October 2020




    A pandemic, racism, political polarization: 2020 is testing us individually and collectively.  As we’ve risen to meet these challenges, we’ve learned how essential strength is to our health and survival, our connections and communities, and our confidence and well-being.  More than ever, we need qualities like grit, resilience and drive, as well as physical power and stamina.  Fortunately, having one can make building all the others easier.  For instance, people who regularly lift heavy weights learn to persevere through other life challenges.  Increasing your physical strength allows you to see that you can do difficult things.  At the same time, mental toughness gives you the calm and focus to physically perform your best.   


    Fortify Your Mind

    Mental toughness is the capacity to focus, remain calm, maintain confidence and stay motivated over time.  It overlaps with grit, a trait that emerges when something you’re passionate about intersects with persistence for achieving it.   Both pieces of that equation are necessary.  Simply being excited about a cause or project won’t help you stick with it for the long haul.  To persevere you have to commit to a goal and take clear actions.  Engage with things that have built-in commitments since intentions often get crowded out over time.

    Toughness is something everyone can work on.  One way to build it is through adversity training, which puts you through trial runs so you can practice solving problems under pressure.  For example, if you’re trying to bring changes to an organization and you know you’ll be speaking with people who will oppose your ideas, try to anticipate the difficult questions they’ll ask and rehearse your answers.  Practice staying focused and calm as you work through potential conflicts.  Another strategy for powering up your mental toughness is to use positive self-talk.  When you make a mistake, instead of starting a destructive inner monologue that will tank your confidence and damage your performance, try to observe objectively.  A neutral view will help improve your ability to stay strong.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  To get better at it, use imagery.  For example, visualize a situation in which your trash-talk yourself, and practice an objective response.  Try doing this a few times a week or even daily.

    Reinforce Your Emotions

    Openness and flexibility are hallmarks of emotional strength.  It’s not about being stoic.  Someone who is emotionally strong is comfortable being vulnerable and ok with being uncomfortable, which helps them not get stuck in an emotional state.   The standard rhetoric in our culture is to push through tough times, to always be positive and look on the bright side.  But real strength is feeling a full range of emotions and building up the resilience to move through them.  Resilience is the ability to tap into internal resources (like your values) or external ones (like your community) to get through difficult times, and then being open to growing from those challenges.  And it’s something you can cultivate.  Some of the building blocks to resilience include self-awareness (paying attention to your emotions, thoughts and physiology), controlling your inner dialogue to keep it productive, optimism, knowing what your skills and talents are and how to effectively leverage them, and connection with others to a greater cause.  Self-awareness helps you clearly see yourself, even when the picture is uncomfortable.  It requires a willingness to look inward which entails taking a risk.  You might discover something you’re not satisfied with or proud of.  It’s an act of vulnerability that ultimately helps us get stronger and stand up for what we believe, even in the face of fear.  If we’re not in touch with who we really are, it’s hard to change.  The more you understand this, the more you can move through life with intention.  To further build your resilience, take purposeful action, which means consciously doing things that are aligned with who you are and your goals.  Doing something that is true to you builds your strength by demonstrating your power, even in a situation where you might initially feel helpless.

    Build Your Body

    Exercise keeps you healthy, but it also energizes your mind and improves your outlook and confidence.  You need several types of muscular strength.  First, there is maximum strength, which is your ability to life the heaviest thing you can.  Strength endurance enables you to repeatedly pick up a relatively heavy thing.  And power, the most important to build and most applicable to everyday living, is generating strength or force quickly.  Think: jump squats or quickly standing from the floor.  For most of us, a mix of these three types of resistance will develop the physical strength we need.  Do a few sessions of strength-endurance work like weightlifting and plyometrics each week, but don’t worry about heavy lifting all the time.  You can get just as strong by doing heavy weightlifting once every few weeks.  In addition, consume a healthy balance of the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) to help with energy and to build and repair muscle.  Also, get enough sleep to perform your best and properly recover.  Strength training will help ensure that your body remains strong, just as building your mental and emotional strength will help you get through the current crises and fortify you to face the future.

    Marnie Schwartz