From Navy SEALS and elite athletes, to coaches and business moguls, the world is filled with people who are described as "mentally tough." Yet, most of the examples we're given are men.
And the men who get touted for their toughness are often the outliers. They're the ones who treat their bodies like a machine or the ones who took big gambles that just happened to pay off. But the truth is, many kind and nurturing women also exemplify the hallmarks of mental strength. Yet, few people are talking about what it takes to be a strong woman in today's world.
The strategies for building mental strength are the same for men and women—you need healthy habits to build strength, and you need to give up counterproductive bad habits.
But societal pressures and cultural norms make women's mental muscle-building experience a little different. Women are more likely to engage in a specific set of unhealthy habits. Giving up those habits, however, is the key to growing stronger and becoming better.
In my new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do, I identified the unhealthy habits that are most likely to hold women back. Here are five of the things mentally strong women don't do:
1. Downplay their success.
Many women are afraid to look too accomplished or ambitious. Even on LinkedIn, where it's important to share your skills and accomplishments, women list far fewer achievements than men. Women often want to look humble—and to avoid offending those around them.
But shrinking yourself won't make other people feel more comfortable. And you won't do yourself or anyone else any favors by downplaying your success.
Practice accepting compliments with a simple "thank you" rather than insisting "It was nothing." Share your achievements with your loved ones so they can celebrate alongside you. And remind yourself of the hard work you've put in to get to where you are today.
2. Blame themselves when something goes wrong.
Accepting personal responsibility for your mistakes is healthy. But taking on excessive blame can be toxic. Whether you apologize excessively or you feel guilty all the time, blaming yourself too much will take a toll on your life.
We tend to be much harder on ourselves than on other people. So when you're feeling guilty, ask yourself, "What would I say to a friend who had this problem?" You would likely offer kind, compassionate words of wisdom. Try talking to yourself the same way.
3. Stay silent.
Whether it's laughing politely at an offensive joke or it's being quiet in a business meeting, staying silent can drain your mental strength. That's not to say women who don't speak up are weak—but harboring secrets and stifling your ideas do more harm than good.
Speak your truth—even when it's not easy to do. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to speak up to an offender or go to the authorities; only you know when it's safe to do that. But if something happens to you, tell someone. Gain support from a friend, attend a support group, or tell a professional.
And pay attention to how much airtime you get when men are present. Some studies show women speak 75 percent less than men in business in meetings and they're more likely to get interrupted. Don't wait for people to invite you to speak—you have ideas worthy of sharing.
4. Let self-doubt stop them from reaching their goals.
Your brain will try to convince you that you're not good enough or that you don't have any business trying to do hard things. And when you look around, you'll likely think everyone feels far more confident than you. But the truth is, everyone experiences self-doubt, and it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Embrace your uncertainty and trust that your self-doubt can actually help you stay focused on doing your best.
Just because your brain tells you that you weren't cut out for something doesn't mean it's true. Don't believe everything you think.
5. Compare themselves to other people.
Whether it's a fitness model on Instagram that causes you to feel out of shape, or it's a Facebook friend who looks happier than you, it's easy to get caught up in measuring your worth against everyone else's. Comparing yourself to other people (even those who seem to be less fortunate) wastes your time and energy. It causes you to lose sight of what's important in your own life.
Look at other people as opinion holders, not competitors. They aren't better or worse than you—just different. Seek to learn something from everyone you meet.
No one is born mentally strong, but everyone has the opportunity to build mental muscle. Engage in regular exercises that will help you gain better control over your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And vow to start giving up the unhealthy habits that are holding you back from being your best self.
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