We may think of mentally strong people as being tough and unemotional. But other signs include crying, gratitude and taking responsibility for our lives.

Here are five signs of being mentally strong that you might find surprising:

1. Practicing realistic optimism

Positive thinking has been very popular recently, however, it does have its drawbacks. When our optimism is unrealistic, it does not help us to be mentally strong.

But we don’t want to be pessimistic either. Always expecting the worse does not help us to be strong. Luckily, there is a middle way.

A realistic optimist maintains a positive outlook but acknowledges the world as it is. They are optimistic but without fantasizing about what is impossible within the limits of reality.

So how do we cultivate realistic optimism? Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. and author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, suggests that we combine “a positive attitude with an honest assessment of the challenges that await you. Don’t visualize success — visualize the steps you will take in order to make success happen”.

2. Not being ashamed to cry

Far from being a sign of weakness, crying is a useful way of dealing with emotions that might otherwise overwhelm us.

Experimental psychologist Alex Goetz explains,

“Emotional tears, shed in moments of intense feeling, carry stress hormones and are a way of getting rid of them. Even if crying embarrasses you, it signals that you’ve reached a level of stress that’s detrimental to your health.”

A serious bout of crying also involves muscular spasms and deep, rapid intakes of breath. This cycle of tensing and relaxing also helps us to release stress and tension.

3. Practicing gratitude

It is easy to let what is wrong with our lives become our main focus. Being grateful can shift our perspective and help us keep on top of our worries and problems. Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude can help us to be happier and more positive.

Keeping a gratitude journal is proven to help our mood. It is also simple to do. Just writing down three things we are grateful for every day can have profound effects.

Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

4. Taking responsibility

Mentally strong people take responsibility for what happens to them. They do not blame bad luck or other people when things go wrong. They refuse to waste time moaning and complaining that things did not go as well as they expected.

Instead, they use this energy to move forward in a productive way. Taking responsibility is important, as we cannot learn from our mistakes unless we do.

On the flip side, mentally strong people constantly seek out opportunities rather than waiting for life to offer them their dreams on a golden platter. They work hard to achieve the things they want in life.

5. Learning from mistakes

By learning from our mistakes we can do better next time round. But for many people, failures and mistakes can stop them in their tracks and leave them unable to move forward.

Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist at Stanford University, explains why this happens. Fundamentally, our brains respond to mistakes in one of two ways.

In the first way, our brain “hones in on the negative outcome and treats it like a problem that needs solving. What happened, and why? The brain also increases its attention during the next decision, as if it is trying to prevent a repeat of the mistake. When this happens, people are much more likely to improve their performance and learn from the mistake.”

In the second response, “The brain reacts to the negative feedback itself as a threat. To escape feeling bad, or doubting one’s abilities, the brain chooses to not think about the mistake.”

Obviously, if we refuse to think about the mistake or blame others for it, we will not learn from it. This shows that we need to acknowledge our mistakes and analyze what went wrong in order to make better decisions in the future.

Final thoughts

It’s good to know that you don’t have to be an action hero to be mentally strong. Our strength comes from within. If you don’t already practice these traits in your life, they are well worth cultivating.

What signs do you think make someone mentally strong? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

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