13 things Mentally Strong People Don't Do- Book Summary
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Going on vacation with my Punjabi family is like the movie Little Miss Sunshine. Dysfunctional and hilarious, filled with arguments and silence and can sometimes be mentally tough. So as my mother was arguing with me (on the first day out of 12 long days) about my personality, the way my little sister views me, how things are my fault…etc, I went to Target with my hilarious cousin. It was as though Guru Nanak/Jesus/Shiva/Krishna heard my frustrations and left me the last copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.
I am not an avid reader like my twin, but when I find a great book, nothing can stop me from reading it. I could relate to some chapters and I could find certain chapters that relate to ways in which my friends/family in my life could also strengthen their mentality.
It is an incredibly easy and fast read with checklists and synopses. So here are some important life lessons on how to increase your mental strength! If I did all 13…. this would be the book… so I will summarize as much as I can of the 4 I found a majority of people could relate to and improve upon. This blog will summarize 4 of the 13 things because ain’t nobody got time to summarize all 13 points.
Chapter one: They don’t practice self-pity
Chapter two: They don’t give away their power
Chapter three: They don’t focus on things they can’t control
Chapter four: They don’t worry about pleasing everyone
Cue “Let’s Get Down to Business from Mulan”
Mental strength is: acting according to your values; developing a keen awareness of emotions; understanding your thoughts and feelings so you can behave appropriately, being able to ask for help/turn to a higher power; thinking realistically and rationally rather than overly positive thoughts
Benefits of mental strength: increase resilience to stress; improved life satisfaction; enhance performance
**IT’S IMPORTANT TO PRACTICE WHAT YOU READ**
CHAPTER ONE: THEY DON’T WASTE TIME FEELING SORRY FOR THEMSELVES (…WHAT I’D LIKE TO CALL TEENAGE SYNDROME)
“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”- John Gardner
While reading this chapter, I felt that a lot of 20-something year olds engage in this type of behavior. I reflected on this chapter and realized that I am far from this, however, if friends/family engage in self-pity I use my high nature of control to try to “change” their self-pity mindset, which I realize I should not be doing. However, for people who engage in enormous amounts of self-pity this gives a great perspective!
Why do we feel sorry for ourselves: It’s a defense mechanism to protect yourself from future dangers and from having to face potential problems. You can delay any circumstances that will bring you to your actual fears. Self-pity can buy you time instead of taking action and moving forward. You want to exaggerate your situation and justify why you shouldn’t improve it. You want to gain attention. Misery loves company and sometimes self-pity becomes a bragging contest.
The problem with self-pity: IT’S SELF-DESTRUCTIVE. It’s a waste of time, it leads to more negative emotions, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it prevents you from dealing with other emotions, it causes you to overlook the good in your life.
How do you fix this:
1. Behave in a way that makes it hard to feel sorry for yourself.
Extreme example she gives is celebrating life after someone’s death! If I die, I do not want people crying at my funeral. I want them to think of moments in their life where I made them laugh/change/feel happy. On the anniversary of my eventual and inevitable funeral I would want people to do something either outrageous or hang out with people they’re close to/listen to them. My favorite quote in this section is “It’s impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you’re jumping out of an airplane”. Keep yourself busy and occupied, happy and laughing. Practice gratitude.
2. Change the way you think-
She tells a story of how 2 people got into a fender bender. One person gets out of the car and yells “That’s just what I need…why do things always happen to me...As if I didn’t already have enough to deal with today…blah blah blah”. The other driver stepped out of his vehicle in a calm voice and says “Wow, we are so lucky that no one got hurt.. What a great day it is when you can get into an accident and walk away from it without a single injury!”
Side note: I got in a really bad accident unscathed where an 18-wheeler semi-truck hit me on an expressway. I was “shook”, but after the fact, everyone around me expected me to not be “ok”. I had to tell people…. I didn’t get injured and that’s all that mattered to me. I also got my tires stolen a while back and people were like “Oh wow you poor thing!” and I told people “If someone needed to take my wheels at 3AM in the cold, I hope they’re able to support their children with my tires”. It’s all about perspective.
3. Exchange self-pity for gratitude-
Enough said. Think about what you’re thankful and grateful for, even if it’s for fresh air in the morning. You’re breathing. Be grateful. Sometimes reflecting on your day and writing down three things you are grateful for can be a short and useful way to prove to yourself that things really ARE going quite well.
GIVING UP SELF-PITY WILL MAKE YOU STRONGER: you won’t get sick, you’ll experience positive emotions, you’ll improve your social life.
Chapter 2: THEY DON’T GIVE AWAY THEIR POWER
“When we hate our enemies we are giving them power over us; over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health and our happiness”. – Dale Carnegie
While I was reading this chapter, I feel like parents allow their spouses and children to give away their power. It is the reason in intimate relationships between family/friends resentment begins to foster.
Checklist of letting other people have power over you:
**Retaining your power is about being CONFIDENT in who you are and the CHOICES YOU MAKE despite the people around you/your circumstance
The problem with giving away your power: You depend on others to control your feelings, you let others define your self-worth, you avoid addressing the real problem, you become a victim of your circumstance, you become highly sensitive to criticism, you lose sight of your goals, you ruin relationships because you’ll grow resentful towards them if you don’t speak up for yourself.
How to reclaim your power: You need to be confident with who you are, if you get people mad for standing up for yourself/what you believe in…you’ll learn that you can tolerate the repercussions and you’ll learn whether or not these people are worth the energy.
1. Identify people who have taken your power.
(Read the book to learn more because she explains a beautiful story about how a man who lost his ability to walk due to a 15 year old who shot a gun at his neck. He immediately FORGAVE the 15 year old. The 15 year old who ended up in jail later called the man from jail to apologize. This fellow accepted his apology and told him that he hoped someday they could travel the country together sharing their story with the hope they could prevent other acts of violence.
2. Reframe your language.
“My boss makes me feel mad” (he doesn’t have to make you feel anything)… “My mom makes me feel bad about myself because she is so critical” (you’re an adult, you are not obligated to listen to your mother’s critical statements and have it lower your self-esteem, maybe spend time apart and restrict communication with her for a little).
3. Think before you react. Every time you lose your cool you’re giving the other person the power.
Take deep breaths, take a break and excuse yourself from the situation, distract yourself to calm down
4. Evaluate feedback critically.
Be like Madonna. Madonna didn’t give a f*** and did not give up on her dream after being rejected multiple times. She believed in herself and was not fearful of rejection. Evaluate feedback to determine if it has ANY VALIDITY. As the author states: criticism can sometimes open our eyes to how others perceive us so we can make positive change (a friends points out a bad habit, a spouse helps you see your selfish behavior). However, criticism can also be a reflection of the critic. If you have an angry parent yelling/ ”critiquing,” you all the time; that individual is trying to relieve stress. People with low self-esteem may feel better about themselves only when they put other people down. So really consider the source before making any decisions about how you want to proceed. If someone critiques you, wait a bit before responding and ask yourself:
What evidence is there that this is true?
What evidence do I have that this isn’t true?
Why might this person be giving me this feedback?
Do I want to change any of my behaviors?
**One’s person opinion of you doesn’t make it true, you can respectfully choose to disagree and move on without devoting time and energy into trying to the change the other person’s mind.**
5. Recognize your choices.
“YOU HAVE A CHOICE IN EVERYTHING YOU DO…STOP FEELING LIKE A VICTIM BECAUSE YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CREATE THE KIND OF LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE”.
Taking back your power will make you stronger: Think about OPRAH. When you decide that no one else has the power to control how you feel, you’ll experience empowerment:
1. You’ll know who you are and make choices based on what is best for you instead of what will prevent the most repercussions
2. When you take responsibility for your behavior, you’ll become accountable for your progress towards your goals
3. You won’t fall into peer-pressure based on guilt trips/expectations of others
4. You’ll be able to devote time and energy to things you choose
5. Retaining your personal power reduces your risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues
6. DON’T HOLD GRUDGES
Feelings of anger and resentment do nothing to lessen the other person’s life, it only causes your life to suck
Harboring anger gives the OTHER person more power to interfere with your quality of life
Choosing to forgive allows you to take back your power
*SCIENCE: forgiveness reduces your stress, choosing to forgive increases your tolerance to pain, unconditional forgiveness can help you to live longer
*YOU DON’T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER WHETHER SOMEONE WILL APOLOGIZE. WAITING TO FORGIVE PEOPLE UNTIL THEY SAY THEY’RE SORRY GIVES THEM CONTROL OVER YOUR LIFE AND YOUR DEATH. *dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn*
CHAPTER 3: THEY DON’T FOCUS ON THINGS THEY CAN’T CONTROL
“You may not control all events that happen to you, but you can decide not be reduced by them”.
If I had to choose one area that I really need to work on. This chapter was it. I have a high internal locus of control (which will be explained later), due to my Indian upbringing and internal motivation to excel at everything I put my mind to. Not always a bad thing… (CEOs tend to have a high locus on internal control)… but it is ultimately better to have a “bi-locus” of control. This explains why I HATED group projects especially in high school and undergraduate school. Graduate school I became more “bi-locus” because I was surrounded by people who I could trust to take the lead, which was such a great feeling.
It feels safe to have everything under control, but thinking we have the power to always pull strings can become problematic, according to Amy Morin:
Why you try to control everything: Usually starts as a way to manage anxiety; rather than focusing on managing your anxiety, you try to control your environment. The desire to fix everything makes you believe that if you try hard enough everything will turn out perfect.
Locus of control: (Psychology term :) )
a. External locus of control- lives depend highly on fate, luck, destiny…”whatever is meant to be will be”
b. Internal locus of control- they have complete control over their future, they take full responsibility for their successes and failures in life, they have the ability to control everything from finances to health
Factors that influence your locus-
- childhood experiences (if you grew up in family where hard work was valued you have a higher internal locus of control…if your parents drill into you that “your vote doesn’t matter, no matter what you do the world will keep you down” you will develop a greater external locus of control)
- experiences throughout life- if you achieve success when you try hard you’ll feel that you have a lot of control over the outcomes (always getting straight A’s haha)
- Internal locus of control has often been idealized as the “best” way to be (especially, in my opinion, with Asian house-holds) BUT there are downsides to a high internal locus of control….
It leads to anxiety
Wastes time and energy
Damages relationship- telling people what they should do/how to do things right isn’t attractive
You’ll judge others harshly
You’ll unnecessarily blame yourself for everything
WHAT TO DO: DEVELOP A BALANCE SENSE OF CONTROL
* Be BI-LOCUS: you should recognize how your behavior can affect your chance of success, but also identify how external factors (being at the right place at the right time) plays a role.
* Examine in your beliefs what you can control and what you can’t.
* Take notice of time when you’ve devoted too much energy to people and circumstances that you just couldn’t change.
*Things you can’t control:
o “You can host a good party, but you can’t control whether people have fun”
o “You can give your child tools to be successful, but you can’t make your child a good student”
o “You can do your best at your job, but you can’t force your boss to recognize your work”
o “You can sell a great product, but you can’t dictate who buys it”
o “You may be the smartest person in the room, but you can’t control whether people follow your advice”
o “You can nag beg, and make threats, but you can’t force your spouse to behave differently”
o “You can have the most positive attitude in the world, but you can’t make a terminal diagnosis disappear”.
o “You can control how much you take care of yourself, but you can’t always prevent illness”.
o “You can control what you’re doing, but you can’t control your competitor
*Influence people without trying to control them:
**(INDIAN PARENTS/TIGER MOTHERS/FATHERS READ THIS)
The author talks about how Jenny was a 20-year-old college dropout who wanted to pursue art instead of a math degree. Every day Jenny’s mom called to tell Jenny she was ruining her life, criticizing her all the time, saying she will never support her choice, threatened to cut off contact with Jenny if she didn’t choose the “right” path.
Jenny got sick of her mother’s daily criticisms. She explained to her mom that she was not going back to college and her insults and threats wouldn’t change her decision. However, the mom persisted because she worried about what type of future Jenny would have as an artist.
* INDIAN PARENTS- not all of us can/want to be doctors, engineers, or lawyers…so say it once and move on if your child wants to pursue something else and be supportive, otherwise you’ll drive them away because they are adults now that can make their own choices…. *
Eventually Jenny stopped answering her phone. *No surprise*. She stopped going to her mother’s house for dinner because it wasn’t enjoyable to hear her mom lecture her about college dropout/artist don’t ever make it to real world. Even though Jenny was a GROWN ADULT, her mom wanted to control what she did. Jenny’s mom felt pain watching her daughter “mess up” her life, she imagined her daughter broke and unhappy. However, her attempt to control Jenny RUINED their relationship without motivating Jenny to do anything different.
Parents, we know it’s hard to sit back and watch your child engage in behavior you personally don’t approve of. Especially if that behavior is something you view as self-destructive. But nagging, demanding, begging will not result in your ADULT child listening to you.
Here are strategies Amy Morin give in order to influence other without trying to force them to change:
Listen first, speak second
Share your opinions and concerns ONCE
Change your behavior
Point out the positive
While in a traffic jam you can be one of two people
1. Be angry and get in a bad mood
2. Turn on the radio, be happy, think “I’ll get there when I can”
*Both can choose to do something differently in the future to avoid traffic but for now they have to either choose to accept they’re in a traffic jam or focus on the fact that they feel an INJUSTICE has been done to them.
*EVEN THOUGH YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE THE SITUATION YOU’RE IN, YOU ACCEPT IT.
Chapter 4: They don’t worry about pleasing everyone
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner”- Lao Tzu
*This can take a serious toll on your life and make it impossible to reach your goals, you can still be a kind and generous person without trying to please everyone
Why we try to please people:
Fear- conflict and confrontation can be uncomfortable; people pleasers tend to think “if I can make everyone happy, everything will be okay”. They thrive on praise and reassurance from others and if they don’t receive enough positive reinforcement, they change their behavior to try to make people feel happy
Learned behavior- If you were raised by parents who were constantly bickering or grew up with an alcoholic parent you learn that the way to keep the peace is to make people happy. Putting other people first can also become a way to feel needed and important. A lot of her clients also believe the need to “behave like a doormat because that’s what the Bible says they should do. But I’m pretty sure the Bible says to ‘treat your neighbor as yourself”, not “treat others better than yourself”. “Most spiritual guidance encourages us to be bold enough to live according to our values, even when doing so displeases some people” (Moring, p. 85).
The problem with people pleasing:
Your assumptions aren’t always true- most people wrongly assume that people-pleasing behavior proves people are generous. Always trying to people please isn’t a selfless act, it’s “quite self-centered”. Amy Morin states that it assumes you think you have the power to control how other people feel. If you’re constantly doing things to make others happy and you don’t think they are appreciative of your efforts, then you’ll experience resentment. Thoughts such as “I do so much for you, but you don’t do anything for me” will creep in and ultimately hurt your relationship.
People-pleasing damages relationships- So the author talks about dating and how people pleasing can hurt your prospect of finding a partner, as a summary: “No respectable man wanted to date a shell of woman who behaved like a puppet” (same would go for men too!). Be truthful to an individual and voice your opinion. Don’t be a martyr where your attempt to please others starts to become “I do everything around here”. Martyrs risk becoming angry, bitter people.
People-pleasers lose sight of their values- People who were dying wished they lived a more AUTHENTIC life. People pleasing will hold you back from your potential. Apparently people pleasers want to be liked, they don’t often want to be the “best” at anything because they fear being held in too high regard could make other people feel bad.
Ways to not become a people-pleaser
Determine who you want to please: worrying about trying to please everyone is a waste of time; know that people pleasers are easily manipulated; It’s okay for other people to feel angry or disappointed; You can’t please everyone
Clarify your values
Take time to decide whether to say yes or no
Practice behaving ASSERTIVELY: Confront/ share your concerns; Speak up if someone takes advantage of you and ask for what you need, be respectful and polite; use I statements
What will happen when you stop people-pleasing: Your self-confidence will soar, you’ll have more time and energy to devote to your goals, you’ll feel less stress, you’ll establish healthier relationships where people will respect you, you’ll have an increase in willpower
So there you go! I hope you can find at least one area in which to improve upon…and if you’re unsure, ask a parent/friend! It is important to improve yourself and continue to grow in order to foster healthy relationships, reduce stress, and live a more fulfilling and authentic life.
About the author: Raveena Kay was born and raised in a Chicago-land suburb and currently resides in Chicago. Dog-lover, occupational therapist, entrepreneur, and now novice blogger, she hopes through humor, insight, and research her blogs will foster better relationships between people, improve one’s self, and increase one’s mental strength. She will use her own Punjabi-American upbringing as well as her experiences throughout her child/adulthood to hopefully reach a wide array of people who are dealing with mental health issues, family issues, identity crises, personality hindrances in order to create a more introspective community.
International Best-Selling Book: 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin