How to Build Mental Toughness in Your 20s (or 80s)

A Psychologist’s Letter to His 22-Year-Old Self

Nick Wignall
The Post-Grad Survival Guide
7 min readJan 6, 2020


Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

In case it wasn’t obvious from the title, I’m writing an imaginary letter to my 22-year-old self about what I wished I had done at an earlier age to build mental toughness and emotional resilience. And while I think these tips are exceptionally beneficial at a young age, I also think they’re evergreen — useful no matter what decade of your life you find yourself in.

Dear Nick,

Believe it or not, turns out you become a psychologist and therapist (Sorry, the NFL never called back).

As someone who spends all day talking to people about their struggles, one thing you quickly learn is that eventually everybody has stressful, sometimes tragic, things happen to them:

  • The love of their life is unfaithful.
  • They get fired from their dream job.
  • They start having debilitating panic attacks out of the blue.
  • A close friend is killed tragically.

Stress, challenge, pain, and tragedy are inevitable, in one form or another. But the way people respond to the inevitable hardships in their lives varies a lot: Some people seem to wilt and crumble whenever things go badly, spiraling into episodes of major depression, anxiety, or even rage. But others seem to consistently rise to the occasion and meet their challenges — even tragedies — with grace and confidence.

Why is this? What separates these two groups of people?

To be honest, I don’t know exactly. People are complex. They have wildly different contexts, histories, genotypes, temperaments, and resources available to them. But I have noticed one pattern that seems to separate those who weather the storms of life well and those who are consumed by them: Mental habits.

Just like we all develop physical habits — from tying our shoes to logging on to some annoyingly complex piece of software we have to use at work — we also develop mental habits: patterns of thought that strongly affect the way we process and feel about what happens to us.

For example:

  • Worry is a mental habit. Going over and over a feared…



Nick Wignall
The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Psychologist and writer sharing practical advice for emotional health and well-being: