5 Key Traits of Mentally Strong People

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland 2017
Mentally strong people have a lot in common. But it’s these 5 traits that separate them from the rest.

Wednesday nights sucked.

Every Wednesday night we had practice starting at 6:00 P.M. We’d get out between 8:30 and 9, still having to shower, eat dinner, and start homework — usually getting to bed around 1:30 A.M. That’s not even the worst part: We’d have to wake up in 4 hours to make it to morning meetings by 6.

Sounds shitty, right?

It was. As a freshmen I hated football. To be honest, I contemplated quitting altogether to focus all of my efforts toward my studies. Besides, I wasn’t in high school anymore — I’d made it to the big leagues. I needed to get my grades right from the get-go to graduate on time and get a job.

I would soon find out the rigid 15-credit schedule combined with practice/lifting everyday exhausted me. How could anyone succeed in this environment?

I remember going to the library late one Wednesday night right around midterms after a particularly grueling practice; the 40 degree October weather combined with a howling wind and consistent mist made tackling almost unbearable. I ran into a senior teammate who kindly asked how my transition from high school to college was going…

“Jack my man how are you liking things so far?”
Being the honest person I am, I responded, “Not so good brotha. These classes are kicking my ass right now — I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks.”
“You’ll get through it, bro.” he assured. “It’s tough for everyone at the start, just get your mind right and take everything step-by-step, you’ll get through it.”
I seriously doubted him. I shrugged off his words of encouragement… I mean, what did he know?

As the season progressed and I got to know my teammates a lot better, I found out that the senior teammate I had talked with in the library a few weeks back was a double major in organic chemistry and molecular biology. He was part of our team’s Leadership Council and held the responsibilities of creating and maintaining team chemistry. He was involved in extra-curricular activities at the university and often tutored young science majors. He also had a girlfriend, a part-time job and was in the middle of studying for the MCAT which he planned to take the ensuing summer.

I felt like an idiot for complaining about my schedule. At the time, I was an undecided business major taking mostly required elective courses. I wasn’t involved in any extra-curricular activities aside from football and really had zero responsibility besides school, homework, and practice. Yet, I constantly complained about my rigorous schedule and overwhelming responsibility. I couldn’t understand: What is so different about my teammate and other teammates like him? Where do they get their energy? Why don’t I have it?

One day toward the end of the season I happened to be in the same lifting group as this teammate of mine. I decided to watch his every move — I wanted to know what made him tick. I made sure to take mental notes and mimic his form, assuming his technique is what separated him from the rest of the bunch. But I realized that at the collegiate level, everyone has good technique.

And then it hit me.

I remembered what my teammate told me in the library:

“It’s tough for everyone at the start, just get your mind right and take everything step-by-step, you’ll get through it.”

For whatever reason, his words resurfaced to the front of my brain. I kept thinking about it, over and over.

“… just get your mind right and take everything step-by-step, you’ll get through it.”

“…just get your mind right…”

“…you’ll get through it.”

Like finally placing the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, his message became clear to me:

You can get through anything with mental strength.

It all made sense to me now. The reason I was struggling so much my first semester of college wasn’t because of my workload, but because of my attitude when approaching that workload.

I was exhausted from studying yet stayed up late playing 2K. I felt like I had no time to complete assignments because practice ran late yet still frequently procrastinated. I was so focused on blaming everyone and everything that I eventually convinced myself my stresses could not be relieved.

From that point on I changed my train of thought. I decided to study people I perceived to be mentally strong, read a boatload about positive thinking and self-development and — most importantly — consistently practiced mental toughness training.

Focusing on mental strength the past four years, I’ve identified plenty of commonalities between mentally strong people. But it is the following five traits that the most mentally strong people possess:

Mentally strong people are…

  • Motivated — Whether it be an internal desire to suffer defeat or external reward for achievement, there is something driving their hunger to succeed. Mentally strong people obsess over improving performance. Without motivation, there is no reason to improve performance. Their entire existence is based around bettering themselves in every aspect of life, day-in and day-out. Mental strength does not come with complacency.
  • Optimistic — Mentally strong people see the glass half full. Negativity is like poison to mental strength. People who are mentally tough have the ability to expel negative thoughts and approach everything with a positive attitude. Luckily optimism — in my opinion — is the most controllable factor of mental strength. The ability to view the world through a positive scope gives life purpose — allowing for one to find their motivation.
  • Not afraid of a challenge — Challenges bring out one’s true character and are the easiest “tell” in regards to identifying mentally strong people. People who are mentally strong actively seek challenges. They feed off of goal-achievement but their hunger is rarely satisfied. In the face of challenge, the mentally weak make excuses. The mentally strong do not. Mentally strong people use challenges as a way to better themselves. They use optimism to see opportunity instead of adversity.
  • Adaptable — Show me someone who is comfortable in the face of adversity and I will show you they are mentally tough. Optimism and willingness to accept challenges are directly related and make up ones’ adaptability. Being able to approach an unexpected situation with positivity raises willingness to accept the challenge rather than make an excuse for complacency. Mentally strong people understand and accept unexpected change while people who are not mentally strong will procrastinate, make excuses as to why they cannot adapt, look for pity from others.
  • Self-disciplined — What constitutes self-discipline? Mentally strong people hold themselves accountable for their actions. They are able to concentrate with extreme focus by eliminating distractions. They are able to make daily routine second nature. Being self-disciplined is more than waking up early. Being self-discipline is meeting deadlines, making healthy living choices, hanging out with likeminded people. Mentally strong people know how to prioritize obligations, put their nose to the grindstone, and get shit done.

Thank you for reading!

If you like reading about productivity, leadership, business news, and more, check out more from The Minutes Publication — Medium by Nicolas Cole.

All that I am, I am because of my mind.” — Paavo Nurmi, 12-time Olympic medalist.