13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

"Developing mental strength is about improving your ability to regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances."

- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, page 9

To get physically fit, we all know that there are things we have to do, like exercise, and we also know there are things we shouldn’t do, like eat donuts for breakfast every day, in order to reach that goal. To build our mental strength and perform optimally in our lives and work we do things like read books on leadership, but did you know there is actually a list of things we shouldn’t do? In 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, Amy Morin shares the 13 bad habits we have to kick to build our mental fitness. Throughout the book, Morin highlights how doubt, fear, hesitation and those kinds of attitudes, feelings and behaviors stand between the person we are today and the best incarnation of ourselves. To get into mental shape, she suggests the following regimen:

  1. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself
  2. Don’t give away your power
  3. Don’t shy away from change
  4. Don’t focus on things you can’t control
  5. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone
  6. Don’t fear taking calculated risks
  7. Don’t dwell on the past
  8. Don’t make the same mistake over and over
  9. Don’t resent other people’s success
  10. Don’t give up after your first failure
  11. Don’t fear alone time
  12. Don’t feel like the world owes you anything
  13. Don’t expect immediate results

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Go on a self-destruction diet

"Good habits are important, but it’s often our bad habits that prevent us from reaching our full potential. … [Bad habits will] slow you down, tire you out, and frustrate you. Despite your hard work and talent, you’ll struggle to reach your full potential when you’ve got certain thoughts, behaviors, and feelings holding you back."
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, page 7

To develop mental strength, we have to go on a self-destruction diet. We have to stop doing, thinking, or feeling the things that drag us down and draw our attention away from trying to improve our situation. In trying to uphold a healthy lifestyle, we each have different temptations that pull us away from our goals. For some, it is eating sweets; for others, it could be a preference for binge watching Netflix over exercise. Similarly, in building mental strength, we each fall prey to different vices. Regardless of what our mental downfalls are, we have to stay the course on our self-destruction diets and build our resilience.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Get the facts straight

"Self-compassion means viewing your failures kindly yet realistically. It means understanding that everyone has shortcomings, including you, and that failure doesn’t decrease your worth as a person."
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, page 188

Mental or emotional ruts are often based on distorted or incomplete facts. It is easy to falsely believe that our life experience warrants instant rewards or we should stop trying because a task is significantly more challenging for us than others. If we took a few moments to really evaluate others’ lives, Morin suggests we would discover a more realistic picture that can help us set reasonable expectations for ourselves. For example, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum went through 5,000 prototypes over 14 years before his first product arrived on store shelves. If James Dyson had stopped short of 5,000 attempts or overlooked the effort, time, or money it would require to realize his vision, he would not have had the personal success he enjoys today.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Stay focused on the life you want to live

"Progress toward your goal might not always be a straight line. Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. And other times, you might feel like you take two steps forward and one step back."
- 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, page 240

Another way we impede our own progress is by losing track of what we really want. Sometimes we fixate on an imagined life we could have had if we had just taken a different road years ago. Or we compare ourselves to others and chase lives we think we should want. Regardless of the ways we get distracted from the present, the consequences are the same: we become discontent, and this affects our overall life satisfaction, our relationships, and our feelings of empowerment to change the situation. In the book, the author cites a study of Facebook users who experience resentment and anger after seeing friends’ vacation photos. Over time, this actually led to overall decline in their life satisfaction. Morin recommends several strategies for remaining focused on the life you want to live, including brainstorming the kinds of memories and activities that would bring you the most fulfillment, cooperating with instead of competing against others, and creating short- and long-term goals on which to focus.

The 13 things mentally strong people don’t do are likely intuitive to the self-reflective among us who know in their gut what behaviors they have to give up, but this book is helpful in lending a few strategies we may not have considered in exercising and maintaining our mental strength. Morin shares real-life examples from business leaders and her own work as a psychotherapist that bring life and context to these habits that help the reader relate their own experience. Which of these bad habits are the toughest for you to kick, and what has been helpful in keeping them at bay?

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Brandi Tanaka

ABOUT Brandi Tanaka

Brandi Tanaka is director of a social sector consulting firm focusing on strategy, market research and impact measurement. She previously worked with education, health and environmental nonprofits and obtained her MBA to blend business practice with social good...
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