills. During the soul-sucking job hunt you consider:
Maybe I picked the wrong career path.
I’m never going to get a job I like.
While these are legitimate concerns, they completely ignore the fact that you went to and graduated from college! You succeeded in holding down a part-time job during your college years, while maintaining your grades. You put in the effort to go to what felt like a thousand interviews, which honed your skills so that you could get that first job offer.
Minimizing our successes can be dangerous for our mental & emotional strength because it focuses solely on the negatives – what’s not happening in our lives. Even small successes change our perspective, and it’s important to remember that.
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.Mother Teresa
How do we access our strength when we feel it is lacking?
Take time to be with ourselves Taking self-reflection time to be alone with our thoughts is powerful when we aren’t feeling our strongest.
It is a time to remind ourselves of our progress, our circumstances, and where we want to be. It is a time to calm our fears and be ourselves.
I highly recommend keeping a journal of these thoughts, as you can review it regularly when you need some inner strength. Who better to boost your inner strength than you?
Develop a personal strength mantra Science has shown that we can positively alter our success by speaking to ourselves! This practice is called self-talk.
This is a powerful tool when we feel our strength waning because we can access it anywhere – nothing extra needed!
Taking this a step further, I recommend developing a personal mantra that boosts your mental & emotional strength. This will allow you to have a quick, positive self-talk with yourself when you need a boost in strength.
It could be something simple such as
You’re doing great, [Your Name Here], keep going!
Or it could be more complex like:
You’ve got this, [Your Name Here]! You’ve overcome [Obstacle] and succeeded. This is just the next obstacle.
Review current & previous successes Another great strategy to boost your mental & emotional strength is to think about where we’ve been and where we are right now.
A journal would be a great place to record your thoughts on what you’ve done successfully before and what you’re doing right now that’s working.
Make a list! No success is too small. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a life-changing to be a success.
Self-acknowledgment boosts your emotional and spiritual immunity, giving you the strength you need to release the past and rise above fear, doubt or resignation.Debbie Ford
On our journey through life, we all face change. Some good and some bad. We face obstacles that seem insurmountable. And yet, we survive. We face our fears, do the things that scare us, and succeed. We are almost always stronger than we think.
I hope that whatever you are facing, or however you feel about your mental & emotional strength, you will be able to find the courage and inner strength to overcome!
If you would like to read about how to make and accept change in your life, consider purchasing my book, Follow Your Heart to Discover Your Life Purpose. I would love to sign a copy for you! Click here for more details on how I can help you.
If you need assistance or guidance on how to begin your journey, I also offer one-on-one coaching services at Embrace Your Life coaching. If I can be of any help to you, I would love to schedule a complimentary session to discuss your goals.