Whether you’re tempted to give in to your craving for a cupcake, or you’re about to give up on your goals, perseverance isn’t easy. But before you blame your lack of willpower or make an excuse for your less-than-stellar performance, consider this: It only takes a few minutes a day to build the mental muscle you need to reach your greatest potential.
Building mental strength is similar to building physical strength. Doing 50 push-ups a day would only take a few minutes of your time, but doing it consistently would help you build a tremendous amount of upper body strength.
The same can be said of your mental muscle. In just a few minutes each day, you can train your brain to think differently, manage your emotions, and behave productively. With consistent exercise, you’ll build mental strength.
While there are many exercises that can help you grow stronger, here are three that will help you build mental muscle in five minutes or less:
1. Identify three things you’re grateful for.
Counting your blessings—as opposed to your burdens—has a big impact on your psychological health. Studies consistently show that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
Make gratitude a daily habit by intentionally identifying three things in your life you are grateful for. It could be as simple as feeling thankful for the clean water that comes out of your faucet or appreciating the cool breeze on a warm day.
Studies show that you can physically change your brain by making gratitude a habit. Write in a gratitude journal, list the things you feel grateful for over dinner, or make it a habit to identify what you’re thankful for before you go to bed. Over time, being thankful becomes like second nature, and you’ll experience benefits ranging from improved sleep to greater immunity.
2. Practice mindfulness.
It’s impossible to stay strong when you’re rehashing something that happened last week or predicting that horrible things are going to happen tomorrow. Mindfulness is about staying present in the moment. And since the only time you can change your behavior is right now, it’s important to be able to focus on the here-and-now.
Science shows that mindfulness has a multitude of physical and psychological benefits, including reduced stress and a more compassionate inner dialogue.
So take a minute to focus on what’s going on around you. Listen to see what sounds you can hear. Look around the room and see what you notice. Do a quick scan of your body and pay attention to how it feels.
With regular practice, you’ll increase your ability to focus, which is tough to do in today’s fast-paced world. You’ll also be able to enjoy each moment because you’ll be less distracted by yesterday’s problems and tomorrow’s worries.
3. Act “as if.”
It can be tempting to wait until you feel different to make a change. But waiting until you feel good about yourself before applying for a promotion, or waiting until you feel happy to invite your friends out for a night on the town, could backfire. Instead, studies show you should behave like the person you want to become. When you change your behavior, your thoughts and emotions will follow.
When you’re sad, you might hunch your shoulders and look at the floor, but doing so keeps you in a depressive state. Put your shoulders back and smile, however, and you’ll feel an instant boost in your mood.
Don’t expect feelings of confidence to come out of nowhere. Instead, ask yourself, How can I act confident? Acting like a confident person, even when you’re filled with self-doubt, helps you feel surer of yourself. Research shows acting confident even increases other people’s confidence in you.
Try asking yourself, What would a mentally strong person do? Then, act as if you feel strong already. And you’ll grow a little stronger.
Do Your Mental Push Ups
Every day is an opportunity to develop mental muscle. Simple, short exercises performed consistently over time will help you build mental strength.
Additionally, pay attention to the bad habits that rob you of mental strength. Feeling sorry for yourself, giving up after your first failure, and giving away your power are just a few of the habits that can wreak havoc on your mental weightlifting routine. Giving up those unhealthy habits will help you work smarter, not harder.