Can you guess what the number one predictor of success is?
You might say it depends on how talented you are in your craft. Or perhaps, how smart you are in your field of work.
Well, it’s not.
It’s about how mentally strong you can be when the obstacles continue to mount and the storm lingers a little longer than you had expected.
It’s about grit.
As psychologist and author, Angela Lee Duckworth explains in her Ted Talk:
“In all our research, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. Andgrit is perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Your mindset can make all the difference in your life.
And mental toughness is the trait that builds and sustains that grit. Learn how to cultivate and develop mental resilience and you will nurture a higher level of grit in your life.
The best way to do so is to first get clear on what not to do. So here are the 12 habits that will help you build real mental strength, explained through the 12 things you shouldn’t do.
I’ve been working on all of the below for over two years now and I really feel much different today: more focused and confident, and much more resilient.
1. Don’t Shy Away From Change
Three years ago I had a terrible bike accident that left me blacked out on the street and at the mercy of strangers to come to my rescue. And here’s the biggest lesson I took away from it:
Change is the only constant in life.
You will either have to initiate change or be the victim of it, but you surely cannot escape change. A sign of mental strength is your ability to not shy away from change but rather create it. This doesn’t mean you should impulsively jump into new ventures (I did and it wasn’t fun), it simply means being open to taking calculated risks.
Here’s a universal truth: Personal growth does not happen in our comfort zones. So if you want to grow and expand, you need to actively seek change. You need to keep moving, trying new experiences, and be willing to see through the discomfort that such change brings.
Realize that the avoidance of pain is more destructive than the endurance of it. That’s the mindset you need if you are to create the change you wish to see in your life.
2. Don’t Fear Solitude, Embrace it
How comfortable you are in your own skin is a measure of how well you know yourself. And the only way to learn more about who you are is to spend time alone.
I first tasted the beauty and peacefulness of stillness and solitude after just five days of silence at a retreat in Sri Lanka. Today, I continue to incorporate meditation into my daily habits and make it a weekly practice to spend time alone with my thoughts.
“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung
Research has come to prove that there are several long-term benefits to solitude. It empowers you to become comfortable with who you are. It boosts your creativity. It improves your mental wellbeing. And it teaches you how to accept and love yourself.
People who learn to find comfort in solitude tend to be happier, experience lower levels of stress, and build greater mental strength. And I can attest to that. So stop fearing solitude. Instead, embrace it and make time for it.
3. Don’t Ruminate on The Past (or Focus on What You Don’t Want)
Holding on to the past is nothing more than an act of self-sabotage. If you continue to hold on to it — if you focus on what you’ve left behind — you won’t allow yourself the freedom to see what lies ahead.
Likewise, if you continue to focus on what you don’t want, you won’t allow yourself the freedom to fully invest your energy on what you do want.
The reality is this: The past is done and dusted. All that matters now is what you can learn and take away from it. Everything else needs to be let go.
Learn how to let go of the past. Doing so liberates your energy to focus on what truly matters: The now. Today. This very moment. Because it’s what you do at this moment that goes on to define the next one.
4. Don’t Focus on Your Weaknesses
What you give your attention to, expands. When I focus on my weaknesses, I amplify them, and as a result, I feel weak. When I focus on my strengths, I magnify them, and as a result, I feel more confident.
Studies have shown that when we focus our energy on developing our strengths, we grow much faster than when attempting to improve our weaknesses. We become more confident, creative, and energized at work.
That’s why mentally strong people make it a habit to water their strengths. They are aware of their weaknesses — and they do acknowledge them — but as long as a weakness does not harm their growth, then there is no reason to invest time and energy on improving it.
5. Don’t Expect Immediate Results
Athletes don’t break records overnight. Businesses are not built in a day. And skyscrapers take years to construct. Success is not instant; success is in the details of the process, not the outcome of the result.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” — Albert Einstein
You expect immediate results because you overestimate your abilities and underestimate how long real change takes (it’s okay, I’ve fallen for this kind of thinking many times before).
But the magic happens in the consistency of action, not the speed of it. So change your mindset if you wish to build mental resilience. Make it a habit to slow down and stay consistent. Focus on your progress and perfect the process; in due time you will start to see the results you want.
6. Don’t Give up After Failure
It took half a year of entrepreneurship to understand this lesson: There are no failures, only lessons, and experiences. And so I now see that failure is the way.
Failure shows you how not to do things so that the next time you try, you’re in a better position to succeed. Failure is not a step back from where you want to be, it’s a step closer to where you want to go.
What you perceive as an impediment to your advancement is what advances you. And the worst thing you could do after you fall is to give up and never rise back up again.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.” — J.K. Rowling
If you want to build mental strength, you need to fully embrace this perspective. Engulf it and wrap it as a cloak around you. Know that success does not build resilience, failure does. Make it a habit to rise back up after you fall.
7. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
The idea that we are in competition with others is a self-constructed illusion drawn by our scarcity mindsets. It’s one of the hardest things to bring to a halt, but if you are conscious of it, you can stop yourself from doing it.
Make it a habit to regularly remind yourself that the world is abundant and that the advancement of someone’s success does not impede yours — in fact, it can even propel you forward. Seek to learn from those in your domains who have achieved the success you aspire.
I now see myself as a humble but talented student who is consistently putting in the work to hone his craft while simultaneously looking up to, and learning from, the teachers around me.
Success is personal. So create your own definition of success along with an achievement list to keep track of your progress. This helps you measure yourself up against the previous you.
8. Don’t Focus on What You Can’t Control
Mentally strong people discern that all they have control over is this very moment and what they do with it. And it’s this attitude that nourishes grit.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca
When you offer attention to what you can’t control, you suffer in imagination, and you give your power away. When you salvage attention to what you can control, you’re being intentional about your attitude and how you invest your energy.
This habit keeps you positive, energized, and motivated. You move into what I call The Sunshine State of Mind quadrant of life.
9. Don’t Repeat the Same Mistakes
This was one of my biggest flaws. It’s so easy to fall back into harmful reoccurring behavioral patterns. I still do sometimes. But I’ve become much more aware of it and I try my best not to repeat a mistake more than twice.
Before dusting yourself off and getting right back up on that horse, take some time to reflect and observe why you fell off the horse in the first place before you try to ride again. Admit that you’ve made a mistake. Accept it. Take responsibility for it. Understand why it happened and learn from it.
Making the same mistakes over and over again is not just a sign of mental weakness, it’s also an indicator of low self-awareness.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” — John Powell
So whenever you find yourself slipping into the cracks, catch yourself in the moment. Stop yourself from fully indulging in yet another behavioral pitfall and practice higher self-awareness. You’ll be weaving the web through which greater mental strength can permeate.
10. Don’t Dwell in Self-pity
Life can be hard sometimes. Things might not go as planned. For the lack of a better description: Shit happens. And just like joy and happiness, sadness is a normal emotion that we should never shy away from. It’s the dwelling on our misfortunes, however, that destroys us.
Whenever you find yourself complaining about things ‘not being fair’ in your life, or thinking that other people have it ‘much better than me’, or even acting like the world is against you and it’s out to get you because you’re so unlucky, you’re playing the victim role in an otherwise, very generous life.
This is not a habit that builds grit.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” — Bob Marley
Here’s what to do instead: Allow yourself to fully feel what you feel, but stay conscious of the fact that the power to changing your circumstance lies in your perspective. Have the capacity to see the light that can emerge from your current experience.
11. Don’t Fear Taking Action
There’s a cycle to building up your self-confidence and it’s this: The more you do something, the more competence you develop for it, the more you fuel your inner self-belief, and the more confident you become at it.
Fear equals interest.
Your job isn’t to fight that fear, it’s to take one small step in the direction of that fear.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh
So make it a habit to take action because it is action — not thought — that begets clarity and confidence. Become a master of your fears, and thus, confident by default. Don’t feed your fears; fuel your faith instead — and nurture the resilience to keep going.
12. Don’t Shy Away From Empathy or Self-compassion
Perhaps this habit leans more toward emotional intelligence but seeing as how the emotions we feel are triggered by the thoughts we give our attention to, we can agree that the capacity for empathy and compassion are an extension of mental strength.
This is something I’ve been actively working on — trying to see the world through the eyes of others and acknowledging that my actions, words, and ideas don’t just affect my life, but also that of everyone around me.
And, more importantly, it’s about being compassionate with yourself, because, at the end of the day, one cannot give what one does not have.
What Matters to You
Bridge the 12 habits above into your life and you will cultivate greater mental strength. You will learn how to be okay with whatever life throws at you because when the storm hits, you won’t run away, you’ll stand firm, face it, and say:
I have grit. You don’t.