13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

by Amy Morin

Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face your fears and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success.

What’s in it for me?

Overcome what’s holding you back and live the life you dream of.

As a trained psychotherapist, Amy Morin is used to helping those that are struggling – but in the year 2013, she was struggling herself. She had lost her mom and her husband, and then, after remarrying, she learned that her new father-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer. She called it her lowest point in life.

Close to the breaking point, she sat down and wrote a letter to herself. In it, she made a list with 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do. Later, she shared it on her blog. The article went viral and ultimately reached 50 million people. One year later, she made it into a book that became a best seller and was translated into 40 languages.

Here, you’ll learn about 13 real-life examples about 13 different bad habits and how those bad habits were replaced by better ones. In the process, you’ll stock up your personal toolbox for life’s notorious hardships. So let’s get started.

You’ll also learn

  • How to take a calculated risk;
  • That collaborating is better than competing; and
  • Why earning is better than deserving.
Mentally strong people replace self-pity with gratitude.

One day, Amy Morin witnessed a minor accident: two cars in a supermarket parking lot were backing up and bumped into each other. Morin watched the two drivers get out of the car and she couldn’t help noticing something. Even though those drivers just experienced the same accident, their reactions couldn’t have been more different. The first driver got out and looked almost relieved. How lucky he was that no one was seriously hurt! How miraculous that this hadn’t led to a serious injury! The second driver, however, felt rather unlucky: Oh great, he moaned. Just exactly what he needed! Why does this BS always happen to him?

So, what’s the point? Well, the second driver is a perfect example of the first behavior that mentally strong people don’t do: he is pitying himself. He is sulking, dwelling in his misfortune, throwing a pity party. People who pity themselves tend to think their problems are much worse. They complain that life is not fair and when you ask them how their day went, they will readily hand you a list of all the things that went wrong.

But as common as it is, it’s also a problem. Because feeling sorry for yourself can be quite self-destructive. You're not only wasting your time; you’re also training your mind to focus on the negatives. Which will make you more miserable, and this in turn will make you focus even more on the downsides. Meanwhile, all the good luck and positive experiences pass by unnoticed.

So, yes, self-pity is destructive. But how can you stop? Well, the most effective antidote is gratitude. If you’re stuck in a mindset of “Bad things are always happening to me,” just stop for a second. Sit down and write a list of the good things that have happened to you. To make it more regular, you can also keep a gratitude journal. All you have to do is write down at least one thing you are grateful for per day. Also, it helps to say it out loud – tell the people around you what life has gifted you.

Sooner or later, you might find yourself in the mindset of the first driver. Instead of complaining about a minor accident, you’ll actually feel thankful that nothing worse has happened. Which brings you one step closer to becoming a mentally strong person.

Mentally strong people hold onto their power and forgive others.

Let’s meet Lauren, a loving mother of two. She nearly had a picture-perfect family life, if it wasn’t for one thing: her mother-in-law. Lauren found her overbearing. Not only would she come over unannounced, she constantly criticized Lauren’s parenting style and even made nasty comments about her weight. Lauren always kept a polite smile on the outside, but was boiling on the inside. And it wasn’t only that her mother-in-law occupied precious family time; Lauren also found herself ruminating and complaining about her at least several hours per week. Clearly, something was wrong.

Which brings us to the second habit that mentally strong people don’t do: they don’t let other people have power over them.

This was the core of Lauren’s problem: because she was afraid of speaking up, she let her mother-in-law control how she felt and behaved. There are many ways in which this habit can manifest. If you’re susceptible to other people’s criticism, if you let other people make you angry, if other people can guilt you into doing something you don’t wanna do – it’s a sign that you give others power over you.

So how do you take back control over your life? Let’s take another look at Lauren. After she realized how much time and energy she spent complaining about her mother-in-law, she sat down with her husband. They decided to set respectful, but clear and healthy boundaries. So they had a talk with her. They told her that instead of her dropping by unannounced, they would regularly invite her for dinner. They also demanded that she stop criticizing Lauren’s parenting style. In the beginning, it was hard for her mother-in-law to adapt – but she managed. And Lauren got back control over her family home and her life.

Retaining your power is about being confident in who you are and the choices you make, despite the people around you and the circumstances you are in

Mentally strong people are always ready to embrace change.

Richard was frustrated. He just got diagnosed with diabetes and his doctor told him he was 75 pounds overweight, so he felt like he needed to make a change – which was easier said than done. He made a pledge to abstain from any sort of junk food; he even cleared his shelves of all the cookies and sugary drinks. He signed up for the gym. All of this sounded like a good plan – on paper. In real life, though, he soon found himself snacking in front of the TV instead of exercising. Despite all the best intentions, he didn’t lose a single pound!

Let’s face it: Making a change is difficult. But if you lack the mental strength, it’s easy to shy away from it. But this comes at a heavy price: Without change, you can feel like you’re stuck while others are outgrowing you.

So how do mentally strong people approach change? First and foremost, they avoid the single biggest pitfall: overwhelming yourself with too much change at once. This is what happened with Richard. His methods were just too radical, too unrealistic – he set himself up for failure.

Instead, try these two tips.

First, break down your ambition into smaller, more reachable goals. Replace radical change with incremental change. This is what Richard learned to do. Instead of wanting to lose 75 pounds at once, he now strived to lose five pounds as a first step.

And, secondly, make a plan. This means you craft concrete action steps that are easy to follow. For example, Richard started a food journal to keep track of his eating and prepared lunch instead of eating out. He planned out three gym visits per week in advance and for the other days, he made a pledge to go for a short walk with his family after dinner.

So now we know how mentally strong people handle change: They avoid the scary all-or-nothing-change and instead they craft smaller and more realistic goals and attach concrete actions to it that they can do daily. You can make change so un-scary that shying away from it is simply not an option anymore.

Mentally strong people don’t get distracted by things they can’t control.

One day, James wanted to spend an afternoon whale watching with his daughter. Such dates had become a rare and cherished occasion; after the divorce from his wife, Carmen, she was granted primary custody while James was only allowed to see her on Wednesdays and weekends. To make things even more complicated, the divorced parents were competing over their daughter’s favor, trying to trump one another with gifts and fun activities. So when he learned from his daughter that her mom had taken her on a whale watching trip just the week prior – supposedly to ruin their whale watching trip – James was infuriated. Instead of enjoying the rare quality time with his daughter, he sent angry text messages to his ex-wife. The afternoon was ruined.

So what exactly are we witnessing here? It’s this: James got unnecessarily upset about something that was outside his control. But like most people, James loves to have full control over the situation. This includes telling people what and what not to do. But this just made the situation worse, spoiling the already rare quality time with his daughter.

Mentally strong people, on the other hand, develop a balanced sense of control. They have a good grip of what they can and cannot control and therefore invest their time and energy more wisely.

The first step here is clear: You need to acknowledge that there are some things you won’t be able to change. For example, you won’t be able to force your child to be an A+ student, you can’t force people to follow your advice, and you cannot control illnesses or the weather.

Once you’ve accepted that some things are out of your control, you can focus on what’s actually in your sphere of influence. And then you make the best out of the circumstances.

Which brings us back to James. Soon he realized he won’t be able to change his ex-wife, and also has no power over how she spends her time with their daughter. What he could do is make the best out of his time with his daughter. So instead of complaining or dragging his ex-wife to court over custody, he learned to be more present and enjoy every bit of time he gets to have with his daughter.

Always wanting to please others doesn’t work, and being ready to sometimes displease makes you stronger.

This time, let’s say hi to Megan. Megan had a relatable problem: she felt constantly stressed. The to-dos seemed to pour in from all sides – church members asked her to quickly bake some muffins for Sunday Service, her sister needed her as a babysitter, and her cousin always came over with some last-minute favor to ask. Soon it became clear that Megan’s stress had a particular reason: it was because she had a hard time saying no. Or, in other words, she was a people pleaser.

Being nice is – well, nice. But it becomes a problem if you’re being too nice. First of all, people who tend to be too nice can be easily taken advantage of. Since they hate to disagree, they will rather say yes than risk a conflict. Not only are they constantly concerned about what other people think about them, they will also go to great lengths to change their behavior so that they appear more likeable, often at the expense of their own desires and wishes.

It’s not hard to guess what’s wrong with this sort of behavior. If you always focus on other people’s needs, you're not gonna get your own needs met. Not only is it extremely stressful; it can also damage your relationships. That’s what happened with Megan. Because she always said yes to the short-term requests of her cousin, she grew frustrated and behaved irritably toward her own family. Sometimes she’d even miss dinner or couldn’t put her kids to bed.

So if you find yourself to be an overly agreeable person, what can you do? Here are two tips:

Tip number one is that you have to remember one thing: It’s not your job to make everybody happy all the time. It’s okay if someone else feels mad or upset. It’s not the end of the world. They’re grown-ups, and they learned how to cope with negative emotions just as you did.

Tip number two is a rather practical one. If someone asks you for a favor, take some time before you say yes or no. This is actually what the author told Megan. Whenever someone asked her for something, she felt pressed and automatically said yes, even if she didn’t want to. So Morin gave her a script, something she could easily respond with in those situations. For example, when someone asked her for a favor, she said something like this: “Thanks for asking. Let me check my calendar and then I’ll get back at you in a bit.” This way, she bought herself some time. Which made it easier for her to say this small but powerful word with two letters: no.

Mentally strong people are not afraid of taking calculated risks.

When Dale told his wife about an old dream of his – opening up his own furniture store – he was met with a good amount of eye-rolling. Oh, what a dreamer he was! And he agreed – why would he give up his stable job as a high school teacher for a risky undertaking like this? So he kept on working in the same old job. The only problem: The more he tried to forcefully repress his true aspiration, the more frustrated he grew. Even worse, he felt defeated and depressed. He found himself stuck in a dilemma. What should he do?

So let’s take a deeper look at this and see how mentally strong people handle risks. Like Dale, most people are naturally averse to risk-taking. They’re afraid of making certain decisions, often entertaining worst-case scenarios in their head. But instead of fulfilling their wishes, they end up on the couch ruminating about what life could have had in store for them if they only dared to do X and Y.

So what do mentally strong people do differently? Here’s the answer: they take calculated risks. They do this in two steps.

First, they get a full and realistic picture of the potential dangers and benefits involved. They ask themselves: What is the worst thing that can happen? Also, what is the best thing that can happen?

Second, they find a way to appropriately adjust the risks involved. Too many people approach life decisions with an all-or-nothing attitude. “Either I’ll become a famous rock star or I’ll be a loser forever!,” they cry. But don’t be overly dramatic. There’s a middle way.

And that’s exactly what Dale did. He realized it’s not an either-or-decision. He can have the safety of his daytime job and the excitement of running his own business at the same time. All he had to do was start his furniture shop on a part-time basis, working on evenings and weekends. And instead of buying a whole store, he could sell his creations online. If there was enough interest, he could open a storefront later on. His mood immediately improved. After all, he did what mentally strong people naturally do: he took a calculated risk.

Coming to terms with the past makes you stronger, but it takes concrete steps to do so.

Gloria's relationship with her 28-year-old daughter was more than difficult. It became clear to Gloria that her daughter was stuck in a loop of self-destructive behavior – constantly switching boyfriends, not holding down a job, and moving back in with her. But instead of saying anything, she even enabled it with her well-meaning behavior. Why? Because she felt guilt and shame over how she wasn’t really there for her daughter when she was younger, so now she wanted to make up for it. In other words, she was so stuck in the past that she couldn’t move forward.

If there’s something we can learn from Gloria’s story, it’s this: if you want to become mentally stronger, you should stop dwelling on your past. This habit comes in many forms. It can mean you’re replaying certain scenes from your past over and over; you’re wondering how your life would’ve turned out if you had taken this one job; or you assume that getting back with your ex-lover will solve all your problems. Yes, a certain amount of retrospective reflection is healthy, but too much of it can be destructive.

How do you stop then, you might ask yourself. Here’s the trick: Instead of dwelling on your past, you should come to terms with it and then move forward.

The first step here is acceptance. You’ve got to realize that no matter what you do, you’re not gonna be able to change what has happened. This may also mean that you forgive someone who has inflicted pain on you.

And second, move forward. Shift your thoughts onto something new, and do this with intention. When you notice how your thoughts are spiraling back to past events, make an effort to replace those thoughts – for example, start making plans for your next vacation. Even better: Come up with new goals for your future. The more you get yourself in a habit of thinking about the future, the harder it will become for your brain to go back to the past. Hence you stop dwelling on it.

So far, we’ve been talking quite a lot about habits. But we haven’t really acknowledged that habits can come in many shapes and forms. Take Gloria from the blink before. It was her thinking that was problematic, since her thoughts were so stuck in the past. This was different from Richard from blink number three who found himself snacking in front of the TV even though he wanted to lose weight – here we are talking about habitual behavior. And remember James, who got so upset that his ex-wife took their daughter on a whale watching trip before he did? Well, his bad habits were all about emotions.

The point here is, if you want to develop your mental strength, you need to be aware of these three levels of mental strength: thoughts, behavior and emotions. Some bad habits start out on one level and then have a tendency to spill over. But it also works the other way around; if you start improving one of those three, it will affect the other two. They are all intertwined.

Mentally strong people avoid repeating the same mistakes, and this requires self-discipline.

Let’s take a little time machine to a small town in mid-nineteenth-century Massachusetts. We’re with the businessman Rowland Macy, who just launched a dry goods store, but made quite a fatal mistake. The location he chose was way too quiet, and he struggled to attract customers as a result.

To drum up interest in his fledgling store, Macy organized a large parade through his town that would end up at his shop. Unfortunately, on the day of the parade it was so blazing hot that nobody turned up. He fell so deep into debt that he had to give up his business.

But Macy learned from this experience and vowed not to make the same mistake again. The next time he opened a “Macy Dry Goods” store he chose a prime location in downtown New York. It was a massive hit. The rest is history: Macy’s became one of the biggest chain stores in the world and still holds a parade every year – just in the fall, to avoid the heat.

What Rowland Macy did here is another characteristic of mentally strong people: they study and learn from their mistakes so they don’t repeat them in the future.

To learn from your mistakes the next time something goes wrong, you can take some time to ask yourself the following questions: What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? And what can I do differently next time around?

Of course, knowing what you need to do differently and actually doing it is not the same thing. This is why, if you want to put a stop to the bad habits once and for all, you need to practice self-discipline. Here are three simple methods to become a more disciplined person.

First, keep your eyes on your goal. By picturing how great it will feel once you’ve reached it, like how amazing it will feel once you’ve put the finishing touches on your novel, it will be easier to sit down to write on evenings when you feel like just dropping down in front of the TV.

Second, make a list of mistakes you’ve made in the past that you don’t want to repeat. Carry this list with you at all times, and when you feel like you’re about to repeat a mistake, take it out and read it to yourself.

And third, make it harder to make mistakes. Let’s say your goal is to save money for a dream trip, but you always end up spending too much money when you’re out with your friends. Before you leave home for an outing, take a small amount of cash out and leave your credit card at home. That way, you’re less likely to go on a spending spree.

"Learning from each mistake requires self awareness and humility, but it can be on of the biggest keys to reaching your full potential"

Mentally strong people don’t envy other people’s success but rather seek to collaborate with them.

So if you ever got grumpy while browsing through your peers’ seemingly perfect lives on social media, this one might be for you. In 2013, researchers published a study with the telling title “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction.” The result: People can get really bummed out to see other people’s successes and happiness. Being exposed to your peers’ vacation photos is particularly bad, and they can even get angry over a lot of birthday wishes.

If that sounds relatable to you, behold! This feeling is called resentment and – you guessed it – it’s something mentally strong people don’t do. If you feel like other people are more successful than you, you’ll likely feel envious about their good fortune. On the outside you might keep a polite smile, but when your neighbour shows you his brand-new Tesla, you might secretly despise him. You were just about to enjoy this garden party, but now your mood is ruined.

Often, people’s resentments are a sign of their own insecurities. And it's particularly easy to resent other people’s accomplishments if you don’t really know what you want yourself. Let’s say you’ve got a friend who’s flying all around the world for important business trips and your first thought is: “I wish I could have that lifestyle.” But do you? Didn’t you wish you had more family time before? Now what is it that you want, a jetset life or more family time?

So what do you do? First of all, you need to gain clarity about what success and accomplishment looks like to you. If your New Year’s resolution is to bike more often to work, you’ll have a hard time despising your neighbor’s new car – you wouldn’t even want his car in the first place. Case closed.

Another way to get rid of resentful emotions is a change of attitude. Life’s not a rat race in which you perpetually have to outperform everybody around you. Instead of competing, think more about collaborating. Yes, you might be secretly angry about your brother’s financial success – but why not ask him for some tips and learn from him? It’s hard to resent someone who’s about to help you out, isn’t it?

Mentally strong people don’t give up easily, and they are self-compassionate about failure.

Today, Thomas Edison is world-famous for inventing the light bulb. But did you know that he also came up with contraptions like the electric pen or the so-called ghost machine? If you’ve never heard of these, don’t worry – both were complete failures. And they were far from being Edison’s only flops – at least, from our perspective. Edison himself didn’t consider these attempts to be failures. Instead, he saw them as learning opportunities, chances to experiment with what worked and what didn’t. Each time he failed, he considered himself to be one step closer to succeeding.

But, yeah, this is not the common perspective on failure. If you drop out of college or lose an important client, your go-to-reaction is not “Finally, another learning opportunity.” The opposite is true. It often comes with a sense of shame – an experience we want to avoid at all costs. As a consequence, some people will stop trying entirely, making it a habit to give up at the faintest sign of hardship.

Obviously, giving up is not an option if you want to develop your mental strength. How do you deal with it then? We have two tips in store.

First, get rid of unhealthy beliefs about success and failure. In the face of resistance, it’s easy to make excuses that you’re just not talented enough. Well, not true – science has it that regular practice will trump natural talent. If you just put in enough hours, you’ll most likely overtake anyone who doesn’t. Same goes for IQ. IQ is a rather lousy predictor of success. Yes, being smart might give you a head start, but perseverance has shown to be way more important when it comes to long-term achievement.

Second, self-compassion can be key when you have to face challenging times. More often than not, you are your harshest critic. But being too hard on yourself can result in resignation, falsely believing that you’re just not good enough. Instead, try being as compassionate with yourself as you might be with a friend. Nobody is perfect, yourself included. Be kind towards your own weaknesses. That will help you develop a realistic view of what’s possible or not.

Mentally strong people are comfortable being alone and use meditation to become more resilient.

Okay, now back to Morin’s counseling office. This time we’re sitting with Vanessa, who has a very particular problem. Despite being exhausted from busy work days, she had a hard time falling asleep. It feels like she can’t turn off her mind; her thoughts are racing hour after hour, pondering situations of the day or worrying about tasks to come. During the day, she was working as quite the successful real estate agent, always on the go, always “on.” Morin asked her how often she just sat down just by herself, doing nothing and giving her thoughts some space, to which she replied, “Never – why would I?!”

Being alone and winding down is not something that ranks high on most people’s priority list. Some find it unproductive, others outright scary. They’re uncomfortable with silence and solitude. They pack their calendar with social events, and when they’re actually by themselves, they’re on their phone or let the TV fill their apartments with background noises.

But as mentally strong people know, they’re missing out on something. Of course, too much alone time can be detrimental, especially if it comes with the feeling of loneliness. But studies show that solitary skills correlate with increased mental well-being, life satisfaction, and better stress management. Maybe, most importantly, being by yourself helps to recharge your batteries.

So how do you get more comfortable with yourself and your thoughts?

It’s easy to regard alone time as unimportant and disposable. So to really make time for yourself you should schedule a date with just yourself. Put it into your calendar and tell family and friends you won’t be able to see them during this time.

Once you’ve carved out your alone time, find something that you enjoy doing by yourself. Be aware, though: TV, social media and scrolling through YouTube for cat videos doesn’t count here. Instead, give your thoughts and desire to self-reflect the room it deserves. You can take up journaling, for example. Also, meditation and mindfulness are the best known methods to quiet your mind and find a sense of peace.

And by the way, that’s what Vanessa did, too. She made it a habit to make some time for meditation and mindfulness practices in the evening. Her racing thoughts slowed down considerably. And before she knew it, she was lying in bed, sleeping like a baby.

Many people have an entitlement mentality, but strong people concentrate on giving rather than taking.

Lucas was by no means popular among his coworkers. Even though he was fresh out of college and just starting out, he behaved like a know-it-all. He constantly told his more experienced coworkers how he would do it. He thought of himself as an extremely valuable employee who deserved a promotion into a leadership position. But instead of promoting him, Lucas’s boss told him to tone it down; his coworkers were annoyed by his bossy behavior. They felt like he’s acting a bit, well . . . entitled.

Even though that sounds far from relatable, we all have a little bit of Lucas inside us. To some degree, we’re all inclined to believe that the world owes us something

Here’s the problem: The more you think you are deserving something, the less likely it will become that you will actually earn it. If you think that the world owes you, you’ll just demand it instead of putting in the effort. On top of that, unrealistic expectations about what you should get is a real turn-off for the people around you. If we sense that someone is mostly taking and never giving – well, that will make us avoid this person.

So how do you get over your sense of entitlement? Most importantly, you should become aware of it. Feeling that the world owes you doesn’t mean you’re walking through life like a princess – most of us show more subtle forms of entitlement. It’s mostly hidden in your thought patterns. If you believe there’s something exceptional about you, if you think a law doesn’t apply to you because it’s stupid or if you simply think, “Life isn’t fair, I deserve better than this” – then these are signs of an entitled attitude.

So instead, let’s try some humility for a change. For starters, let’s acknowledge that you have weaknesses, too. Yes, I know, hard to grasp, but for real: you are not perfect. Like everybody else, you have shortcomings, insecurities and traits that make you less of a Prince Charming – and by the way, that’s perfectly fine.

Also, let’s receive critical feedback with some more humbleness, shall we? Since we’re not perfect, the other person probably has a point. We might not agree entirely, but dismissing this person as stupid isn’t helpful, either.

After all, that’s what Lucas managed to do as well. He realized what kind of unfavorable impression he left with his coworkers and made a pledge to change. He stopped assuming that he knew everything better and grew open to learn more from those around him. And who knows, with this attitude he might earn the promotion after all.

Mentally strong people recognize that achievements take time and that progress isn’t always immediately apparent.

If there’s one weakness that Marcy had, it was her notorious impatience. When her kids or coworkers wouldn’t comply with her pace, she’d say, “I’m not getting any younger.” She’d read dozens of self-help books, but was disappointed when they didn’t magically change her life overnight. She abandoned therapy just after a few sessions because she didn’t see the immediate results that she wanted. What she was desperately looking for was a shortcut, a magic pill that would eliminate her dissatisfaction with life. Unfortunately, as mentally strong people know, this pill doesn’t exist.

In a world of 24-hour delivery, on-demand streaming and fast food, most people are used to getting what they want as quickly as possible. But if instant gratification becomes an overall expectation, you’re gonna have some problems in your life.

The hard truth is: Change is hard and progress is not always immediately apparent. The question is how you handle this. If you’re like Marcy, you might get discouraged easily and abandon your efforts prematurely. This means you’ll never reap those special benefits that only come with a long-term commitment. Some things – like an education, an important career step or an artistic breakthrough – only come after years of hard, unrewarding work and perseverance.

The first step of embracing the long haul is to create realistic expectations. If you expect quick and painless success, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Also, beware of fixed and unshakable deadlines for your goals; while it’s good to have an approximate idea of when you would like to finish, making it an all-or-nothing situation can certainly backfire.

And then, practice perseverance. Try to abstain from instant gratification more often – say no to the cookie or the impulse online shopping. But no matter how self-disciplined you are, you will also need some moments of accomplishment. So try to create them yourself! Try to break down your big goal into smaller short-term objectives, and once you’ve reached them, celebrate! If you accomplish milestone after milestone, it’s going to energize you for the overall journey.

Final Summary

  • Refrain from feeling sorry for yourself.
  • Never give your power away to others.
  • Embrace change.
  • Avoid fretting about things you can’t control.
  • Stop worrying about pleasing everyone.
  • Never be afraid of taking risks, but be clever about which risks you take.
  • Resist the urge to dwell on the past.
  • Make sure to never make the same mistake twice.
  • Never be resentful of other people’s success.
  • Keep at it and never give up after an initial failure.
  • Face your fears of being alone and overcome them.
  • Be on your guard for feelings of entitlement.
  • Never expect immediate results and be patient.