How To Build Mental Strength


This morning I hit the treadmill for a decently grueling 30-minute hill climb. Nothing so special about that of course, except that I had absolutely no, actually make that I had negative desire to do so. Having averaged 5-6 hours sleep per night since my daughter was born 2 1/2 weeks ago (and that’s 5-6 hours broken sleep), my willpower to workout in the early mornings is at an all time low. And in theory, what does it matter? Nobody expects me to be in perfect shape anytime so soon after having a baby and there’s always the option of going to the gym in the evening when my partner returns from work.

Of course there’s just a couple of teensie problems with those theories. Firstly, nobody else might expect me to whip myself back into shape at warp speed, but I certainly do. And physical stuff aside I definitely feel better equipped to handle the day once I’ve revved up that dusty old thing I used to call my metabolism. What’s more, there’s nothing so effective at boosting confidence than getting the day’s exercise done first thing. And as for evening gym? Yeah right. Not after a day of being on-call to a 4 kilo person who has already figured out I’m her slave for at least the foreseeable future.

Willpower’s a funny thing, isn’t it? If you’re anything like me you will have noticed that once you get on a roll with something, even if it’s a task you were studiously avoiding for some time, it seems to become increasingly easier to carry said task out with each passing day. They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but maybe it’s more of a case of 21 days to build enough mental strength to fight even the most convincing case of the ‘can’t be bothered’s. And it stands to reason that once you’ve forced yourself through those first painful steps toward change, it can only get easier to persuade yourself to do so again.

The truth is that building mental strength needs to be approached in much the same way as you’d go about training any muscle. It takes dedication, it takes variety, and it takes at least some basic knowledge of how best to achieve great results and what sort of pitfalls you need to avoid along the way.

A while back I read a great article which explains a little of the science behind willpower and also gives you a basic rundown of how best to build it. According to the authors you only have a limited amount of willpower each day, so once you’ve used some of it up you’ll have less left over for the next hurdle you have to face. With that in mind, in stands to reason that the more tasks you set for yourself to achieve each day, the more you’ll drain your mental resources. And let’s face it – how often do you force yourself to overcome the smaller and less important tasks before you tackle the big ones? Like any muscle in your body, your mental strength will be at it’s best when you focus on quality of exertion rather than quantity. And whether or not you take the time to read the full article, at least take a moment now to stop and be honest with yourself about those areas of your life you’d like to be able to face with at least a little more oomph. If you don’t start now, when will you?

9 responses to “How To Build Mental Strength”

  1. Mike Consol says:

    Motivation for the unwilling workout, a book titled “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” Here’s the abbreviated Amazon link:

    Exercise floods the brain with chemicals that keep our minds strong and even enormously improves the academic performance of youngsters, as the book explains in detail.

    Now hit the bricks, people!

  2. Rachael says:

    Thanks for the post. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter!

  3. Lawrey says:

    I’m in the same boat. Exercising after bub (now 17 weeks old) was exactly how you describe….negative desire. I committed myself in a way where I had no choice (creche bookings are great for that!) and after pushing the will power sand bag up hill for the first week or two it’s now so easy/routine that I can focus that limited will power somewhere else. Make myself eat every 3-4 hours perhaps? Everyone else thinks it’s too early to worry about my body etc…but I feel the longer I let those will power muscles lax the harder it will be to get back where I was. Warming up the will power muscles is the hard bit…the exercise of physical muscles ends up being the easy bit.

    • Kat says:

      I absolutely agree Lawrey, the longer we leave it the tougher it will be. It just doesn’t make any sense, especially when you do feel so good about yourself after the workout’s over! You might be interested in my new blog Just very basic at the moment, but I’ll be adding a lot of practical info regarding specific nutrition/exercise needs post-baby.

  4. carla says:

    Though I cant understand what you’re going though (no kids), I’ve been in a similar boat after I started to recover from my multiple sclerosis exacerbation back in the spring. I lost muscle tone and overall fitness when I couldn’t do much. Now I think I’m back in the swing of things having recently joined a gym.

    Today I was feel some MS related fatigue and decided to compromise and not do a full workout or cardio (that would raise my body temp and make me feel worse) and just focused on weights. I’m so glad I did SOMETHING today.

  5. carla says:

    Oh and congratulations on your new baby!

  6. Kat says:

    @ Carla – something is ALWAYS better than nothing πŸ™‚

  7. Teleschau says:

    yo my friend, thanks for the nice article!