Become Mentally Fit, Not Mentally Strong

By Dave Nelson, Milestone Mind

As many of us read in several publications, there is a tremendous amount of emphasis on mental strength these days. There is no doubt this is a fascinating subject matter, and why it captures so many people's attention. 

If we are to look at this trend, however, what is it getting at for people? 

It's almost like we've decided to make mental strength the cause of success. But look at it more closely, and I thinks it's the cause of depletion and dissatisfaction as mainstream media has defined it. Let's explore this.

When you read the mainstream notion of mental strength, what comes to mind? 

For me when reading any mainstream articles or opinions on mental strength, it aims to set the bar on it and conjures up images of high octane, high adrenaline, no fear, no pain, and calling you to live your life in an almost a robotic way. It denotes you're not mentally strong - and hence will not be successful - unless you don't sleep, don't get up at 3a, don't workout 3-hours a day, only eat one meal, and then work 12-hours a day at your job; while completely disregarding your feelings, and to continue to move ahead despite them. Think about this for a second - this idea of mental strength and success sounds terrible. Why do we feed into this? Who decided this creates success?

It's like we've created a mental strength monster! 

Additionally, often these articles conjure up images of commandos, warriors, and the like, and aims to draw parallels to everyday life based on the themes used either in war or high-stress situations. These pieces often make the reader feel like if they're not living this life, they're on the outside looking in, and will never be successful. And let's get something straight: no matter how hard we try, the corporate world is not war - period. It is mostly people doing their best to provide for their families. I understand there are stock prices to hit, quotas to reach and profits to be made; however, it is not a matter of life and death, and quite frankly, drawing these parallels undermines the true nature of what these warriors endure in actual wartime situations. We need to stop drawing this parallel. The only thing becoming a matter of life and death through the use of this comparison - that we tend to draw between war and business - is creating an environment where people's physical, emotional and mental well-being are being abused, and that they are dying in the process - that's the only matter of life and death I am seeing.

Now, let me be clear - I have the utmost respect and admiration for commandos and warriors, and think of my life as a warrior's way of life, drawing inspiration from many of eastern warrior philosophies (see the book The Warrior Within as an accessible example). That said, I think the warrior's way of life has been distorted by mainstream opinion and popularity based on how many define mental strength and how we have used this definition as the cause of success (and let it be noted, the true warrior's way of life is a genderless approach to life - all can live this way).

The warrior's way of life is an approach to life and not necessarily a check list of things that makes one a warrior, or in the above example on mental strength, setting a standard so high that if you do not do live in a narrowly focused and brainwashed state at all times, you will never reach this standard and be successful. This notion of mental strength is dangerous.

We need to redefine success, and the cause of it, starting with the idea of mental strength. The 'mental strength' way of life could literally kill you because of the way it deprives one of human necessities - such as sleep, nutrition, love, relationships, personal interests, and hobbies, etc. - in this pursuit of ultimate mental strength, and thus success, as it has been defined by mainstream media.

It's time we defined success as being mentally fit first. This idea is a balanced approach that appreciates the polarities of life, and how each part of our lives - personal and professional - are of the utmost importance to live well. To be mentally fit, you have to honor the balance of life, and of self, and how one side of life compliments the other. Being mentally fit means living and doing the best you can in all areas of your life, not just one, and that through this, the other side of this area benefits - personal to professional and professional to personal. Most importantly, being the best you can be in all areas of your life does not mean you're always-on in every area - sometimes it means being off in them, giving them the rest they need, honoring rest as a cause of action, and vice versa. This means we need to re-engage with our feelings, and what our bodies are telling us in order to leverage this notion (power) of polarity - being mentally fit - and its offerings. I believe this can create not just professional success, but personal success, and I hope we can understand how one compliments the other, becoming healthier and more whole in the process. I'd put a healthy and whole 'mentally fit' workforce up against a 'mentally strong' workforce any day of the week.

Choose to be mentally fit, not mentally strong, and let's redefine this as the cause of success - before the latter truly becomes a matter of life and death.