Nobody is really born with mental toughness, I think it’s rather life experience that makes a person more resilient.
Take tennis legend Roger Federer, for example. The greatest player in history won seven Wimbledon titles, but he lost in the first round of Wimbledon his first three years of playing the sport.
Similarly, tennis star Andre Agassi lost his first three grand slam titles.
Then there’s Taylor Swift. The megastar country artist was passed over by the RCA for a record contract when she was 15 years old. They didn’t stop her from becoming arguably the most popular country singer of all time.
Lady Gaga didn’t have an easier time early on in her career either. The pop icon originally signed on to Def Jam Recordings when she was 19, but she was let go after a mere three months with the company.
If you want to live a truly fulfilling life, then you’ll need to be mentally tough. But what differentiates mentally tough people?
Well, they follow a certain set of rules. Here are seven of them.
1) They venture out of their comfort zone while still making stay true to themselves
I believe that when someone really wants something, they are willing to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of it.
In a CNBC interview, philanthropist Melinda Gates shared her advice for college students. “This is a time in your life when a whole host of opportunities will suddenly open up…and if you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll miss out on so many things worth experiencing,” she said.
“While you’re challenging yourself to embrace the discomfort of new environments and situations, also remember to treasure the things that make you uniquely you.”
I think this advice can actually apply to anyone at any age.
Mentally strong people tend to balance their emotions with logic so they can calculate each risk they face, adds Amy Morin at CNBC. “They’re willing to step outside their comfort zones and seek opportunities that will help them reach their goals.”
For example, they may feel hesitant about traveling on their own, but they challenge themselves by committing to traveling to once place on their own every year.
They might not like being the center of attention, so they decide they’re going to sign up for a drama class to get comfortable being in front of people.
2) They frequently face their fears
It’s not that mentally resilient people never have fears, it’s more that they’re willing to take steps to dissipate anything that scares them.
This way the “monster” will have a much less hold on them.
Avoiding fears only makes them scarier, says the team at NHS Inform. Mentally tough people are well aware of this fact.
“Whatever your fear is, if you face it, it should start to fade. If you panic one day getting into an elevator, for example, it’s best to get back into an elevator the next day.”
If I’m completely honest, I don’t like to drive on highways—especially highways I’m unfamiliar with and ones that are really hectic.
As much as I want to avoid it, I make myself do it anyway because I don’t want to limit myself and driving is an important and necessary thing.
Especially at night, I find myself facing the fear all over again. But once I’ve done it, I’m always proud of myself and the fear is reduced. I won’t say it’s gone completely, but life is a work in process after all.
3) They aren’t afraid of failure
Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a dear friend of mine who was talking about the impact her mother’s untimely death had on her. She told me that as difficult as it was to lose her mother at just seven years old, that she has tried to use the loss as something positive in her life.
“In a strange way my mother’s loss made me stronger. It made me go after the things I wanted. I figured the worst has already happened to me so who cares if I fail at something or it doesn’t work out? At least I’m trying. At least I’m going after what I want. Life is too short not to just go for it.”
These words have always stayed with me. When my own father passed away six years ago, I applied my friend’s mental resilience to my own situation.
I see failure in a whole new way now.
Mentally resilient people know that failure just refers to redirection or it’s “not right now,” meaning the timing isn’t quite right yet.
Failure can be a beautiful thing because it shows you where you need to improve. It can also be humbling, which is a good thing.
Mentally strong people don’t view failure as a reason to give up either, says Amy Morin, author of the book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.
“Instead, they use failure as an opportunity. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.”
4) They thrive on a challenge
Failure isn’t something to be afraid of, if anything, it can make you realize how much you really want something.
Mentally tough people most likely see failure as a challenge. I have a friend whose now-husband asked her out about ten times before she finally said yes. He says he loved the challenge and the fact that she made him work really hard.
It’s not that he overstepped my friend’s boundaries, but he just knew that he couldn’t give up on her, so every once in a while he would test the waters and ask her out again.
Morin says that obstacles and challenges can push us to gain confidence and become better.
5) They are dedicated to living an authentic life
As a journalist who interviews high-profile people based on memoirs and autobiographies they release, I can’t help noticing all the tell-all books that have been coming out in the past few years.
It seems like by the time I finish one interview, there’s another celeb, journalist, or well-known activist who’s about to release their own memoir.
It’s not just memoirs but also tell-all documentaries such as Brooke Shields’ documentary, Pretty Baby, Selena Gomez’ My Mind and Me, and most recently, David Beckham’s, Beckham
Celebrity candor has reached new heights, Sonya Dal Cin said in an interview with USA Today. Our culture and media is making it easier in our times for high profile people to be more authentic.
“Fifty years ago, celebrities may not have disclosed certain things about themselves because they or their team were concerned it would adversely affect them in terms of their career, and that seems to be less of a concern now,” says Dal Cin.
This means that as a culture, we are more resilient and committed to leading an authentic life.
I think part of it also is that tough people trust in their own path. This means they’re committed to living authentically by their own needs and values rather than those that are expected—or even imposed on them—by family, friends, society, and culture.
The interesting thing about living an authentic life is that although people might not agree with you at first, they often end up respecting you for standing your ground and having the mental strength to go your own way.
“Living authentically offers several benefits,” adds the team at Mind Tools. “[This] includes respect from others, the ability to realize your true potential, and happiness, and well-being.”
6) They have a high EQ—which is different from having a high IQ
Having a high level of EQ—emotional intelligence—is the main building block of mental toughness, says Travis Bradberry from Forbes.
“You cannot be mentally tough without the ability to fully understand and tolerate strong negative emotions and do something productive with them,” he says. “Moments that test your mental toughness are ultimately testing your emotional intelligence.”
Bradberry says that unlike our IQ, which is something that is fixed, we can actually improve our EQ with understanding and effort.
I would add that learning from our life experiences can also expand our level of emotional intelligence.
7) They’re grounded and they’re grateful
Mentally tough people know that there is no point in lamenting over the past or worrying about what’s going to happen in the future.
They certainly plan for the future and can get nostalgic in moments for the past like anyone else, but they don’t stay there. They fully live in the now with all their senses. Their mind doesn’t wander or wish that it were somewhere else.
Being grounded means you are in the present moment physically, emotionally, energetically, and firmly in the ground, says Terri Koslowski from Medium.
“It means your thoughts are not straying or consuming all your energy. You are not looking into the past with sadness or the future with anxiety.”
Koslowski says a quick way mentally tough people stay grounded is by simply taking three deep breaths…that’s it. The definition of living is to be fully present. “[And] being in the present is as simple as breathing, yet being conscious of its strength.”