Warning: Reading this post may cause you to get your butt off the couch, let go of what's holding you back and quit making excuses for not following your dreams.
When you think of the word strength, what immediately pops into your brain?
A Crossfitter pumping out barbell squats or someone biting their tongue as they get chewed out by their boss at the staff meeting?
Maybe you conjure up the feeling you get when you rock a handstand in the middle of the yoga studio or say no to an invite to celebrate someone you aren't really fond of; because the last time you hung out with that group they left you feeling drained.
They're all examples of strength, depending on how you look at it.
There's the physical idea of strength that we feel when we use our muscles to lift, push, or pull something.
And then there's the mental aspect of strength- something you can't really measure, but there's never a doubt when you're in its presence.
If you'd asked me this question 25 years ago when I was a hardcore gym rat I totally would have said it had everything to do with how far you could run or how many pull-ups you could do.
Now, not so much.
I don't know if it's that I'm getting older and have called on my mental strength to save my ass in so many different situations or because during my recovery from hip surgery I realized that even when you can't do physical exercise, a meditation practice can be just as, if not more effective in helping you "feel strong."
I do still love my morning handstand, however, I don't drink coffee and this is the perfect replacement!
From a physical perspective, we start to lose strength in the form of muscle mass after 30. That's why I developed my Xen Strength yoga with weights program after I turned 40- I noticed a huge decline in strength and muscle tone when just doing yoga.
And yes, my ass was falling and I wasn't ready to throw in the towel on that just yet.
You know what they say about "use it or lose it." Here's why it's so important to stay physically strong:
- Weight-bearing exercise is the first line of defense against losing muscle mass that occurs as we age. Just a few sets a week is all it takes!
- Building strength can help you avoid falls and reduce the risk of loss of mobility, independence, and quality of life as you get older. No assisted living center for you!
- There is evidence that both improvements in cognitive function and depressive symptoms in older adults are linked to strength training. Woo-hoo- less memory loss more happiness!
The good news? Building physical strength doesn't need to be so tough or time-consuming. The docs say that the average adult beginning a strength training program can do single-set programs a minimum of two times per week- at the least.
You can totally manage that.
Of course, two sets three or four times a week would be awesome, but start at a level you'll actually stick with. (Grab a copy of my free yoga with weights video and knock it out in 20 minutes).
And that's a perfect transition to mental strength.
"The fitter you are, the more stress it takes to get you stressed," says Harvard psychiatrist and author John Ratey. That means that the better shape you're in, the better you'll be able to handle whatever struggles life throws at you."
Mental toughness is defined as the measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success on the field, behind a desk, relating to others and parenting your kids.
It's been said that our happiness is affected by 10% of what happens to us and 90% of how we react to that 10%.
Isn't that incredible news? We're in charge of our happiness!
I'd say that after dealing with a slew of challenging events in my life, I'd exercised more mental muscles by 25 than most people do in a lifetime.
Between my mother's suicide, my father's company going bankrupt, putting myself through college in NYC, dealing with hip surgery and then my son being hospitalized, I can pretty much relate to any obstacle most people are struggling with.
But the great thing is that I'm stronger because of all these experiences- they've given me strength.
Do you feel the same?
Being mentally strong means:
- Being in touch with your emotions, like when you're being a huge jerk to your husband because of something that happened at work and acknowledge what you're doing.
- Recognizing what you feel and instead of burying those feelings, talking them out with a friend or taking time by yourself to figure out how you want to deal with them- and I don't mean eating a pint of gelato.
- Knowing how to deal with whatever makes you feel uncomfortable so that you're able to step away from a situation without confrontation, hard feelings or putting yourself in possible danger.
- Having the focus and motivation to conquer your goals. Not giving up when things get tough, but looking at the endgame, knowing that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.
Ok, so building our mental strength isn't always easy. It can come from losing someone we love, personally battling an illness or going to work at a job we hate every single day.
The great news is, just like we can build our physical muscles, we can exercise our mental ones too.
To develop and maintain the kind of mental toughness that happiness and success requires there are a few things you can do on a regular basis:
- Keep your thoughts and self-talk positive and learn to notice when negativity creeps back in so you can kick it to the curb.
- Cultivate the right attitude toward setbacks so you don't quit when things don't go 100% your way off the bat. A little adversity makes achieving your goals that much sweeter. ( I'm totes guilty of this- I want everything I do to be perfect asap, but I'm working on it).
- Learn to let go of an exact outcome in any given situation and instead be open to attracting an even better situation- even if it's not wrapped up in the blue box you hoped for.
- Practice acceptance by not complaining about things you have no control over. Know that the one thing you do have control of at any moment is your response and attitude- choose them wisely.
- Keep perspective on where you're at right now and learn to be content there, even while working toward something that seems better. Know that if you're reading this on your phone or a computer you're better off than 95% of people in the world.
- Have faith. I know that this one seems a bit esoteric, especially if you're not big on religion. But keeping that feeling alive inside that something good is coming your way will create more positive energy and motivate you to keep going when things get tough.
- Meditate, meditate, meditate. There's a reason I talk about meditation ALL the time on social media- it's lifechanging. Just a few minutes a day helps you develop the mental strength to pause before you react in a situation- and this changes everything, I swear.
This is where my focus has always been- helping you build mental and physical strength through yoga, meditation, gratitude, and grit. Expect to hear a lot more about this going forward, with new tips and tools to get your body tight and your mind right.
Got a great tip you want to share? Give me a shout over on Instagram.
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