A couple of weeks ago, I experienced a comedy of errors. Standing up from a sitting position, I pulled a muscle in my lower back. Just standing up, not hiking the Himalayans. I tried everything I could think of to get some relief from what can only be described as wretched pain. Ibuprofen didn’t put a dent in it. Heat brought little relief. Medicated cream did nothing. Electric massager irritated rather than relaxed. At one point in the middle of the night while the world slept, I was climbing the walls — out of my mind. After two days of ingesting muscle relaxers which basically knocked me out, I was beginning to recover. I enjoyed one full day of operating at 100%, before I fell walking down the hall. (My Junior High days revealed a true klutz, but this seemed out of character, even for me.) This fall was so unexpected that I landed flat out. Everything hurt. As I caught my breath and mentally took inventory of all my parts, it appeared I was all still there. My knees hurt but the thing that was screaming the loudest was my left big toe. (Turns out, I fractured it.) As the day progressed, my right ankle begins to announce how wrenched it was and my left toe was twice its size. Physical pain has a way of demanding all our attention. We search endlessly for solutions — essential oils, medication, heat, ice, elevation, compounds. These two painful experiences back to back served as a metaphor for a different kind of pain I’m navigating.
In an attempt to do something beyond me — something bigger then my efforts can accomplish — I find myself in mental pain, at times. Sometimes frantic for solutions. Often impatient in the waiting. Always a little unsettled about how this will resolve. Climbing the walls might be a good description of me, at times. However, climbing the walls never gets me closer to the destination; it only leaves me on the ceiling.
Fostering mental strength — a mindset that keeps us moving forward — takes a variety of intentional action. We already know to set goals. Sometimes staring at the big goal is the problem. Taking our big goal and breaking it down into more manageable steps is key. Take the big goal and break it down into 5, 8, 10 parts. Take the first part and write out the steps needed to accomplish that one part. Then, just take the next baby step. Mental strength involves seeing the next thing and doing it, not being overwhelmed by the huge end result. The big goal can paralyze us. Focusing on the next baby step is totally manageable.
Practice tolerating discomfort. Discomfort can drive us to look for short cuts. Rather than face the obstacle, we reach for something that’s going to give us immediate emotional relief — like binge watching TV or eating a pan of brownies. I practice tolerating discomfort by reminding myself that I am willing to be uncomfortable in order to have the results that I want. Learning to tolerate discomfort increases mental strength.
Use the 10-minute rule. When tempted to put something off, let’s give ourselves permission to put it off in 10 minutes. But for now, get started. When the couch is calling, but it’s time for a walk; start the walk. If we still want to lay down in 10 minutes, we can. Getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Once we take the first step, we’ll realize it’s not as hard as we thought it was going to be.
How are you building your mental strength? Have you tried some of these steps? How did they work out for you?
Other articles you may be interested in:
- The Purpose of Pain by Heather Harbaugh
- From Pain to Peace: A Lesson in Letting Go by Kristina Fortune
- The Key To Being Perfectly Happy In An Imperfect Life by Wendy Perry
- Letting Go of the Perfectionist Mask by Sandi Mitchell