10 Signs You May Need to Strengthen Your Mental “Muscles”

Mental toughness is quality that can help individuals deal with difficult challenges and high pressure situations. Mental toughness can be defined as an individual’s resilience and confidence that may predict their ability to succeed in sports, their career, and in educational endeavors.  It’s the capacity to reframe negative situations in a more positive light, to seek alternative perspectives, to be open to new ideas, to bounce back from adversity, and to view obstacles as challenges.  If you recognize that your skills in these areas are lacking, it’s a clear indication that you may need to strengthen your mental “muscles.”

People who are mentally tough do things that build their resiliency, provide emotional renewal, and challenge their minds.  They are not content to be victims of circumstance, but actively seek to make even the most trying events into an opportunity to grow stronger, more capable, and more confident in themselves.  Mentally strong individuals use life struggles as exercises to strengthen themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.  They live a lifestyle that balances rest and relaxation with intense focus and productive activity.

mental toughness

10 Signs You May Need to Strengthen Your Mental “Muscles”

An honest appraisal of your current mental toughness skills will help you to focus on skills that you want to improve on.  Being dishonest with yourself doesn’t serve you well.  It may allow you to ignore aspects of yourself you’d rather not acknowledge, but it won’t help you change your situation or help you succeed in meeting your goals and dreams. Review the signs below and choose to acknowledge and accept the areas you’re weak in.  This is the first step to transforming your life.

  1. Your attitude is pessimistic and you have a tendency to focus on the negative.
  2. You find it difficult, if not impossible, to bounce back from mistakes.
  3. You have poor control over your negative emotions and are often impatient, irritable, and/or moody.
  4. You have an overwhelming fear of failure and perform poorly under pressure.
  5. Your anxiety and worry about the future stops you from taking action.
  6. You’re unable to concentrate or focus on important details.
  7. You have low self-confidence, not trusting yourself or your abilities.
  8. You have a low energy level, lack motivation, and are unable to find enjoyment in what you’re doing. (sport, work, family life, etc.)
  9. You have a poor work-life balance.
  10. You’re often critical of others and exhibit poor leadership skills.

**Two more, sport specific signs:

  1. Your practice performance is better than your competition performance.
  2. You’re prone to having performance slumps – one bad performance leads to a series of bad performances that you can’t seem to pull yourself out of.

If an honest appraisal has shown that you’ve got some “soft” spots in your mental toughness skills, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser.  In fact, acknowledging your weaknesses shows you have the mental strength to face your shortcomings and are open to doing something about them.  That would be step two – exercising the mental muscles that need strengthening.

mental toughness & strength

Exercises to Strengthen Your Mental “Muscles”

Here are a few great ways that you can increase your overall mental toughness and strengthen your resiliency when you’re under pressure or have come up against one of life’s obstacles.

  1. Examine your core beliefs.
    • Core beliefs often become self-fulfilling prophecies that can de-rail your efforts to succeed.  What core beliefs do you have that include the words “always” and “never?”  Life is rarely this black or white.
    • Look for exceptions to these “rules,” then revise or replace your self-defeating belief(s) for ones that serve you better.
  2. Spend your mental energy on things you can control.
    • Don’t waste mental energy ruminating about things beyond your control.  Instead, focus on solutions, alternatives, and the aspects of negative situations, events, etc. that you can control.
    • If you’re prone to getting “stuck” in negative thought loops when it comes to decisions you regret, try writing the decision and a brief description of the situation down on a slip of paper and sealing it in an envelope.  If you want, you can shred, burn, or tear up it up.  This is a physically symbolic way of gaining psychological closure about past decisions and giving yourself permission to move on.  You can’t undo a past decision, but you do have the power to not let it continue to affect your current behavior.
    • Challenge yourself to get out of your “comfort zone” by focusing your mental energy on ways to improve your situation and yourself – even if change is scary.
  3. Develop a personal strengths list for the area you’re struggling in. (work, family, social, sport, etc.)
    • Write down 10 strengths that you have that apply to the challenge you’re facing.
    • Include physical, mental, emotional, and technical strengths in your list.
    • Pull this list out and remind yourself of these strengths.  Decide how you can use them to help you deal with your current situation.
  4. Increase your awareness of negative thinking patterns.
    • Start noticing when negative thoughts pop up and begin replacing them with thoughts that are more realistic and productive.  Don’t allow yourself to fall into habitual negative thought spirals. Instead, ask yourself these powerful, perspective changing questions:
      • “How can I use this to become better?”
      • “How can I make this negative situation or ‘problem’ into an opportunity to growth as a person?”
  5. Allow yourself to experience your negative emotions.
    • Practice tolerating your negative emotions without acting on them.
    • Listen to what your emotions are telling you and learn to make better decisions based on this knowledge.  It may be in your best interest to act counter to your negative emotion in a given situation to achieve the outcome you desire.
    • The more you practice tolerating your negative emotions, the more confident you’ll feel in your ability to respond to situations in a way that serves you well.
  6. Monitor and reflect on your mental toughness progress.
    • Just like with physical exercise, to keep your motivation level up to maintain a regular mental muscle exercise regimen, it’s important to monitor your progress and celebrate your gains.
    • Before calling it a night, ask yourself: What did I learn today about my thoughts, feelings, and behavior.  What progress have I made?  What would I like to improve on tomorrow?

Use your struggles as a way to workout your mental “muscles” and increase your mental fitness – being mentally tough is a very attractive quality and a cornerstone for achieving overall life fitness!


Stephanie Eissinger is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Professional Coach, Certified Embody Love Movement Facilitator, and Self Help Book Author who’s dedicated her life to empowering individuals to overcome life’s obstacles to live happier, healthier lives.  Her self help books include:  Journey to Self Empowerment: Increase Self Esteem & Self Confidence; How to Get an “Emotional Divorce” & Speed Up Relationship Recovery; Divorce Recovery: How to Clean Out Your “Inner Closet,” The Stress Management 2.0 Series.


Related Pages/Posts

How to Use Positive Emotions to Increase Mental Fitness

7 Ways to Increase Mental Fitness & Be a Friend to Your Mind

5 Powerful Ways to Build Mental Toughness & Decrease the Impact of Stress

Book Resource: “Mental Stress Management 2.0: 40 Tips For De-Cluttering Your Inner Closet”


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