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Confidence and Perseverance: Amy Morin Talks 'Mentally Strong People'

As a licensed therapist, college lecturer, writer, and renowned TEDx speaker, Amy Morin, LCSW has spent a long time teaching others how to be mentally strong. Now, the international bestselling author of "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" has turned to a new medium: podcasting.

As host of her new podcast Mentally Strong People, Morin speaks with award-winning musicians, athletes, authors, and more to find out how they've harnessed their mental strength to overcome adversity and achieve great personal and professional success.

We spoke with Morin about cultivating mental strength, and to find out what listeners can expect to hear on the show, from inspirational stories to actionable advice that can help people affect positive change in their own lives.

Verywell Mind: How do you define mental strength and what it means for a person to be mentally strong?

Morin: Mental strength is the key to reaching your greatest potential in life. It's about knowing how to regulate your thoughts, manage your emotions, and take productive action.

Everyone has unhelpful thoughts sometimes, like self-doubt and catastrophic predictions. Mental strength can help you reframe those thoughts and deal with uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment, fear, and anxiety. It can also help you reduce the intensity and duration of your distress while you work through your emotions (rather than escaping or suppressing them).

Ultimately, mental strength can help you take positive action, overcome challenges, and face your fears.

VM: Whether it's endurance, agility, or power, there are a lot of ways we think about physical strength—what are some of the different components of mental strength?

Morin: Confidence, resilience, perseverance, self-awareness, and self-discipline:

  • Confidence is key to mental strength, but it's not about thinking you'll always succeed. Instead, it's about being confident that you'll be OK even if you fail.
  • Resilience allows you to bounce back when you encounter hard times.
  • Perseverance is about a willingness to keep going even things feel really hard to do.
  • Self-awareness is critical to recognizing your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, and habits—and how all of those things impact your quality of life.
  • Self-discipline is essential to help you resist temptation, delay gratification, and reach your goals.

VM: How important is it to build each of those as you would different muscles?

Morin: It's hard to develop each of those mental muscles, but without each one, it's tough to be mentally strong overall. A serious imbalance in your mental muscles could mean you're strong in one area and struggle in another. Someone, for example, might have self-discipline in their professional lives but not in their personal lives.

VM: What would you say is the biggest obstacle to being a mentally strong person?

Morin: Many people confuse mental strength with acting tough. They think that suppressing their emotions or pretending they don't feel pain means they are strong.

But mental strength requires vulnerability. It involves admitting you don't have all the answers and asking for help when you need it. It's also about being aware of your emotions so you can deal with them in a healthy way—not pretending they don’t exist.

VM: How can we all benefit from being more proactive about our mental health, the same way we might start a new fitness or nutrition regimen for improved physical health?

Morin: Mental health and strength are a lot like physical health and strength. Developing physical strength won't guarantee you won't ever develop a health problem like high cholesterol, but being in good shape does improve your overall health and decrease your health risks. Mental strength is the same.

VM: As someone who has written and spoken on this topic for so long, what is it like for you to talk to others about their own mental strength journeys for the podcast?

Morin: It's been really fun to talk about mental strength with people from all walks of life. I get the chance to talk to some really strong, successful people, like GRAMMY-winning music producers, gold medal winners, and bestselling authors.

I was fascinated to see that as soon as we begin to talk about mental strength, most of them don't start by telling what they learned from the successes—they share what they gained from their struggles.

VM: Is there a favorite lesson, or anything you have been surprised to learn from one of your guests?

Morin: One of my favorite episodes so far was with [ABC News journalist} Dan Harris. Some years back, he had a panic attack on Good Morning America, and is quite up-front about the fact that he was using cocaine at that time in his life.

He received mental health treatment and is now a big advocate for meditation. His story shows how any of us can develop a substance abuse problem or mental health issue, and that while it isn't a sign of weakness, it does take strength to get help.

VM: Why do you think people are so drawn to and inspired by stories of mental fortitude?

Morin: We often hear stories about successful people and how they succeeded, but it’s less often that we hear about their real struggles. When we learn that prominent individuals have also endured emotional pain or mental struggles, it gives us hope that we can learn from them.

It’s also inspiring to hear stories from people who acknowledge they continue to work on their mental strength even when they appear to be at the top of their game. It shows you don’t have to be perfect to succeed.

VM: How can we stay mentally strong during the COVID-19 pandemic? We've all heard mantras like "We're all in this together" and "These are unprecedented times," but what does it take for an individual to persevere through a moment like this?

Morin: COVID-19 has created so many different challenging circumstances. While some people are out of work and terrified about their financial future, others are working from home and feeling lonelier than ever.

And while [those] slogans sound good on the surface, the pandemic is a great reminder that building mental muscle is really a solo journey. While other people can support you and you can support them, ultimately everyone has to make their own choice about how much effort they want to put into their mental fitness.

For many people, now is a great time to evaluate their values and their priorities. I’m hearing so many people say they don’t really want life to go back to the same way it was before because they’ve discovered a new appreciation for certain things, like simple pleasures in life.

People who learn from this experience—and learn about themselves—can move forward stronger than before.

Mentally Strong People is available now on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts.

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