Want to Be Mentally Tough? Strengthen Your Emotional Muscles by Turning Obstacles into Opportunities


“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

I have been going to the gym more lately. Just pumping the iron and feeling the burn. It sounds much more impressive than it is, trust me. Actually, if you haven’t noticed, I’m naturally very lean and thin. I don’t pack on muscle mass naturally. If I want to get stronger I have to seriously work at it. I’m no gym rat, but I know that if I want to gain muscle and improve my health I need to exercise my muscles regularly. The same principles apply to mental and emotional strength. We need to exercise these muscles regularly. We need to expand our mind, stretch our comfort zone, and do the difficult things we don’t feel like doing. We also need to rest and recover in order for our mental muscles to grow. The way we strengthen any muscle is to push past our current limits, then rest and recover from the strain.

Is it time to upgrade your mental fitness?

When our mental and emotional muscles are weak we struggle to perform at our best, or to even cope with day to day stress. Anyone can reach a point where the stress of life is greater than their capacity to cope with it. Maybe you’re struggling a little bit right now? Here are common signs that you need to strengthen your mental and emotional capacity.

  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Impatience
  • Low energy
  • Low-self-confidence
  • High anxiety
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Critical of others
  • Moody or irritable
  • Unfocused and easily distracted

We have all been here at some point. Sometimes life gets difficult and we struggle to manage it.

“We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living in victory is to learn how to get up on the inside.” – Joel Osteen

But, on the positive side, these moments are opportunities to develop our mental and emotional muscles. I know some people have real problems right now, and opportunities are the last thing on your mind. (If this is you read this post about coping with struggles first) For the rest of you, whom problems are more of the day to day variety, I implore that you have an open mind to the idea that what we call “problems” are actually “opportunities for character growth!” Through solving problems we can become a wiser and more self-confident person. We learn how to embrace uncertainty, accept life’s challenges, and ultimately keep getting better. Solving problems becomes something to accomplish and achieve, instead of something to avoid. The only way we can develop our mental strength is to push past our current limits.

If you haven’t failed, you’re not trying hard enough. – Unknown

Next time you encounter a daily challenge or obstacle use it as an opportunity to build your emotional resiliency.

1. Push your mental limits and bring on the challenges

I personally don’t want problems my life, and I’m sure you’re the same way. I would rather just pretend they don’t exist. But in my experience, ignoring problems and hoping they disappear doesn’t usually help. So, why not change your perspective to view problems in a more honorable way by asking one simple questions.

How can I use this to become better?

This question not only helps me deal with a challenge in the moment, but to welcome challenges throughout my day. Start small and consider what current “problem” in your life can be turned into an opportunity for growth. Remember you’re exercising your “mental muscles” here so you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. The goal is to build resistance to stress, adversity, and change by becoming more resilient. Move out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to engage in something that is demanding or challenging. If you don’t push yourself you can’t get stronger.

2. Seek emotional renewal

Just like we have to rest and let our muscles rebuild, we have to rest and renew our emotional muscles. As we embrace the obstacles in our life it is crucial we develop healthy habits that support our resiliency. Here are three ways to find some emotional renewal.

Get in the zone, do what you enjoy

When we are under pressure it’s easy to put our enjoyment and hobbies last, but this is the opposite of what will help us cope and elevate our state of mind. Instead, do what you enjoy and make time for fun! This includes any pleasant and fulfilling activities that you can fully engage in – activities where you are totally absorbed in the act and time seems to fly by. To perform at our best we must access positive and pleasant emotions. What enjoyable activities can help you get reinvigorated and deal with day to day stress? The real skill to cultivate is summoning positive emotions even during periods of high stress. The more options you have and the more you practice the better.

Rest and relaxation

Activities where we experience deep relaxation and calmness are crucial to keep a balanced lifestyle. When in your day can you take a time out where you remove yourself from stressful distractions? This may be simply come from taking small periodic breaks or from a more structured routine. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Go for a walk
  • Meditate and/or pray
  • Take some alone time
  • Stretch
  • Take a nap
  • Journal or read
  • Listen to your favorite song
  • Do nothing for 10 minutes
Relationships and love

So often when life gets hectic, we allow it to take away from our relationships. We don’t spend as much time with loved ones and when we are together we’re preoccupied with “problems.” In order to build resiliency make nurturing time with friends and family a consistent occurrence. Relationships offer us support to talk through our problems and help us get our emotional needs met through love, laughter, and connection. When times get tough, you can get tough too. Use life’s struggles as a regimen to strengthen your mind, body, and spirit.