13 Things Mentally Strong People Avoid and How You Can Become Your Strongest and Best Self
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About the Author, Amy Morin
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, mental strength trainer, and international bestselling author. She’s a highly sought after keynote speaker who gave one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.
Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do and 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, have been translated into more than 30 languages. She’s a columnist for Inc., Forbes, and Psychology Today and her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month.
When Amy Morin was 23, her mother suddenly died from a brain aneurysm. Three years later, her husband, age 26, suddenly died of a heart attack. Amy felt like she was sliding into a dark mental place so she reflected on her work as a psychotherapist and she reminded herself of 13 things mentally strong people don’t do; 13 reasons why her patients had failed to recover from a tragedy or setback.
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do initially started as a blog post that went viral. Now, Amy Morin has fleshed out this list with stories, checklists, and practical strategies that everyone can use to assess their lives and improve their mental strength.
It’s a tactical and actionable book that goes through things like control, worry, risks, success, failure, alone time, people-pleasing, and power.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing, it was here first”– Mark Twain
Mentally strong people don’t feel the world owes them anything. If a person loses their business and thinks: “I’ve worked so hard, I don’t deserve this,” or “I’m a good person, this isn’t fair,” they’re inviting more frustration and anger into their life.
“No matter whether you’re the smartest person on the planet or you’ve persevered through life’s roughest circumstances, you don’t– Amy Morin
become more deserving of good fortune than anyone else.”
When a mentally strong person feels like the world owes them something, they shift their focus to people in need. They look for ways to help their coworkers, friends, and family members. If we are busy doing good deeds for others, we’ll stop keeping score of our injustices and forget the world owes us.
If you focus on what you can offer others, you’ll: Stop Feeling Like the World Owes You Anything, Stop Wasting Time Feeling Sorry for Yourself, and Stop Resenting Other People’s Success.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from the reality”– Amy Morin
No one is immune to hard times. Whether it comes in the form of illness or some other personal tragedy, sooner or later, life’s going to throw you some curveballs. How you react to these situations says a lot about you.
One of the hallmarks of mentally strong people – those who aren’t knocked down when things get tough – is that they don’t spend precious time pitying themselves when facing difficulties.
So what do they do instead? They replace self-pity with gratitude – and you can too.
If you want an inspiring example of mental strength and the importance of gratitude, take American long-distance runner Marla Runyan. Not only has she run the New York Marathon in a little over two hours, she also has a master’s degree in education and has written a book.
But perhaps most impressively, she’s accomplished all of this while being legally blind.
At the age of nine, Runyan was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a degenerative disease that affects the eyes. Despite her quickly worsening eyesight, Runyan developed a passion for running and went on to win several medals, setting world records at the 1992 and 1996 Paralympics.
The key to her success lies in her refusal to indulge in self-pity. She’s always refused to see her illness as a disability; instead, she sees it as an opportunity, a gift that has enabled her to become a world-class athlete. Rather than dwelling on what her illness took away from her, she’s actually grateful for what it gave her.
And there’s good reason to take a page out of Runyan’s book. Research shows that developing your capacity for gratitude can make you stronger on many levels.
To begin with, increased gratitude can improve your physical health. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, for example, found that people who are grateful have healthier immune systems and suffer less often from aches and pains. What’s more, they also exercise more frequently, sleep better and enjoy a better general standard of health than their less grateful peers.
So gratitude is clearly very important. Now let’s turn to another feature of the mentally strong.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
“Resentment is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemies”– Nelson Mandela
When you see a colleague receive a promotion or see a family member buy a house you can’t afford, feelings of envy may come to the surface. While this may be normal, feeling jealous of other’s success eventually leads to resentment which can distract you from your own path, making you feel as if you are a failure. And while envy is a common trait, it is far from healthy.
Instead, overcome your envy of other people’s success and learn how to use their success to your benefit. Let’s take the example of Milton Hershey whose employee, H.B. Reese, began building a rival candy company in the same city while still working in Hershey’s chocolate factory. Hershey, however, didn’t become angry or resentful. Instead, he gave Reese his full support and allowed Reese to use Hershey’s milk chocolate for his experiments. Throughout those experiments, Reese created a peanut butter cup surrounded by Hershey’s milk chocolate.
Instead of viewing each other’s company as competition, the two men celebrated their successes and used one another’s power to their advantage. They supported their strengths, and in the end, they both built incredibly successful businesses. Throughout their lives, the two men continued collaborating, and after their death, the two companies finally merged. So what can you learn from the story of Hershey and Reese? When people enjoy and celebrate success, they attract other successful people which then creates opportunities for collaboration and continued success.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Give Away Their Power
“How often do you say something like, “My boss makes me feel inadequate” or “My mother-in-law makes me crazy?”
When you allow your boss or your mother-in-law to make you feel a certain way, you are giving others power over the way you think, feel, or even behave. No one should have power over your feelings, instead, you should change your daily vocabulary to recognize that the choices you make are yours.
Avoid phrases like “He made me mad,” or “I have to work late today.” Remember, only you control your emotions and choices, so say instead, “I’m choosing to stay late.” You see, mentally strong people don’t allow others to control how they think or act. An inspiring example of mental strength is the famous Oprah Winfrey. Raised in poverty and the victim of repeated sexual abuse, Winfrey became pregnant at the young age of 14, only for the child to die shortly after birth.
Wanting to grow up and change her circumstances, she worked and studied hard which led to a job as a TV news anchor. However, Winfrey still experienced failure when she was fired for being considered “unsuitable” to be on air. Had Winfrey listened to the opinions of others, she would’ve never accomplished all that she has today. Today, Oprah Winfrey has become a household name and developed one of the most successful talk-shows to date. But how did she do it?
One of the biggest factors in taking control of your feelings is forgiveness. When you hold onto anger and resentment, you allow others to limit your ability and disrupt your life. Therefore, it’s important to forgive others for their transgressions and place your focus back on you. Similar to how gratitude improves your health, those who practice forgiveness see psychological benefits as well. For instance, when people forgive others, their blood pressure decreases, and their hearts beat more calmly. Additionally, those who practice unconditional forgiveness are likely to live longer lives.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Focus on Things They Can’t Control
Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with cancer when her daughter was three months old. Heather went through multiple surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, and 12 months later she was cancer-free. However, Heather feared the cancer would return and her daughter would grow up without a mother.
Terrified that she couldn’t completely control the cancer from returning, she took out a marker and wrote down her fears on a plate. Then, she went outside, started a fire, and smashed the plate into the fire. The act helped her let go of what she couldn’t control and live each day to the fullest.
When you feel like your life is out of control, take out a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line through the middle. In the top section, write “What I can’t control:” In the bottom section, write “What I can control:” When populating the top section, remember you can’t control what has happened, you can’t fully control your thoughts and emotions, you can’t completely control other people, and you can’t entirely control the future. BUT you can control what you focus on, what things mean, and how you behave.
After you’ve listed the things you can and can’t control, rip off the top section (the things you can’t control), then continue tearing that top section into tiny little pieces OR go outside and light that piece of paper on fire and watch your fears burn away.
If you focus on what you can control and remember you can’t completely control people, you’ll: Stop Wasting Energy on Things You Can’t Control, Stop Dwelling on the Past, Stop Giving People Your Power (stop letting people’s opinion dictate your life), and Stop Trying to Please Everyone.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Dwell on the Past
Many people feel like they are haunted by their past and by the legacy of their parents and families. But it’s possible to find constructive ways to move forward despite one’s origins.
Take activist and social worker Wynona Ward. Born in a small village in Vermont, she grew up with a sexually and physically abusive father. Ward didn’t tell anyone about this abuse, but worked hard to get ahead in school and escape her hometown.
She got married as a 17-year-old and began working as a truck driver with her husband. But while she’d worked hard to free herself, others in her family struggled to do so. For example, Ward discovered that one of her brothers was now abusing his own children.
She decided that something had to change. She went back to university in Vermont and studied in every moment of her free time. After a lot of hard work, Ward managed to get a degree in law. With some financial aid, she founded Have Justice Will Travel, a traveling legal service for families in the countryside who were dealing with domestic abuse problems.
Ward’s actions show us an important mind-set of mentally strong people. Coming to terms with the past doesn’t mean acting as if certain things never happened; you must accept and forgive the past so that you can build on it in the present. For instance, Wynona Ward didn’t run from her past, or wipe it from her memory. Instead, she used her experience as the basis for making the world a better place.
Coming to grips with your past can be tough, though, and moving forward doesn’t just happen. To be successful, you need to start by taking concrete steps. First of all, you have to give yourself permission to enjoy your life, despite what might have happened in the past.
Then, you have to be wary of attitudes that keep you from experiencing change. For example, if you notice you are avoiding meeting up with new people because your last crush hurt you, think about changing that attitude. Your heartbreak in the past is no reason not to keep looking for true love.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
“Care about what others think and you will always be their prisoner”– Lao Tzu
While someone that focuses on making everyone happy may have good intentions, pleasing everyone can negatively impact that person’s mental strength. People who exhibit excessive people-pleasing qualities attempt to control how others feel, wasting time and energy because controlling other people’s feelings is impossible. If you find that you worry too much about pleasing everyone, you should learn to make choices that align with your values and act accordingly, even if that means disappointing or upsetting others.
For instance, Morin recalls a woman named Angela who aimed to please the men she dated by taking on personality types that weren’t authentic to herself. For instance, when a man expressed he enjoyed humor, Angela would try to tell jokes. If he liked spontaneity, Anglea would embellish stories of her life to make them seem more spontaneous. By trying to make herself more attractive, she began to lose her true self. In the end, she prioritized the feelings of others over her own and only said what she thought others wanted to hear. Living your life this way makes you mentally weak, whereas when you accept that you won’t please everyone, you become stronger and build courage when you anticipate displeasing others.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
“Mentally strong people don’t metaphorically dust themselves off and get right back on their horse. They pause to figure out why they– Amy Morin
fell off in the first place before getting back on.”
When you own and study your mistakes, you’re less likely to slide back into your old ways.
Experience less resistance to owning and studying a mistake you’ve made by imagining it was made by someone else. See yourself in the third person and identify the factors that led to the mistake: thoughts, behaviors, and external factors. Then, like a coach giving homework to a student, write down an alternative action they can take the next time those thoughts, behaviors, and external factors arise.
Now, generate a list of reasons you want to avoid this mistake in the future.
“Carry this list with you. When you’re tempted to resort to your previous behavior pattern, read this list to yourself. It can increase your– Amy Morin
motivation to resist repeating old patterns. For example, create a list of reasons why you should go for a walk after dinner. When you’re
tempted to watch TV instead of exercise, read the list and it may increase your motivation to move forward.”
If you prioritize personal growth and learn from your mistakes, you’ll: Stop Making the Same Mistakes Over and Over, Stop Shying Away from Change, Stop Fearing Calculated Risks (because doing something new and taking calculated risks are great opportunities to learn and grow), Stop Giving Up After the First Failure, Stop Expecting Immediate Results, and Stop Fearing
Alone Time (because alone time is the best time to reflect and improve).
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Shy Away from Change
“It’s not that some have willpower and others don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.”– Amy Morin
Judge Greg Mathis is a great example of a mentally strong person. Arrested several times as a teenager, he promised his dying mother that he would change. After being released from jail on probation, he started working at McDonald’s and eventually got accepted to Eastern Michigan University, and later, law school. However, because of his record as a criminal, he was barred from working as a lawyer.
It would have been easy to let this obstacle from the past stand in his way. But Mathis was always ready for change, even when it seemed improbable; he quickly found other ways to serve the city of Detroit.
After a period as the manager for Detroit Neighborhood City Halls, he and his wife founded a nonprofit organization that helped young people find work. A few years later, despite his opponents never missing a chance to bring up his criminal past, he was elected a judge by the people of Detroit.
Mathis’s success is a testament to another characteristic of mentally strong people: embracing change in your life. So how can you adopt the right attitude toward change?
The first step is to ask yourself which change you’d like to make in your life, thinking very carefully about how this change would make you feel. Pay special attention to negative feelings and thoughts, like “I’ll never be able to do this” or “There’s no use in trying because I’ve always failed in the past.”
Once you have these pesky thoughts and feelings at the center of your mind, you can decide whether you should listen to them or not. It’s highly likely that you’ll discover that such thoughts are unfounded and not worth listening to.
Once you’ve learned to ignore these types of thoughts, you can create a plan for successful change. It consists of five steps:
- Set yourself a 30-day goal. Let’s say you’re trying to learn French. A good 30-day goal could be to learn the 300 most common words in the language.
- Decide on concrete, daily changes in your behavior that will help you reach that goal. To reach your 30-day goal of learning 300 French words, you could decide on a time each day where you learn ten new words.
- Create a list of anticipated hurdles along the way. For instance, you might anticipate that there will be days when drilling words will feel like a boring, repetitive chore. When this happens, you could decide to picture yourself mentally in France, comfortably chatting away with someone in French. That will give you renewed motivation.
- Create accountability. Ask a friend if he or she would be willing to test you on all the 300 words once the 30 days are up. That way, you’ll be more likely to reach your goal.
- Measure progress. Make sure to keep a journal of how many words you’ve learned. Seeing it fill up with all your daily achievements will motivate you to keep going.
By being more mindful about your feelings around change and by using the five steps for preparing for change, you’ll be on your way toward your goals.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
“Don’t be too squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better”— Amy Morin
A major fear in many people is the fear of taking risks. Whether it’s risks in business or chasing dreams, people fear that risks far outweigh the benefits. However, it’s not enough to simply quit your job and follow your passion. Instead, big life decisions should be carefully thought-out and risks should be closely assessed. If you do end up quitting that job to follow your passion, there is certainly a possibility of failure. If you fail, you may be too scared to ever take risks again.
Therefore, it’s important to learn how to minimize risks and figure out which risks are worth the benefits. Calculate risks by asking yourself “What are the potential costs? Benefits?” “How will this affect my goals?” “What are the alternatives?” “What is the best thing and the worst thing that can happen?” “How much will this matter in five years?” If you write down the answers to these questions, you can review and examine them carefully to help you calculate the risks and make a decision.
Of course, taking risks doesn’t have to be making life decisions. We can look at the example of a famous psychologist, Albert Ellis, who was terrified of talking to women because of the embarrassing risk of rejection. After giving some thought about the consequences of rejection, he concluded that it’s not that bad to be rejected, so he started talking to women.
Every day, Ellis would travel to the local botanical garden and sit next to women who were sitting alone. Out of the 130 women he sat next to, 30 of them left as soon as he sat down. For the remaining women, however, Ellis would engage in conversation and then invite them on a date. Out of those 100 women, only one woman accepted his offer to go on a date. That woman didn’t even show up for the date, but Ellis realized this didn’t matter. Instead, Ellis discovered that he had no reason to fear rejection and he let his irrational fear prevent him from talking to women for far too long.
Taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone makes you stronger, so if you’re looking to build your mental strength, look at what is holding you back. Perhaps those risks aren’t as scary as you once imagined. Additionally, begin to practice taking risks and facing your fears. If you are scared of flying, get on that plane. If you fear to speak in public, sign up for a class and just do it. Open yourself up to new opportunities and start facing your fears.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Give up After Their First Failure
A major fear that many people experience is the fear of failure. Many will avoid failure at all costs, so they fear taking risks. However, almost every story of success begins with a long road of failure and perseverance. Simply put, those who succeed simply view their failures as stepping stones for improvement.
One of the best examples of never giving up is, perhaps, that of Thomas Edison. One of the greatest inventors in history, Edison is best known for inventing the light bulb. However, did you know that Edison had many other inventions that were complete failures? There was also an electric pen and even a ghost machine! Of course, you’ve probably never heard of these, that’s because they were absolute failures. However, Edison didn’t view his unsuccessful inventions as failures, instead, he saw them as learning opportunities and each one was just one step closer to success.
Research suggests that hard work is more important than talent when it comes to success. For example, people who practiced consistently for ten years and never gave up honed their skills and eventually became better than those who seemed naturally talented. This held true when it came to chess players, athletes, musicians, and visual artists. After 20 years of hard work and commitment, individuals with seemingly no talent could reach high levels of success and achieve world-class standards.
Failure is simply a part of becoming a success and is a sign that you are being challenged. You can choose to overcome failure, but how? Begin by creating a plan to learn from your failures and to avoid repeating them. Additionally, you should prepare to fail. A lot. If you get used to failure, it no longer becomes frightening and you’re likely to continue working hard and eventually find success.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Fear Alone Time
Many days, you are likely surrounded by noise. If you live in a big city, for example, your commute to work is filled with the noise of public transportation or even the sound of the radio in your car. Once at work, you may engage in conversations, have meetings, etc. There isn’t much downtime where your life is filled with complete silence. So when we get home from work, how do you cope? Many seek to maintain those noise levels by turning on the television. They aim to fill those uncomfortable silences, but when you fill your life with noise, you miss out on a powerful opportunity.
Research shows that spending time alone quietly results in renewal, rejuvenation, inspiration, and reflection. Avoid drowning your thoughts with technology or sounds. Instead, build your mental strength by designating ten minutes each day to do nothing but be with your emotions. During these ten minutes, you can think about your life goals and determine if you are on track to achieving them. You can also use the opportunity to think about new goals or dreams and use visualization techniques to imagine the life you want to have. Don’t forget these thoughts by writing them all down in a journal.
Additionally, try implementing small daily habits like turning off the radio in the car or the television when you aren’t watching. Or perhaps try going on a walk without your phone. These small daily activities have shown to decrease both anxiety and depression. Becoming mindful raises awareness and causes you to accept yourself at the moment.
You can even take your mindfulness a step further and turn to meditation to become comfortable in silence. Studies have shown that meditation positively alters the structure of the brain by regulating both cognition and emotion. Even more, meditation has been proven to have positive effects on those who struggle with breathing difficulties, tumors, insomnia, chronic pain, and cardiological problems. Learning meditation and mindfulness increases both your quality of life and helps you become comfortable with solitude.
Mentally-Strong People Don’t Expect Immediate Results
Do you keep your New Year’s resolutions? Probably not. A 1972 study that looked at whether people succeeded with their New Year’s resolutions or not found that 25 percent of participants had abandoned their resolutions after 15 weeks. In a similar 1989 study, that number had gone down to only one week!
The underlying issue is that our goals and expectations are unrealistic. As we never get anywhere near them, we get fed up and give up.
So how can you ensure you set more realistic expectations? Here are a few simple rules:
- First of all, don’t think that change is easy. Accept from the start that reaching your goal will be tough. This is especially important if your goal involves giving up bad habits, like giving up smoking. These habits are often far deeper ingrained in our behavior than we think; you’ll have a greater chance of succeeding if you simply accept that it’s going to be hard.
- Secondly, don’t create a fixed deadline to reach your goal. It’s good to have an approximate idea of when you would like to get your result, but don’t make it an all-or-nothing situation. Some programs advocate losing a bad habit in 21 days, but if it takes you 101 days, that’s also fine. All that matters is picking a rough time scale that you feel comfortable with.
- Finally, don’t think achieving your goal will make your life suddenly wonderful. Losing ten pounds, often amounts to just that – some weight loss. Don’t expect to also get a promotion and a new lover.
By following these steps, it will be easier for you to stick to your plan in the long haul without being disappointed.
This brings us to another feature of the mentally strong, namely that they recognize that progress is not always immediately recognizable. Sometimes improvements are well-hidden, and sometimes they even look like steps backward.
For example, the author once worked with parents of young children, teaching them how to manage temper tantrums. The standard advice was to studiously ignore the kids when they threw themselves on the ground and started howling and kicking.
Many parents initially complained. They said the tantrums were getting worse, as the children were screaming louder, making more of a fuss. Of course, the children were simply upping the ante. Angry at being ignored, they were trying their best to get their parents to cave in to their will. But if the parents persisted in ignoring them, the tantrums inevitably improved.
What this example shows is that it’s important to be patient, stick to your goal and keep working at it, even when you’re not seeing any progress at a given moment.
Mentally strong people refrain from feeling sorry for themselves, they never give their power away to others, they embrace change and they avoid worrying over things they can’t control. They understand that pleasing everyone is impossible and they aren’t afraid to take risks, of course, they calculate their risks carefully before jumping fully in. They also avoid dwelling and romanticizing the past, they never make the same mistake twice, and they celebrate other people’s success rather than resenting them. Additionally, successful people never give up in the face of failure, they face fears of being alone, and they don’t feel as if the world owes them anything. Lastly, successful people never expect immediate results and they understand that success doesn’t come overnight. So, if you’re serious about becoming mentally strong, you should begin by monitoring your behavior, paying attention to your feelings, and examining your thoughts. By looking inward, you can determine where your weaknesses lie and work on strengthening yourself and your mind.
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