Mental stamina is part of the foundation for building great things. Few great things are easy to build, and most need to be built over an extended period of time.
Then there are the times that you need to stay focused on a project or goal for hours or days at a time to reach an important deadline. That can be difficult to do if you don’t have strong mental stamina.
The good news is that mental stamina is something you can grow. To do so requires changing up some habits, creating better habits, and nurturing your mind. The following ten tips will help you do exactly that.
1. Adopt a more positive attitude.
A positive attitude provides so many tangible benefits for the way your brain works. The internal narrative you have about your difficult goals will go a long way toward your success or failure.
If you constantly tell yourself that it’s all too hard or that it can’t be done, you’ll make that true for yourself. If you tell yourself that your goals are attainable and get the things done that you want to, you’re less likely to undermine your own success.
Thinking positively provides other benefits that help to cultivate mental stamina. It reduces stress and anxiety, which are constant drains on your mental energy reserves. The better attitude you can have about what you deal with in your general life, the more energy you’ll have for going the distance when you need to.
2. Set reasonable, attainable goals.
Goal-setting helps with mental stamina and endurance by providing direction and creating a positive feedback loop.
Direction is important because it’s difficult to be strong all of the time without a reason. For example, let’s say that you have a difficult job where you struggle to get through every day. There is no end in sight to the hardship and all of the mental energy that you put into it. It would be almost impossible for anyone to maintain that kind of job for an extended period of time without some reason or something to look forward to.
Many times, jobs like these attract people either dedicated to a cause or deeply passionate about the work. They are regularly accomplishing goals within their field by meeting the responsibilities that come with it.
Smaller goals within larger goals can provide valuable structure. They might be something like meeting a deadline, studying for eight hours, writing a couple thousand words, or exercising every other day for two weeks.
The additional benefit of goal-setting is the positive feedback loop. Accomplishing a goal feels good, and your brain rewards you with a little burst of dopamine. Looking forward to that relief and those positive feelings can train your brain for increased mental stamina when you really need it.
3. Reduce your life stresses.
Reducing the stresses of life frees up valuable resources in your brain that you could be using elsewhere. You only have so much mental energy to go around, and you don’t want to be wasting it.
Yes, life is hard, and there is a lot to worry about with trying to pay the bills, taking care of the family, watching the people you love get older, and so much more. But there are different strategies you can use to help alleviate that stress.
Gratitude is a powerful stress-relieving tool. It helps ground you in the present moment and focuses you on the positive – the things you do have that are within your control. It helps train your brain to look for more positive things and reduce your focus on the negative.
Meditation and mindfulness serve similar purposes. Much of anxiety is worrying about what could be rather than dealing with what actually is. Wrapping your mind up in “what if?” doesn’t particularly help after a certain point. Sure, it’s good to consider some eventualities and what could happen in some situations. It can help you prepare for the future. However, there comes a point when thinking and worrying over it doesn’t provide any more benefit. It just becomes a process of looping over and burning more mental fuel.
A good way to tell if you’re overthinking is to take note of your thoughts and determine whether or not you’ve thought them before. If you’ve already made a plan, there’s no need to continue mulling over the plan. Similarly, if you can no longer think of effective plans because you already have a couple things in mind, it’s time to stop devoting your energy to it.
4. Get regular physical exercise.
The interwoven nature of a healthy body and mind is a long-established and accepted relationship in the medical field. A healthy body helps to maintain a healthy mind. Regular exercise not only keeps your muscles and body in good shape but also facilitates important chemical production that helps keep your mind balanced and healthy. Exercise helps to combat depression and anxiety, both of which will deeply sap your mental stamina reserves.
Regular exercise also facilitates healthier sleep. It gets your body tired positively, rather than simply sapping you of your energy by binge-watching or spending an excessive amount of time sitting down.
Get up! Get moving! Something as simple as regular walks are shown to provide great benefits to your physical and mental health. It will help with your mental stamina.
5. Practice visualization of success.
Visualization is a tool that can help you meet tough goals by smoothing out your expectations about what you will experience. Top performing athletes regularly use this tool to build their own confidence and ensure they perform at top-level.
Let’s say you have a project you need to finish by the day after tomorrow. You know you have all day tomorrow to work on it, but you don’t really know how you’re going to attack the problem. That source of uncertainty can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. You can replace that uncertainty by visualizing what working on the project is going to look like.
Tonight, you’ll envision yourself going to bed at a reasonable hour. You’ll get up at 6 A.M., have some breakfast, and then start working on your project by 7 A.M. when you’re awake and aware. You’ll put in two hours of research into the project, then take a fifteen-minute break. You’ll then spend another two hours writing the project and take a half-hour lunch break. Another two hours of writing and a fifteen-minute break. By then, the project will be mostly done and just need a little polish for final presentation.
By visualizing the process and breaking the plan up into manageable goals, you will effectively strip the stress and anxiety out of the situation.
6. Improve your sleep hygiene and schedule.
Improving your sleep hygiene and schedule will pay off big time as an all-around improvement in your health, well-being, and mental stamina. Sleep is an essential part of good mental and physical health, yet we are constantly fighting to get the kind of sleep we need. After all, we have things to do! Deadlines to meet! Jobs to get to!
Find a way to get between seven and nine hours of quality sleep a night; however you can. Taper off the coffee and caffeine well before 8 P.M. so your body can start leveling off for the coming night. Use blue-light filters or apps on your devices if you use them before bed. Ideally, don’t use them before bed. Social media and other apps have psychological tricks baked into them to keep your brain active and wanting more. Avoid drinking anything before bed, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
Quality sleep recharges your mental batteries by removing tiredness, replenishing the chemicals your brain needs to function throughout the day, and boosting your overall mood. This goes a long way toward helping you stay focused for extended periods.
7. Front-load your workload.
Starting off strong can give you the momentum you need to dominate the long-term goals you want to accomplish.
Let’s go back to the project example for a minute. How many times have you let a project go to the last minute because you just couldn’t seem to force yourself to get started? And how did working on that project feel when you had that deadline looming? Stressful? Anxiety-inducing? Worrying? And it was probably difficult to stay focused and on task while you were working on it.
You can avoid that by front-loading your work. Get the hard, tedious work out of the way as soon as possible, and then dive into the easier work.
You will have much more energy and focus when you first start the project, so make the most of that time. If your project is due in a week, take that first day to get the research and planning done, figure out the biggest pain points, and knock them out! Don’t wait until day six to start the research and planning only to find out that you don’t know if you’ll have enough time.
Don’t rely on your thoughts and feelings that resist doing the work; thoughts such as, “I can’t force myself to do it,” or, “I just don’t feel like doing it.” It doesn’t matter what you think or feel. Just sit down and do the work regardless. No one wants to do tedious work. You just do it and get it done with. There’s no need to sit around and wait for that creeping sense of doom to provide motivation when there are only a few hours left to the deadline.
8. Allow yourself more flexibility.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Attributed to many different speakers.
Originally, this statement was made in the context of a military leader organizing his battle plan to engage the enemy. Practically, it applies to all aspects of life. All the plans that you make can change on a dime. You’ve sat down, you’ve visualized, you’ve planned, you have a strategy, and then BOOM! Out of nowhere, some unforeseen circumstance completely throws a wrench (or spanner) in the works.
Now, what do you do?
You adapt and roll with the punches. People with mental strength and stamina know that things aren’t always going to go according to plan. When that happens, they don’t waste time lamenting that their plan didn’t work or that now they have to do something different. They just look at their options, find another path, and keep moving on it. They don’t waste that valuable mental energy on things that are outside of their control. When things don’t go to plan, the very next thing you should think is, “Alright. How can I still accomplish my goal? What do I need to be successful?”
You can consider these unforeseen circumstances in your planning by planning loosely. Think of it as an outline. You know that there are different points that you need to hit to accomplish your goal, but maybe it’s not so important how you actually get to them. You may keep a loose idea in mind, but you don’t need to specifically map out each individual footstep between Point A and Point B, even if you’re visualizing.
9. Borrow from your past successes.
The successes of your past can be a reservoir of strength to draw from when you find yourself faltering on your path.
You’re only human. Sometimes self-doubt can rear its ugly head and threaten to undermine the progress that you’re making. Maybe you’re not advancing as fast as you would like. Maybe you had the perfect plan that just didn’t survive contact with life. Or maybe you feel like this particular thing is past what your capabilities are.
If you have previous successes that are similar, it can help to go back to those things and mull them over for a little while. If you did it before, chances are pretty good you can do it again, even if you don’t have the same tools or time that previously had. You may just need a different approach.
This can help if you are a person with low self-esteem who may not feel they can accomplish a hard goal or like you are strong enough. What have you accomplished in your past that may help provide strength to get through right now? And what if you haven’t had any big accomplishments yet? That’s okay too; it just means you’re on your way to getting that first big win.
10. Know when to stop.
The ability to know when to cut your losses and stop is an underrated skill. You can build all the mental stamina that you want, but if you’ve set yourself an unattainable goal, then it won’t matter how much mental stamina you have because it will never be enough. Pursuing those goals will burn you out, tap out your mental reserves, and leave you anxious and angry about the whole situation.
Let’s say you have an unreasonable boss who is never happy. It doesn’t matter what you do; there’s always some little thing that they need to nitpick because they feel they aren’t doing their job unless they are contributing in some way – even if it doesn’t make sense. You can spend years in that job, trying to make that boss happy, having your best work constantly picked apart. And make no mistake, it is some of your best work. You couldn’t do it any better if you tried. You invest hours of your time, effort, and energy into making sure this work serves the business well, but it’s never enough.
So why break your brain and your heart on dealing with that constantly? You shouldn’t need the mental reserves and stamina to survive in that kind of job under that kind of boss. There isn’t enough mental stamina in the world to overcome that kind of problem because the boss is an immovable object that’s not acting from the point of fairness or rationality.
In that scenario, it’s a better choice to not waste your valuable mental resources on such a soul-sucking job. It’d be far better to do your job and devote more of that energy to finding a new job that doesn’t drain you.
Mental stamina is a powerful thing that can carry you through a lot. The thing is, most people are already much stronger than they realize. What they don’t understand is that many of the little decisions that we make day after day bleed us dry of our mental strength and reserves. It’s like death from a thousand cuts.
Building mental stamina is as much about conserving the stamina you already have as adding to the overall pool.
The habits and practices that we have explored in this article will help you do both if you apply them regularly. It’s not a fast process to build yourself up. The more regularly you do it, the more strength you will build and hold in your reserves.
It’s not much different than physically exercising. The more regularly you exercise, the stronger you get, the more reserve you have to draw on when you really need it. Your brain is no different.
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