Whether you’re trying to shave some minutes off your marathon time, improve your efficacy in the boardroom, or stay sharp in your social life, improving mental stamina is one of the most important things that you can do to persevere and get things done. Modern medicine is making it possible for people to live longer, healthier lives than ever before, but that’s only helpful if our minds last as long as our bodies.
1. Think Positively
No matter what sort of task you have in front of you, your attitude will make a huge difference in the way you tackle it. If you’re at the track getting ready for a round of Tabata sprints and are thinking, “This is terrible; I can’t do this,” you’re not likely to perform very well. The same holds true if you’re preparing for a test or getting ready for a job interview.
When you notice yourself having negative thoughts, stop the cycle and consciously replace them with more positive ones. Remember that this doesn’t mean lying to yourself. If you’re doing your sprints, don’t tell yourself that they’ll be a cakewalk; but rather, tell yourself that you’re strong and that you can do it.
2. Examine Your Perceptions
The way we interact with the world isn’t merely governed by the external reality of the world. It’s also greatly influenced by the way we perceive the world to be. And our perceptions, very frequently, come filtered through our beliefs. Sometimes when we’re trying to achieve something, negative beliefs hold us back without us even being conscious of them. For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking but believe in your heart of hearts that you’re going to give in and will never shake the habit, you’re virtually guaranteeing failure. If you believe that you just can’t lose weight, you’ll probably find yourself cheating and self-sabotaging. If you can change your beliefs, you’ve won half the battle.
3. Focus On What You Can Control
No matter how much you try to build up mental stamina, each person only has so much energy to spare. A lot of us spend valuable energy worrying about things that are out of our control. If you’re busy worrying about the economy, the weather or the uncontrollable actions of people in your life, you’re wasting effort that you could be directing to making positive changes in your own life. If you stop focusing on things outside of your control and start concentrating on what you can control, you’ll be more capable of real action.
When something hard is coming up in your life, try using visualization. You might imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful location to help you to de-stress and thus improve performance. Or you might picture yourself going through the difficult situation and succeeding. The more vividly you imagine and the more senses you invoke, the more it will affect your mood and your performance.
5. Remember the Good
A lot of the time, when the going gets tough, people forget all about their successes from the past. All they can see is the monster task in front of them. But realizing that you have conquered difficult things in the past can itself help you develop mental strength. Don’t pretend that you’re perfect, but realize that you’re worthwhile and that you’ve done good things. Recognize that, even if you’re still struggling, you’re making real progress. This will help you to believe that you can continue to progress and that it’s worth it to keep trying.
6. Try Something New
Often, as people, we get into habits. We develop comfort zones and stay inside them. Gradually, over time our comfort zones shrink, so that we’re willing to do less and less. At the same time, if we never go outside our comfort zones, we can become convinced that to do so would be impossible or traumatic.
The best way to reverse this process is simply to start doing things that are outside your comfort zone. If the thought of dancing is appealing but sounds embarrassing, sign up for a dance class. Try learning a new language. Learn to play games you don’t understand. Be willing to look like a fool. As you try more and more things, your comfort zone will grow, you’ll come to believe in your own hardiness, and you’ll build your mental stamina.
7. Don’t Expect Perfection
Increasing mental stamina is a journey, not a destination. Expect bumps along the way, and don’t expect perfection, either from yourself or your surroundings. Realize that there will be ups and downs. And realize that sometimes learning to regain focus after problems can itself be a form of mental toughness training.