Structuring My Life Like a Book Helps Me Stay Mentally Strong

Amy Morin sailboat

Verywell / Amy Morin

Like many people, my life has distinct phases. Sort of like chapters in a book, each phase includes a different setting, plot line, and cast of characters.

I can’t control everything that happens in each chapter of my life. Sometimes new characters enter and others exit. Plot twists come as the economy shifts. And predictable plotlines change along with the seasons.

I do have control over some things, however. I choose the setting, some aspects of the plot, and which characters I interact with.

As a therapist and the author of books on mental strength, I know how important it is to create an environment that helps you stay mentally strong. External factors influence your internal strength.

So a few years ago, I decided to get proactive about creating a lifestyle that helps me think, feel, and do my best. And I thought about it the same way I thought about writing my books.

Changing the Setting

I spent most of my life living in Maine. It’s a great place, but it’s dark and cold much of the year.

I feel my best when I spend time outside. That’s tough to do in Maine when you work a day job. During the winter months, I only saw daylight on the weekends. I couldn’t wait to come home, put on warm clothes, and sit in front of a fireplace. While that’s nice sometimes, it wasn’t good for my emotional or physical health when it happened for months at a time.

So while some people love cold weather, dark winters aren’t the best for my well-being.

I also found having “stuff” to be stressful. For example, when my mother and my first husband passed away, I kept a lot of their stuff because it had sentimental value. But I didn’t want to put all of their belongings on display and cause my house to look like a weird shrine.

On the other hand, I felt guilty about my mother’s bell collection sitting in a box in the basement. And I felt bad that my husband’s CD collection just collected dust—until CDs became somewhat obsolete.

I didn’t want to get rid of their stuff, yet I didn’t know how to keep it.

I knew I wanted to change my “setting” to enjoy warm weather, more daylight, more opportunities to be outside, and little space for “stuff” that stressed me out.

Moving onto a sailboat in the Florida Keys seemed like a great fit. And after five years in this setting, it still feels like a wonderful place to build mental strength.

Taking Control Over the Plot

In Maine, I worked as a therapist in a busy medical practice. Other people filled my schedule with appointments from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. As a result, I had little time to run personal errands and few opportunities to interact with co-workers during the day.

While I liked my job, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of therapy clients I saw in a day. And it was frustrating that I had to take a day off to go to the bank, get a haircut, or get things done during business hours.  

I knew I needed a little more flexibility in my schedule to thrive. So I decided to quit being a full-time therapist, and I became a full-time writer. That allowed me a lot more control over my days—which is important for my well-being.

While a really structured day works well for some people, I’m at my best when I have more freedom over my time. It’s been a wonderful shift that has allowed me to feel happier and more productive.

Maintaining Some Characters and Adding New Ones

One thing I didn’t want to change too much was the characters in my life. I have several lifelong friends (we met in preschool) and family members that I wanted to stay close with.

But moving across the country (and onto a sailboat) certainly posed a few challenges to that. But, I decided I’d continue spending months at a time in Maine. And my friends and family have open invitations to visit me on the sailboat.

Moving away actually allowed me to spend time with some people in a way that I normally wouldn’t. When I lived close to my friends, we often met up for dinner or spent a few hours hiking. But now, they visit me in the Florida Keys, and we get to spend a week or two together at a time.  

So while it takes a little more effort to stay in close touch with my favorite characters, moving also introduced me to some new characters who have interesting stories about how they ended up in the Florida Keys.

I know how important it is to surround myself with good people who inspire me and challenge me. It’s a key component to being the strongest and best version of myself.

Create Your Lifestyle Like a Book

You don’t have to make a drastic shift to your life (like moving onto a sailboat) to create a lifestyle that helps you be the strongest and best version of yourself.

You might find that adding (or even subtracting) a character or two might make a huge difference. Or maybe a slight shift in setting helps change your mindset. That could include anything from redecorating a room to changing jobs.

And of course, you can take control over some aspects of the plot in your story too. For example, you might go on more adventures, develop new habits, or stop sabotaging yourself.

But the point is, it’s up to you to decide what you want this chapter to look like. And you have the opportunity to create a lifestyle that can help you build the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.

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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.