I am a former army ranger, five-time Ironman triathlete and have run over 12 marathons. Am I Mentally strong? You might be surprised.
How do we recognise a mentally strong person? Do they look composed, calm, with a self-assured poise? Relaxed and quietly assertive?
What about what they wear and how they carry themselves? It would be fair to say that we have preconceived ideas of what we look for in such people. But, we also know how capable people are of hiding what’s going on under the surface.
If, outwardly, a person looks smart, together and self-disciplined, does it mean they’re inwardly strong? Here is where we make our first mistake: associating outward impressions with inward ones. Of course, we make this mistake — what choice do we have? We’re not exactly mind readers. Well, maybe we can do better.
Then there is our personal history. For my part, I work out every day, I am a former army ranger, five-time Ironman triathlete and stopped counting after my twelfth marathon. Does that make me mentally strong? How about you buy me a cup of coffee and see. You might be surprised! My history and outward appearance might suggest that I am mentally robust. But, any personal road is bumpy.
It’s impossible to determine if a person is mentally strong at first glance. Just because a person exercises every day, is affluent, and, looks outwardly comfortable, it does not correlate to what is happening inside.
A person’s behaviour can be misleading. We need to be clear though this, does not make them a misleading person. Rather we are born with a defence mechanism not to show any kind of weakness, mental or otherwise.
If we were to look at professional athletes, you would be forgiven for associating them with incredible self-discipline and mental toughness.
It’s a fair assumption to make. It takes a lot of commitment to maintain a healthy diet and to push your body to its limits daily. Is there though the possibility of a person who spends their life exercising might also have a perfectionist streak, and, a mindset which dictates they are never good enough? How about the person on the treadmill next to me, pushing so hard because they are looking to punish themselves for overeating the night before?
The same applies to other behaviours. Is that entrepreneur who works around the clock determined and hardworking? Or, does she feel judged by her friends and family for not earning enough money? Or maybe she thinks leisure time and recreation is something which she does not deserve.
Look at the business leader who is in charge of hundreds of people — they are mentally strong, right? They have a vision and believe in employee welfare and prosperity. Or, is their goal to climb the corporate ladder so finally, they feel worthy of praise and recognition?
But, there is a key to understanding if the person you see is mentally strong or not: if the outward appearance matches the inward. If there is an alignment between their internal motivation and what they are doing, chances are they are mentally strong. If their values align with what they do, mental harmony ensues.
Who is more mentally strong; the person with extreme stage fright who manages to give a talk in front of two people, or the person with a love for public speaking who gives a speech to an audience of 1,000?
The man in battle with depression might win the day by getting out of bed. While, the man who happily goes to work, works out in the gym, and gladly does the housework, may never see a reason to step out of their comfort zone.
What has the person next to you had to overcome to get to work today or to achieve all that they have accomplished? When all we see is external appearance and the facade that people present, it is hard to unpick if they are mentally strong or not.
We should also not look at a person’s character in terms of mental strength or mental weakness: just as there is a rich landscape of what we are good at, there are also ample opportunities to improve on things we have not considered.
So, how can we tell if someone is mentally strong? To consider whether they’re trying to better themselves is a good starting point. Are they proactive in working to improve their lives? Are they undertaking mental strength tasks that will help them grow tougher? After all, no one is born mentally strong. We all have an almost infinite capacity for growth.
So rather than stress about whether someone else is mentally stronger, our energy is better spent when we focus on growing our mental strength.
What does a mentally strong person look like? was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.