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How Self-Compassion Helps Keep You Mentally Tough

Author:NeuroGym Team

Mental Toughness Is All About Recovering From Mistakes

The Jersey Boys sang, “big girls don’t cry,” and the Cure sang, “boys, don’t cry” (presumably regardless of size). Being tough is valued in the society we live in. For instance, in a lot of workplaces we’re expected to take mild abuse from customers and supervisors without complaint. We’re often told to push away our feelings and not let anybody see our emotional side, all in the name of toughness. But when it comes to being mentally tough, is it really all about being hard on yourself?

It’s not about beating yourself up at all. As a matter of fact, going overboard with being hard on yourself can actually do a lot of damage, both to you and to those around you.

Read on to discover what mental toughness really is, why you should avoid a negative mindset, and how a positive self-image and being honest with yourself can be beneficial.

Mental Toughness Is Recovery

So, what exactly is mental toughness? Are we supposed to train our brains like a boxer? Do we have to constantly beat ourselves up over every little mistake? No, we don’t.

Being mentally tough doesn’t mean you never make mistakes. In fact, a key part of success in any area is learning from mistakes, and we all make them! Mistakes are an unavoidable part of life.

When mistakes do happen, mental toughness is reflected in the way we bounce back and recover. English poet Alexander Pope once wrote “to err is human,” which means it’s perfectly natural to make mistakes. Speaking of “perfectly,” you’re never going to be perfect—no one is—so there will always be something to work on. And sometimes we just have bad days, we make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s all about how you recover.

Think about when you were learning to write in school or learning to ride a bike. You made mistakes while picking up those skills, but you kept working at it. That’s what mental toughness is: not giving up, but learning from your mistakes.

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Don’t Obsess Over Being Mentally Tough

Often, when we face a difficult challenge or time in our lives, people in authoritative positions reply to us with an attitude of “just get on with it,” and while there are certainly times when we need to show toughness and persevere with ourselves, it is, like most things, all about balance.

A recent study has provided evidence that with mental toughness, you need self-compassion along your journey to succeed in whatever it is you are doing. This particular study focused on athletes partaking in sports, and students partaking in performing arts. The results showed that when a teacher or role-model addressed their students in a compassionate way, it made for a more understanding environment, which is crucial in helping people develop self-compassion.

Self-compassion—often seen as a vital part of maturity—is crucial in developing a healthy way of relating to ourselves. So, instead of beating yourself up over a mistake, accept that you’re learning as you grow, which is an important part of life.

In all of this, balance is the important word. While there are times you will need to be firm with yourself and give yourself a push to get through something difficult, more often, you should choose to speak kindly to yourself. Instead of saying, “I’m bad at this,” say, “I can do better.” Otherwise, you may end up with an incredibly negative mindset.

Mentally Tough

Stop the Negativity

If you’re going overboard being negative, you’ll do a lot of damage to your psyche. A bad attitude towards ourselves leads to:

  • poor self-image
  • poor self-esteem
  • poor self-worth

In short, it’s bad! Let’s look at each of these aspects individually.

Self-image doesn’t involve your profile picture on social media. It’s related to the way you see yourself. And not just what you see in the mirror, but what you see when you use introspection. When you think about yourself in this way, different ideas of who you are will come to mind; this is self-image.

Self-esteem is the way we value ourselves. It encompasses how much you like yourself and understand that your needs deserve attention. When we have poor self-esteem, we struggle to see the good things we bring to the table.

Self-worth is very similar to self-esteem, and to those of us who aren’t experts in psychology, we would likely think of these concepts as interchangeable. Self-worth differs from self-esteem, however, in that self-worth comes from understanding that we are more than our individual qualities.

Naturally, if we don’t have a good view of ourselves in any of these categories, we won’t have much confidence or belief in ourselves. While we need to acknowledge and work on our poorer qualities, it’s important to notice our good qualities too.

When we speak to ourselves, we should use positive words. This will help us become more motivated. Ask yourself, do you have a positive or a negative way of talking about yourself? If it’s negative, then you’re doing some damage to your mental health.


Tips For Bosses

Before we go any further, we have to make special mention of those who run their own businesses. If you’re running the show, you have to be conscious of yourself and your employees. While in the past the big boss would be expected to be a harsh character, there are better ways to motivate your workforce than shouting at them. If you’re a business owner, you need to be a leader, a team builder, and an advocate. Your own self-image is important—you need to be confident, self-motivated, and have enough self-belief that you can run a business—but you also have to ensure your workers have a good self-image and high self-esteem so that they’re motivated to do the job and like being there.

Remember to use positive words with your employees. There is scientific evidence that shows positive language has a positive effect on our brain chemicals. If you want your team to be a success, you have to set an example and remember to give praise where it is due.

Being Honest With Yourself

As well as being kind to yourself, it’s important to be honest. These things are not mutually exclusive. You can be honest with yourself in a constructive way. It’s important to own up to your mistakes and address things that need work. It can be helpful to speak with yourself as if you’re a coach speaking with an athlete. By using the word “I” instead of “you” it becomes easier to motivate yourself. This is because of psychological distance, which can help you boost your resilience. Psychological distance creates a different perspective in our brains and expands the way we view the world.

We’re all capable of motivating ourselves in a way that will help us change our behavior, but it may involve some constructive criticism. In which case, it can be helpful to write these things down for yourself in a journal as if you’re writing about someone else. This will help create psychological distance and make it easier to reflect on these things. Ask yourself where you can improve, and remember to use “you” instead of “I.”

Create Empowering Habits

Once you have started building your mental toughness through honest reflection, you can create some habits that will help you succeed. Habits are formed by neurons in our brains, and we all have habits already, even if we don’t realize what they are. Unfortunately, that means we probably have some bad ones, but thankfully you can break up with these unhelpful habits and replace them with constructive ones.

Good habits are necessary for forming good routines, which will help you become a healthier, happier person. The way to form good habits is to set yourself goals and review your progress. Whether it’s eating healthier, getting up earlier, or exercising more, set yourself a reasonable target to achieve and track your progress.

A good tool for habit building are SMART goals. These goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. In essence, you want to pick exactly what you want to do, ensure it is something you’re capable of with your current resources, and be able to gauge your success.

Mindset For Success

A big part of succeeding in life is having the right mindset. The mind can do some incredible things; we can even change our own neurochemistry with our minds! If you have the will to succeed, you’ll get a lot further than you will if you’re full of self-doubt. It all starts with your mindset.

Use Positivity As Your Fuel!

Positive and negative thoughts impact us on a deep level. One way to motivate ourselves is to use positive self-affirmations. These are short, positive sayings you can use to give yourself a mental boost. They should be unique to you, and they should start with phrases like “I am capable of…” or “I am good at…” to give you the mentality that you have the tools to succeed. 

Empowering Thoughts

Furthermore, a big part of success is empowering yourself. Take charge of your life and convince yourself you’re capable of achieving your dreams. This is the next step up from self-compassion. Don’t just tell yourself you’re good enough, tell yourself you’re great and can do anything you put your mind to!

Final Thoughts

No matter what, we all make mistakes, and being mentally tough is all about how we bounce back from them. Show yourself compassion in hard times and remember to be honest with yourself about how you can improve in what you’re doing. With the right mindset, you can reach your goals and achieve success!


About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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