Becoming physically strong requires us to regularly use our muscles. In the same way, becoming mentally strong requires us to develop regular, healthy habits of thought. Dr. Linda Mintle says mentally strong people share some important characteristics.
“Mentally strong people don’t feel sorry for themselves. They don’t think about the past. They don’t waste time and energy on things that they can’t control, and things that maybe they’ve done wrong.”
“You’re going to have to take a few risks here and there when you try things. When you do try something, if you just think this is terrible, this is wrong, and you do what psychologists like to say ‘ruminate’ on your mistakes, you get to a mentally negative place and it isn’t good for pushing you forward.”
Another building block of mental strength is not allowing other’s opinions to determine how you feel and react.
“No one has the power to define you but God. He’s the only one who really can say who you are, and if you read the scripture…what does God say about who we are? How He thinks about us, how He cares for us, how He unconditionally loves us–don’t give other people the power to decide who you are.”
“No matter what other people do to you, the only thing you have control over is the way you react to those people. You may not be able to control people from saying or doing bad things, from hurting you in some way, but you do have the power to react in a way that honors God and imitates the life of Christ. That’s the part we do control.”
We know that ultimately, it’s the power of Christ that transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). However, developing these habits of mental strength doesn’t happen overnight: it takes discernment and practice. For example, mentally strong people don’t dwell on the mistakes of their past–but they do learn from those mistakes.
“Our past does influence us, and it is part of the way we respond in the present, but it doesn’t have to be prescriptive. Part of the the work that I do with people is we look at the past in terms of what can we learn from it: what are the patterns of behavior that we’ve brought in, and what do we need to change about that? But don’t go back and dwell on mistakes or bad decisions you’ve made, or terrible things that have happened to you. You need to work through those things and resolve them, and you need to forgive people.
“If you don’t forgive, then you’re going to develop a root of bitterness which will affect you, not only in your mental health but in your physical body and in your spiritual health. Mentally strong people do not dwell on the past: they look at that they learn from it, they move forward, and they appropriate God’s forgiveness and His grace in their lives–and they give that grace to other people as well.”
Dr. Linda Mintle is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker and national expert on relationships and the psychology of food, weight and body image. She’s a best-selling author with 19 book titles to her credit and hosts The Dr. Linda Mintle Show.