a woman in a field who appears mentally tough, but maybe isnt

If we’d gone out for coffee in January 2020 and you asked me, “Are you mentally tough?” I would have said “Yes!” without hesitation. Nearly two years later at this point and I realize — I would have been lying. Not an intentional lie, of course, but a non-truth nonetheless!

Now that I’m faced with this realization and not too happy about my conclusion, I’ve decided I need to fix it! I don’t know if these steps will work for you, but I like to think they are working for me. I’ll be honest, I mess up plenty, but I like to think that I’m building my mental toughness each day that I use these tips!

Follow a Routine

About a year into COVID I had been let go from my movie theater marketing job, hired on at a new company with better pay and benefits, and was enjoying working from home. However, my routine had somewhat fallen by the wayside. While this seemed fine for a number of months, it became a problem.

I suddenly lacked motivation, I constantly felt guilty for not doing enough even though people said I was excelling, and I had to up my anti-anxiety meds and go to weekly therapy to come even close to living a normal life. The worst part was being unable to pinpoint what was wrong.

Enter — a routine. It felt silly, but after about two weeks of:

  • 5:30a Wake Up/Walk the dogs with my beautiful fiance
  • 6:00a Workout (currently I’m running with John Peel via iFit)
  • 6:30a Shower/Get Ready
  • 7:00a Leave for work
  • 8:00a Start Working
  • 4:30p Come Home
  • 5:30p Make Dinner
  • 7:00p Work on a hobby (I use this term loosely as my fiance and I currently use this time to watch all the avengers in chronological order!)
  • 9:00p Sleep

I actually felt better. While I work from home, I typically would drive to a coffee shop or shared community space. For me I always made it a rule that I had to drive at least 20 min away so my mind could physically move away from home and into work — and subsequently leave work and come home at the end of the day.

In my search to figure out WHY routine helped I stumbled upon this quote that truly resonated with what I was experiencing and explained why I was feeling better.

“When you reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day, you’ll have a deeper sense of peace as well as relaxation of the mind and body.”

– Dr. IndumathI BENDI

To this day, I still use my routine and when things become stressful or overwhelming I find adding more structure to my time helps!

Create Small Goals

With my routine in place I decided to make goals to achieve during that time. I’m a goal oriented person, so the idea of creating goals was EASY! The whole follow through part is where it gets tricky. (Hindsight being what it is — that should have been an indicator that I wasn’t as mentally tough as I wanted!)

During my morning runs with John he always talks about mental toughness and how pushing through a hard interval is only possible for those with a strong mind. So that’s where my first goal started! I made a commitment to running each morning.

While I’d like to sit here and say I’ve done it perfectly and followed all of John’s prescription every workout, I can’t. However, what I can say is: every morning before I run I determine what my speed will be and focus solely on hitting those goals. After about 3 weeks of doing this, I can say that I no longer have to battle with myself to meet those goals, but instead have learned that I really am going to do what I say I’m going to do.

And on the days when I wake up exhausted and need a break, I honor my body and wake up and do stretching or take the pups on a longer walk.

Creating these smaller goals has helped me in work too — whether it be completing certain tasks each day or learning a new skill. I start by setting a clear goal, developing a plan to reach it, and setting my intentions everyday before working on the goal.

Ditch the Booze (or Drugs)

While I would not describe myself as addicted to drugs or alcohol, I started to notice that I was drinking more when I didn’t have a routine. I had ample free time, I associated drinking with a good time, etc.

For me, it was pretty easy to set a goal of stopping drinking and developing a routine that didn’t leave time for it. This helped me feel better while exercise, ironically it allowed for more restful sleep as I was following my body rather than forcing it to sleep with booze, and I found that my skin was healthier too!

I was lucky in that I didn’t have to remove alcohol from my house to avoid it and I can still enjoy a spiked Arnold Palmer on the 4th. However, if it’s not so easy for you, it might be best to get outside help. Money is always a concern for me, and when I search for Cigna alcohol rehab centers online (that’s who my insurance is through) there are a number of places that may be able to help you if you need it!

So, there you have it! A snazzy little three-step guide to mental toughness, packed into 1,000 some-odd words that sounds incredibly simple. It’s not so simple in practice, but about a month into following this I’ve physically felt better, mentally I’m significantly more motivated and less anxious, and as John would say, “I’ve committed to myself to push through this tough interval in my life.”